A few nights ago, we watched Magnolia, and are still talking about it. One of the questions Keller posed was how the three coincidences – “the account of the hanging of 3 men . . . and a scuba diver . . . and a suicide” – in the opening and closing have relevance to the rest of the film?
I was doing some research about what other commentators have said. I found one really helpful and insightful piece on the film that helped explain much of the Exodus allegory. On the topic of the coincidences, the author writes that they mean “perhaps nothing.” Just a trick to distract the watchdog of our mind. “We are encouraged to accept the fact that these things happen all the time, and that we shouldn’t over-think any of it.”
I take an entirely different view: the narrator is seeking to demonstrate that what we name ‘coincidence’, what we think of as highly unlikely or unusual situations, are in fact around us every time — if you cast a wider net. It’s easy enough to see and share the vignette of the hanging of 3 men named Green, Berry, and Hill who murdered a resident of Greenberry Hill. But to show the interconnectedness of everything and everyone – well, we normally don’t take the time and effort.
Which is where the rest of the film comes in. The lives of these characters interweave in such ways that the actions of one ripples throughout the others. Between stories, parallel themes abound. At no time does the audience think “What are the chances of that?!” – the “coincidence” is entirely believable in a way situations that we name as coincidental simply are not. And yet … the previous champion of What Do Kids Know? is stopped by an officer who is dating the cocaine-addicted daughter of the host of the show, on which a new contestant is experiencing the same exploitation of the previous champion. A young boy who offers clues to that same officer finds a woman passed out in a car who happens to be married to the dying producer of the show, whose nurse is attempting to contact his son. All of the children are exploited by their fathers. Two of the fathers are dying of cancer. The rain of frogs effects all of them as a judgment and a mercy.
The interweaving is not concise enough to make us immediately name it a coincidence, but the viewer cannot remain blind. As the narrator pulls back the stories of the three coincidences, the question of scope is raised. If we had enough time and eyes to see, would we see such interconnectedness everywhere? And if such interconnectedness is everywhere, is it truly coincidence? Rather than feeling encouraged to not over-think it, I feel the desire to over-think everything, to have eyes to see.
That helpful article I mentioned earlier? I really enjoyed it, which is unusual for me in reading about films. In the middle of reading it, I looked for who the author could be. Scroll to the top, no name listed. Scroll to the bottom:
“Shane Hipps is student at Fuller Theological Seminary where he is earning a Masters in Divinity.”
What a coincidence.