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Paul Thomas Anderson explains the iconic frogs of 'Magnolia'

As one of the finest contemporary film directors, Paul Thomas Anderson has treated audiences with some of the greatest modern dramas of the 21st century, including Punch-Drunk Love, There Will be Blood and The Master. In each aforementioned film, Anderson has helped to coax out many fine performances largely thanks to the meticulous writing of his films, with the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis, Adam Sandler, Joaquin Phoenix and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman excelling in his projects. 

Anderson’s 1999 film Magnolia showed the director manage one of his most impressive ensemble casts to date, enlisting the likes of Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly and William H. Macy to tell the epic story of several characters living in the San Fernando Valley. Nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay for Paul Thomas Anderson, Magnolia would become known as one of the director’s most enigmatic and eclectic films. 

Tracking the entwining lives of several characters, Magnolia creates a cinematic mosaic as it searches for the meaning of love, forgiveness and aspiration in America at the turn of the new millennium. Coming to the project off the back of the highly successful Boogie Nights, Anderson was given complete creative freedom, deciding to put “an epic spin on topics that don’t necessarily get the epic treatment” as he told the Montreal Gazette. 

In keeping with other classic cinematic epics, Paul Thomas Anderson infused his film with a recurring theme of religion, appearing most notably when frogs start raining from the sky toward the film’s climax, a biblical reference to the book of Exodus. One of the film’s most memorable moments, this scene ties the film together as an epic, bringing the fictional eccentricities of old wives tales to the modern day. 

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Speaking to the American film critic Elvis Mitchell in an interview at the time, the director is asked about the relevance of this climactic scene with the themes of the rest of the film, with Paul Thomas Anderson giving a response that no one had anticipated. “I didn’t realise that the rain of frogs was in the bible until I’d finished writing the script and I sent it to Henry Gibson,” the filmmaker stated, revealing that he had no knowledge of the reference at all when he conceived the moment. 

Visiting the actor’s house in Malibu, Gibson gifted Anderson with a bible in reference to the apparent biblical elements of the script. As the director recalls thinking, “‘Oh Henry this is great’ and instantly as he handed it to me I knew ‘I think there’s a rain of frogs in the bible and I’m so stupid that I don’t know it but I’m gonna have to pretend like I know that”. 

With an intention to be “smarter than I was” Anderson managed to get away with the fact that he didn’t know what he was talking about when he wrote the influential script, a surprising revelation considering the director’s meticulous focus on each and every one of his stories.