It is perhaps telling that the one character who constantly mentions the need to forgive and the importance of second chances is the one who, on his first scene, is shown kneeling by his bed in prayer, a wooden cross hanging on his wall.
Magnolia is one of the most perceptive films on regret and the importance of healthy parenting I can remember. While one could be forgiven for viewing the coincidences purely on the surface level (What Do Kids Know? produced by Big Earl Productions) since the opening narration so states, the underlying thread that joins all the disparate characters together is how each one of them carries something toxic and how it can be traced back to a certain moment in time in which they were hurt beyond any measure of cure or redemption.
On the last days of his life, as my grandfather laid in bed nearly comatose, the sorrow I felt was not because he had become a shell of his former self or could no longer speak. “How can he possibly deal with his regret?”, I asked myself.
When married to my mom’s mother, my grandpa had had a flurry of mistresses, and after his wife passed away, he married twice and had six more children. At the top of his life, the man possessed multiple properties, businesses and could afford months long journeys abroad. At the end of his life, nearly 30 years later, he had not a penny to his name nor even a place to eternally sleep in, as he had gambled his cemetery lot away.
It would have been beautiful to know my grandpa did the same thing Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) did on his deathbed, but real life is rarely like the movies. But then again, as one character says as God rains frogs down on sinners, “this is something that happens”. Maybe that is why from the first to the penultimate frame, everything seems so sad. Because even if we are the ones who learned how to forgive, our hearts have still been broken when we heard someone cry out “I have so much love and I don’t know where to put it.”
And yet, as bleak and despairing as the 180 minutes are, Paul Thomas Anderson wants us to take comfort. We might carry our scars with us forever, but we do know what we are doing. And so, we are able to forgive and let go, and, as the beautiful final shot demonstrates, redemption is just a smile away.