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‘Weaving a Myth’: Magnolia and the Psychology of Religion in Film

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Vassar College

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  1. Introduction
  2. The film Magnolia
    1. The 'personification' of pathological complexes
    2. A montage of pseudo historical events
    3. The first lead character: Frank TJ Mackey
  3. 'Seduce and Destroy' seminar footage
  4. The identification process exhibited by the character of Frank TJ Mackey
  5. The Future of an Illusion
    1. Freud's explanation and Magnolia
    2. The relationship between Mackey and Earl
  6. The character of Jim
    1. Jim's investigation of Claudia's house after a neighbor complained of noise
  7. Stanley's heroic exile
  8. The miraculous synchronicity that concludes Magnolia
  9. Conclusion
  10. Bibliography

Imagination is fundamental to human life. Indeed, all the ?humanities' are manifestations of the creative instinct that finds its origin in imagination. One creative imagination communicates its images to another in an attempt to bridge the perceived space between two minds. Hillman suggests that, just as painting in the Renaissance made the imaginative leap from flat representation to spatial perspective, when deeper imaginable dimensions are achieved through the evolution of art forms, the viewer reaches ?a new relation with the image and closer participation ?in' its ?reality' (212).? In modern times, film represents another such leap; it is a medium that augments visual art with the temporal dimension, allowing the direct projection of entire narratives into the psyche of another, by means of creating a reality that is more authentically shared between the creative mind and its audience (of other creative minds).

[...] ?Religion has always stood for the saving power of the good object relationship,' by providing God, a Savior, and a Church to whom the anxious soul can fly for refuge and salvation (Guntrip 1956 in Wulff, 337). In this object-relations sense of the term, religion functions as a transitional object, illusory intermediate area of experience that helps throughout life to bridge inner and outer realities (Wulff, Magnolia is rife with characters who are engaged with various transitional objects during the turbulent periods in their life. Their journeys go through collective phases of intensity and of resolution, during which they release their transitional objects and develop into more mature people. [...]

[...] It must be kept in mind, however, that as film is a portrayal of myth, this interpretation is limited by the singular perspective of its author. Hillman reminds us that sin against the imagination whenever we ask an image for its meaning, requiring that images be translated into concepts And these interpretations forget too that they are themselves fantasies induced by the image, no more meaningful than the image itself The images of the film stand for themselves and do not necessarily mean what has just been ascribed to them; but as a film necessitates a viewer, this interpretation is valid as one of the many ways to access the myth put forth by the collective dream-sequence of Magnolia. [...]

[...] As Freud writes of the role of father-relations in the formation of a certain type of religious worldview, When the growing individual finds that he can never do without protection against strange superior powers, he lends those powers the features belonging to the figure of his father; he creates for himself the gods whom he dreads, whom he entrusts with his own protection (30). Freud's explanation works for Magnolia in a two-fold manner, describing both Mackey's own development as a person and the creation of Mackey the cult-god. Although Mackey has assumed the name of his mother's father as a means of coping with her loss, he has created for himself a ?god' having the characteristics of his absent father, namely womanizing vice that the dying Earl confessed on his deathbed) and emotional detachment. [...]

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