Magnolia as Philosophy: Meaning and Coincidence

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review


    In Magnolia, a 1999 movie written and directed by then 29-year-old Paul Thomas Anderson, we follow a range of characters who all try to come to terms with the things happening to them in both the present and past. This chapter interprets the movie as making a philosophical point about meaning: how and why do people find meaning in and attribute meaning to things, even if they seem to happen for no apparent reason at all? We will analyze how both the movie’s characters and all of us watching the movie, living our own lives, try to make sense of the often absurd coincidences in life. More importantly, we will ask why we feel the need to “make sense” of the things that happen to and around us and what happens when our attempts fail. How should we respond to things that simply don’t make sense, even after we have tried hard? The chapter explains how (key scenes of) the movie can be interpreted as visualizing the philosophical notion of “the absurd” and inviting us to respond to absurdities in ways already articulated by the French existentialist Albert Camus.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationPalgrave Handbook of Popular Culture as Philosophy
    EditorsDavid Kyle Johnson
    Number of pages23
    ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-97134-6
    ISBN (Print)978-3-319-97134-6
    Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2022


    • Magnolia
    • PTA
    • Paul Thomas Anderson
    • Existentialism
    • Sense-making


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