Psychological Analysis of P. T. Anderson’s Film Magnolia

Psychological Analysis of P. T. Anderson’s Film Magnolia

Paul Thomas Anderson’s film “Magnolia” is an intense character study of nine Los Angeles residents in a state of psychological crisis. Fittingly then the film’s central theme seems to be taken from one of Freud’s fundamental hypotheses: psychic determinism, which is the idea that there are no “accidents”. The characters seemingly random behaviors are the result of their unconscious wishes and intent. The words of the film’s narrator reflect this:

“And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that this is not just ‘Something That Happened.’ This cannot be ‘One of Those Things...’ This, please, cannot be that. And for what I would like to say, I can't. This Was Not Just a Matter of Chance” (Anderson)

The behavior of the characters in this film, though incomprehensible to themselves are a logical result of the emotional past that they have all been through. The narrator tells us: “And so it goes, and so it goes. And the book says, ‘We may be through with the past, but the past isn’t through with us.’” (Anderson). To illustrate this point I will examine three characters from the film. The character Donnie Smith uses the defense mechanisms of displacement and denial. The character Frank T. J. Mackey employs projection and a compromise formation. Finally the character Claudia Wilson Gator is repressing a past trauma which has a profound effect on her present behavior.

“What am I doing? What the fuck am I doing?” - QUIZ KID DONNIE SMITH

The character Quiz Kid Donnie Smith exhibits behavior that is consistent with displacement and denial. Displacement is the substitution of an image or idea for another that is associated with it. Donnie Smith has displaced his goal of gaining love with the goal of having braces. He is obsessed with the desire to have a corrective oral surgery and having braces. He thinks that if he can have braces he will have something in common with Brad the attractive young bartender at the tavern that he frequents....

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