While the rest of the movie-going public was standing in line for, or in a theatre watching, the Narnia movie on Friday night, Dave and I rented "Magnolia" (1999) and we're still talking about it. Neither of us had seen it. Not long into the three-hour movie I realized that I was content to continue to "have not seen it". It was hard to watch. Most of the characters--particularly the men--were crude and abusive. Tom Cruise's character was particularly difficult to watch. There was lots of "sins of the fathers" visiting the kids sort of thing. I spent much of the first half of the movie cycling through thoughts of gratitude for the good man who is my father (and no, I'm not just saying that because he reads my blog--Hi Dad!). I almost turned to Dave and suggested we turn it off. But we hung in there with it, primarily because I'd heard repeatedly that there was something worth watching in this movie.
About halfway through, however, this kaleidoscope of horrendous lives shifted a bit and it became evident that the movie wasn't just going to accumulate damage until the last scene. Something was at work. The turning point involves each of the characters and a song, "Wise Up" by Aimee Mann
It’s not what you thought when you first began it
You got what you want now you can hardly stand it, though.
By now you know
It’s not going to stop, it’s not going to stop,
it’s not going to stop.
‘Til you wise up.
I'll mention again, as I did several posts ago, that Flannery O'Connor said every great story has in it a moment of grace. Well grace was at work in this movie big time and the last half hour, particularly the very last scene, was full of it.
It's a movie just ripe for discussion. I looked online when it was over and found a couple reviews and a discussion guide. Lots of the next day, as Dave and I were Christmas shopping, we talked about it--what some of the scenes meant, thoughts on the characters, wondering about symbols, etc. Lots left to talk about.
One of the reviews is by Jeffrey Overstreet (from 2000), who writes the "Looking Closer" blog. He said something in his review that I think is very true: "But I think Flannery O'Connor's philosophy—that a desensitized culture sometimes need exaggerated, loud storytelling to reawaken it—is the operating principle here." There was definitely some of the grotesque, as employed by O'Connor, but it served its purpose here as it did for her.
The other review and the discussion guide are from Ransom Fellowship, which makes many insightful movie reviews and discussion guides available on the movie section of their website. (Ransom Fellowship is the publisher for Critique magazine, which I've mentioned on this blog before and have a link to in the right margin.) The review article is by Steven Garber and includes some questions for reflection or discussion. The discussion guide is by Jeremy Huggins, author of the "junkmail for blankets" blog.
I'm glad we rented "Magnolia" and glad we stuck it out. Thankfully, the scenes that were hard to watch have been replaced in my mind's eye with the scenes of grace. There is a powerful scene in which two characters, the Tom Cruise character and one of the two truly "good guys" are standing side by side. No words, just standing, but the scene is full of things to think about. And that's just one powerful scene of many.
Please don't read this as my recommendation to watch the movie. If you haven't seen it, only you can decide if it sounds like something in which you'd want to invest three hours. Only you know if you want to watch what is hard to watch. If you do decide to rent it someday, or if you have already seen it, consider tying in the links I provided above with what's on the screen.