Racist Undertones in Magnolia

Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia depicts the intricate social webs that exist in an individual’s life, and just how easily an event in one person’s life can influence hundreds of others. Police officer Jim Kurring is just one of the many people the movie follows, and we are introduced to his character early on in the movie. The camera follows Jim around, showing us his day-to-day routine: watching TV, working out, taking a shower, praying. We also get to see Jim on the job in two different situations, and while the Jim introduced to us appears to be a decent guy, there seems to be a little underlying racism in his interactions.

In the first scene, Jim is called about a disturbance and goes to the scene. He busts into a woman named Marcy’s apartment without knocking first. She comes rushing into the shot; the camera is placed behind her to capture a low angle shot of Jim. When Marcy begins defending herself, the camera is placed behind him to capture a high angle shot of her. His voice is raised for the entirety of their conversation, and the otherwise silence draws attention to the volume of his voice. While Marcy isn’t the friendliest of characters, she never gave him any real reason to be hostile with her.

In a later scene, Jim is called to check out a disturbance at another woman named Claudia’s apartment. He knocks on her door, and she calls out saying she needs to get dressed. He waits for her to open the door after what seems like an excessively long time; other scenes of Linda, Phil, Earl, Frank, and Donnie are interjected in between the shot of him waiting at her door and the shot of him asking to be let in. When he and Claudia are standing in her living room, they are both shown from a low angle. After she turns her music down, he never raises his voice with her.

From the descriptions of these two encounters, you can probably figure out which woman was white and which was African American. While the film never explicitly discusses racism, the camera angles mirror Jim’s feelings towards these two women. Marcy’s high angle shot places her beneath Jim on the social ladder, while Claudia is on the same level as Jim in the low angle two shot of them. Even though Marcy’s character was never developed, I think it’s interesting that Anderson placed her in the movie to act as a parallel to Jim and Claudia’s scene. While the scene with Marcy doesn’t directly relate him to any other characters focused on in the film, this seemingly irrelevant character shows us much more about Jim as a person than some of his other scenes do.

 

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