Magnolia is a film brought to you by Paul Thomas Anderson. The film is a multi stater which includes the likes of Tom Cruise, Jeremy Blackman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Jay, Julianne Moore and more. Let me give you this upfront – the film isn’t straightforward in presenting a story. The film takes you through the intersecting lives of a set of people and some bizarre coincidences. These coincidences look unreal at times but things like this have happened to folks across the world in real life and is amplified for the sake of the film. The film is long and starts off with a massive pace but then cuts to slow down in the middle. It turns to the “strange” towards the end and is wrapped up. If you’re in the mood for the kind of film where you’ll need to read what the hell it meant, then go watch it. Here’s the film Magnolia explained.
I don’t do a good job of interpreting movies that are left too open-ended. So I’m not going to interpret much. Instead, I’m going to lay out the stories of each of the characters that appear in the film, one at a time. Hope that will bring in a little clarity.
First, the three stories, these three stories have nothing to do with the plot of the main film. There are there to illustrate how coincidences could be bizarre and hard to believe, but they do happen.
- There once lived a pharmacist – Sir Edmund William Godfrey. The name of his store was Greenberry Hill Pharmacy. Three men decide to rob his store and in the process end up murdering him. The three men are later caught and hung. Their names were Joseph Green, Stanley Berry and Nigel Hill. Green. Berry. Hill.
- There once was a forest fire. Firefighters struggle to put it out. An air tanker is used to fetch water from the nearby lake and drop it over the fire to put it out. After the fire is out, they notice on top of a tree is a dead scuba diver in full gear with the breathing unit still in his mouth. The name of the scuba diver is Delmer Darion who is a dealer at a casino and indulges in scuba diving. On the day of the forest fire, Delmer happens to be diving in the nearby lake. Unfortunately, he’s picked up along with the water by one of the air tankers and is dropped onto the burning forest. Delmer dies of a heart attack somewhere between the lake and the forest. A few days prior to this, the pilot of the air tanker, Craig Hansen, happens to be gambling at the same casino where Delmer worked. Craig hits Delmer for dealing him a bad hand and is thrown out of the casino. Craig is an estranged father of four who has a drinking habit. After the forest fire, he reads the news about his accidental picking up of Delmer from the lake. He’s unable to deal with this so decides to commit suicide and blows his head off with a gun.
- There once was a kid by the name Sydney Barringer who committed suicide by stepping off a roof of his apartment. On his fall to the ground he is shot mid air. The bullet that killed him came from his own house. At the time of his fall, his parents are arguing in their house. The mother is standing with a gun pointed at the father. She fires and the stray bullet happens to strike and kill the falling Sydney. On police’s investigation, they find out that the mother and father are always known to fight and threaten themselves with the gun. But the gun is normally unloaded. But before Sydney jumps off the roof, he decides to load his parent’s gun. He does this because he can’t take their fighting anymore. He’d rather die and also have his parents kill one another. Unfortunately, the bullet misfires and strikes Sydney during his fall. The cops arrest the parents.
Now, the characters of the film.
Jimmy Gator – Game Show Host “What Do Kids Know?”
Jimmy is has been the popular host of the game show – “What Do Kids Know?” for over 30 years. In the past, he has cheated on his wife, Rose, with other women. Also, there is a strong hint of him molesting his daughter, Claudia, when she was young. He now has cancer and has about 2 months to live. He goes to meet his daughter and she refuses to talk with him. While on the sets of a recent shoot, Jimmy has an episode – he gets sick and faints. He regains consciousness and insists that the show must go on. Later Jimmy confesses to Rose about cheating on her. He also tells her that Claudia thinks that he molested her when she was young. When Rose asks Jimmy if he did, he claims he can’t remember. Rose is infuriated and she leaves Jimmy. She tells him he deserves to die alone. Jimmy puts a gun to his head and is about to pull the trigger when a rain of frogs break through his glass roof and interrupts the gunshot.
Rose Gator – Wife of Jimmy Gator
There is not much back story to her. She’s been married to Jimmy for a very long time. She’s not aware of why their daughter is estranged. She trusts Jimmy. But then Jimmy confesses to her about cheating on her and maybe having molested Claudia. Rose is extremely angry and leaves Jimmy and drives to her daughter’s apartment. A rain of frogs makes her lose control her car and crashes in front of Claudia’s apartment. She enters her scared daughter’s (obviously, it’s raining frogs) apartment and hugs her and reconciles with her.
Claudia Gator – Estranged Daughter of Jimmy
Claudia is the daughter of Jimmy and Rose. It appears that she was molested by her father when she was a young girl. She now lives a messed up life of cocaine abuse and sex. When Jimmy visits her, she asks him if he’s going to call her a slut. This is indicative of how Jimmy treated her when she was young. Bottom line – she hates Jimmy. She sits in her apartment, she’s got the music turned on real loud, and is snorting. Officer Jim gets a call stating loud music and an argument, so he goes to her place to check it out. Claudia frantically hides her drugs and opens the door. She stands there and answers Jim’s questions on the loud music. She states she didn’t realize it was that loud. She turns down the music. Nervously, she talks further with Jim and even offers him some coffee. She convinces him that the person who she was talking with earlier was someone she knew and is now never coming back. That she is under no further threat. Claudia likes the time she’s spending with Jim but he needs to leave. He asks her out on a date, Claudia agrees even though it is late at 10pm. At the date, Claudia constantly feels that Jim will soon find out that she’s into drugs and will leave her. So she thanks him for the dinner, kisses him and leaves. Later when she’s alone, the rain of frogs happens and Claudia is left scared shitless in her own apartment. But just in time, her mother reaches her apartment and consoles her. The following day, Jim meets Claudia and tells her he doesn’t want to miss out a chance they have at a relationship. Claudia agrees and they hug. Claudia now has a chance at life.
Jim Kurring – Police Officer
He’s a cop who’s sloppy. He’s a good guy and wants to do the right thing. But he seems to be a cop who’s made fun of by his peers for being a goofball. His day starts off by attending to a disturbance at one of the homes in his surveillance areas. When he gets to the house, he notices an aggressive woman, Marcie, who is intent on sending him out stating he’s violating her rights. He holds his ground with the woman and on probing further, finds a dead body in her closet. He arrests the woman. On his way to his car, he runs into a talkative neighbourhood kid, Dixon. Dixon tells Jim that he can be his “inside guy” and help with providing murder suspects. Jim understands that Dixon knows nothing but is enterprising enough to present himself as a “key man”. Jim tells Dixon to just stay cool, go to school and leaves. Later, Jim gets another information of another disturbance in the neighbourhood. He goes to attend to that. He reaches Claudia’s apartment and when she opens the door, Jim is instantly attracted to her. He goes in to find more about the disturbance and Claudia explains the fight she had with her dad and that it is over. Jim really wants to stay on and converse to Claudia and does so over a cup of coffee. The cup of coffee is apparently so bad that he secretly empties it in the sink. Jim gets another call and has to leave. While he initially tries to hint to Claudia about wanting to come back to her place, he stands his ground and asks her out on a date. She agrees enthusiastically.
Jim leaves to attend to his call and when he gets to the location, he gets shot at. The film doesn’t go into who fires the shot. Jim drops his gun and is unable to find it. Dixon is shown to pick up the gun and run away with it. Jim is desperate to find his gun for he knows losing it will only make him look more sloppy in the eyes of his peers. But he’s unable to find the gun and the department is intimated. There is a search party called to find the gun and they can’t find it. Jim later makes it to the date with Claudia. When she tells him that she’s not good enough for him, Jim says that he’s not a great cop either. That he lost his gun and is the butt of all jokes in his peer circle. He tells Claudia that he will be there for her and listen to her. Claudia still leaves dinner thanking Jim. Later, Jim has a run in with Donnie Smith, who’s trying to break into a building. Just as he’s about to get to Donnie, there is a rain of frogs and Jim takes cover at the petrol bunk. Donnie is wounded because of the frogs, Jim helps him to shelter. As the two speak, Jim’s missing gun comes flying and lands in front of them. The conversation with Donnie gets Jim thinking. He goes back to meet Claudia and tells her that he’s not going to walk away from the chance of a relationship with her. She agrees.
Dixon – Kid from the streets
There is a lot about this kid that has been omitted in the film. If you go through the script, there is another character called Worm. Dixon is a kid from the streets who’s looking to make a quick buck. Worm is his dad and an abusive one. In the rap that he performs for Jim he does drop a hint saying the murderer could be Worm.
Ima teach you ’bout The Worm,
who eventually turned to catch wreck
with the neck of a long time oppressor
And he’s runnin from the devil, but the
debt is always gaining..
“I told you who did it and you’re not listening to me”. Worm is not the killer. Marcie later confesses to murdering her abusive husband to protect her children. Dixon is expected to get back money to Worm one way or another. If not, he gets beaten. Dixon eventually follows Jim to the disturbance. When Jim drops his gun, Dixon picks it up. He thinks he can use it to mug people. Later, after the rain of frogs, he reconciles with his dad and throws away the gun from their moving car. This gun comes and lands in front of Jim as he’s talking with Donnie. None of this is in the film so it appears to us that the gun just comes flying out of nowhere.
Stanley Spector – Today’s Wiz Kid on “What Do Kids Know?”
Stanley is the current Wiz Kid on the the game show run by Jimmy. He has been undefeated in the game show so far. His dad is extremely pushy and is practically living off Stanley’s winnings. In the current episode, Stanley has a breakdown. He’s put under an enormous pressure to win. He’s not allowed as much as a bathroom break. Stanley freezes and is unable to answer any further questions. This causes his team to begin losing. Eventually, Stanley pees his pants during the show. After all, he’s just a kid put under a lot of pressure. His dad gets agitated knowing that Stanley’s peed his pants and reprimands him. In the final rounds, Stanley simply refuses to go up and compete. He states that he is the one to always do this and wants to do this no longer. The team loses the game. His dad gets furious. Later, Stanley is out reading and witnesses the rain of frogs. A strange calm settles over him. He says “this happens”. In the original script, Dixon and his dad try to mug Stanley and Dixon pulls the gun on Stanley. But Stanley feels Worm and Dixon need the money more than he does, so he offers it to them. It is after this that Dixon and Worm reconcile and leave Stanley alone. Stanley goes back home and tells his dad that he needs to be treated better. Initially his dad’s tone of voice is condescending. Stanley repeats himself and this time his dad’s tone is more subtle when he asks him to go to bed. Stanley has decided to not take anymore shit.
Donnie Smith – Once a Wiz Kid on “What Do Kids Know?”, a nobody today
Decades ago, Donnie was like Stanley. He was the star of the show and Wiz Kid. He was celebrated as the smartest kid in town. But eventually, life happens. All his earnings from the show get spent by his parents. He also has been struck by lighting and is known to have survived it. A few people still know him as the Wiz Kid. He grows up to become a mundane person with a sales job at a company called Solomon and Solomon. He also gets fired from his job because he’s constantly late and unable to make sales. Donnie is a lonely person and he has a crush on a local bartender guy. But he’s unable to express himself to the bartender. To get even with Solomon and Solomon, he decides to rob them. He steals the money and plans to get braces to impress the bartender (the bartender wears braces too). Eventually he snaps back to his senses and realizes that he’s being stupid. So he goes back to return the money from where he stole it. Sadly, Donnie realizes that the key is broken and wedged in the keyhole. He’s unable to get back into return the money. He decides to climb up a pole on the side of the building to get into the office, when a rain of frogs smacks him in the face and he falls a floor using his face to break his fall. He breaks his nose and loses most of his teeth. Jim who’s passing by sees Donnie climbing the pole. Jim pulls the hurt Donnie to shelter and the two sit down as it rains frogs. Donnie confesses to what he has done. Donnie says he has so much love to give, but is unable to give it to anyone. Donnie realizes how he has been drowning himself in self-pity. Jim sympathises with Donnie and helps him return the money.
Earl Partridge – Affluent Producer
Earl is the producer of the Game Show “What Do Kids Know?”. When he was young, he gets married to his high-school sweetheart, Lily. But over the years, he becomes distant to her and their son, Jack. Earl cheats on his wife and they separate. Eventually, Lily develops cancer. Earl doesn’t call her till the end. She passes away. Jack changes his name to Frank Mackey. Earl gets married to Linda eventually. After many years, he too develops cancer and is now on his deathbed. He’s being looked after by Phil, his nurse and Linda, his current wife. Earl’s dying wish to Phil is to locate his son Jack/Frank and arrange for a meeting. As things get worse for Earl, he explains to Phil what an assh*le he has been to his ex-wife, Lily. Earl’s hallucinations increase. Frank finally comes to meet him. Earl’s barely able to recognize him but wakes up just in time to see him. It begins to rain frogs and Earl has his last moment with his son as he passes away.
Phil Parma – Earl’s Nurse
Phil is Earl’s nurse and is a good man who’s taking care of Earl in his last days. Phil does what he must to keep Earl comfortable. Earl makes a dying request to Phil to meet his son Frank. Phil calls up Frank’s agency and tells them that Earl, the dying producer, wants to meet his son before dying. Surprisingly, the people in Frank’s team try their best to reach out to Frank and give him his news about his dying father. Phil tries relentlessly and is finally able to get through to Frank and gets him to come over. Once Frank gets to Earl’s place, Phil watches them reconcile. Then it begins to rain frogs. Phil watches in disbelief. Earl passes away. Phil sheds a tear as his job is now done.
Frank T.J. Mackey – Seduce and Destroy, motivational speaker
Frank was born Jack, the son of Earl and his first wife, Lily. He goes through a tough childhood. His father leaves them. His mother struggles with cancer and finally dies. Jack is very angry with his father for not calling even once to check on Lily. He moves on in life with a changed name – Frank Mackey. He becomes a motivational speaker. He empowers men with his talks. Through the course of his talk, a reporter digs into his past and starts trying to expose his past. He doesn’t budge, he insults the reporter and goes back to his talk. His team gets in touch with him stating that his dying father wants to see him. Frank doesn’t want to go but eventually lands up at Earl’s place. He vents out all his frustration on an unconscious Earl. But just as he realizes Earl is going to breathe his last, he reconciles with his father. Earl manages to regain consciousness just enough to see Frank and passes away. As this happens, it begins to rain frogs outside. After this Phil gets a call about Linda in the hospital and looks to Frank.
Linda Partridge – Wife of Earl Partridge
Linda is a person who marries Earl not because she is love with him. She marries him for his wealth. Once they are married, she cheats on him with multiple men. Now, after all the years, as Earl is dying, Linda falls in love with him. She regrets everything that she has done. Earl’s will states that Linda will inherit everything he owns. Back in the day, this is what Linda plans to have but now she doesn’t want anything from the will. She sees the errors of her way of life and wants to null the will. She’s under a lot of stress and is under medication for it. She decides to end it by committing suicide. She sits in her car in a vacant parking lot and overdoses on her medication. Dixon, who happens to be passing by, sees Linda unconscious in her car. He first takes her money and then calls 911 for help. The ambulance picks up Linda and they’re taking her to the hospital, it begins to rain frogs and the ambulance crashes. But they are close enough to the hospital and are able to take Linda in. Frank shows up at the hospital as he is her only point of contact right now.
Ending Explained: The Rain of Frogs
The director, in one of his interviews, states this – “So I just starting writing it into the script. It wasn’t until after I got through with the writing that I began to discover what it might mean, which was this: You get to a point in your life, and shit is happening, and everything’s out of your control, and suddenly, a rain of frogs just makes sense”. Whether you like it or not, the apex of this movie is the rain of frogs as all the events reach their climax at that moment.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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