Religious Undertones in Magnolia

                Magnolia did not strike me as a religious movie until the very end of the film. I paid little attention to Jim’s references to God, his prayers, the cross on his wall or his stunned reaction when Claudia cursed. The continuous repetition of “Jesus Christ” said in anger or dismay did not really phase me, seeing as I saw it as simply cussing in anger. I even overlooked the repeated appearances of the numbers 8 and 2 shown throughout the film until Donnie is draped over the toilet, quoting the Merchant of Venice and explaining how its “borrowed from Exodus 25.” Exodus 25 is an order from God to Moses directing him to tell the Israelites to make offerings to God in order for them to experience God’s presence in a religious sanctuary that they will build. After further research on the film and its now apparent religious allusions, as a fellow classmate also mentioned, there are quite a few references to Exodus, specifically Exodus 8:2 throughout the film, which links to the storm of frogs at the end of the film.

Even in the last few minutes, as Donnie returns Solomon’s stolen money, Jim speaks over his shoulder, reminding Donnie that he passes no judgement and neither should anyone else. In the Bible, Exodus talks about Moses obeying God and taking a stand against the Pharaoh, facing his and the people’s fears and obstacles, as well as God delivering on His promises to the people. I think that this movie mirrors this book of the Bible because the people in the film also had to face their obstacles and their demons. Claudia struggled with drug addiction, multiple characters addressed unfaithfulness in relationships, abuse of power between parents and children, and whichever respective struggle they faced in the film. As the film drew to a close and the characters began to reveal their true stories, feelings and their repentance, they all seemed to hit a wall and those walls in the film hindered liberation for the characters much like the Pharaoh did the Israelites. To show displeasure with these hardships and judgement, the sky opened up and poured down frogs, just like in the Bible. As the frogs fall and the climax of the movie transitions into the final resolutions of the film and everything resolves itself in one way or another, the characters are freed through death, love, righting their wrongs or standing up for themselves, and all of those final actions can be linked to the Israelites giving their offers up to God in praise and thanks.

Although Magnolia was not a typical apocalyptic story, everyone lives seemed to be crashing and burning rapidly, and the word apocalypse is definitely relative, so to me, each of the characters in the film faced the end and new beginnings of their own worlds. I feel as though religion during apocalyptic movies is often overlooked (as I was about to until Donnie started puking), but it does play an awfully important role, and a lot of references from the bible show up in these films. The religious undertones specific to this film play a really important role in allowing the film to come full circle, especially with Jim’s judgement speech towards the end (because it emphasizes the notion that only God can judge). My question is, how influential of a role does religion play in apocalyptic films? Is it always there (whether obviously or low key) or do some films exclude this discussion all together? Do you think being familiar with religious texts is necessary to draw these specific connections? It is evident that in Magnolia the filmmakers asked us to draw these connections and ponder the undertones, making the movie that much more dynamic, in depth and interesting as a whole.


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