Thursday, September 2, 2010

Great Alphas and Betas on Film - Magnolia

Today, I'm starting a series focusing on examples of Alphas and Betas on film.

We start, of course, with The Greatest Judeo-Christian Film Ever Made.  That's right.  Magnolia, by the genius, Paul Thomas Anderson.

Discussion and spoilers after the break.

I'm not going over the whole film, because there's too much going on for a blog post.  It's a great film that ends by imagining what a biblical miracle would like like in a contemporaneous setting.  The film does a fantastic job of capturing the shock and wonderment of the characters when confronted with the miracle.

Anyway, back to Game.  When you watch it, pay attention to everything, including these characters:


Frank "T.J." Mackey, played by Tom Cruise.  Mackey is a pickup guru who teaches Neuro-Linguistic Programming seduction.  The character is clearly based on Ross Jeffries, despite what Tom Cruise told Neil Strauss in The Game, that the character wasn't Jeffries.  Before there was Mystery, there was Jeffries.


Officer Jim Kurring, played by John C. Reilly.  Kurring is a White Knight orderly dork.  Despite his lack of social skills, he is strong enough to get the girl that he wants in the end (a supremely troubled girl that he is rescuing).

Phil Parma, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Parma is a hospice nurse, caring for a dying television producer, played by Jason Robards.  Robards' character asks Hoffman if he has a girlfriend and Parma replies that he doesn't but that he is looking and trying.  Despite his outstanding qualities, his type of strength is completely invisible to women.  Zero tingles.  Which is a shame, but that's the world in which we live.  As we know, virtue alone is not enough.

The Robards character and another character, a hypocritical children television game show host, are elderly dying Alphas.  It's quite clear from the film that both have cheated on their wives extensively and are filled with regret.

UPDATE: Susan Walsh has a post on the seven male archetypes of cinematic heroes. Under that scale, Mackey/Cruise is obviously a Alpha/Alpha mix of #2  bad boy and #5 lost soul.   Kurring/Reilly is a Beta/lesser Alpha mix of #3 Best Friend and #7 Warrior.  Parma/Seymour Hoffman is a Beta #3 Best Friend.

UPDATE 2: Both of the elderly dying Alphas are #4 charmers.

Watch Magnolia and watch these characters and think about1)  Game.  And 2) the meaning of life.  And 3) whether God exists.  And 4) the importance of fathers in the lives of their children and their influence on the ability of their children to live happy lives and form families.

The answer to 3) in the film is yes.  You know that because the missing pistol falls at the end (meaning that there is no possible natural explanation).  It's also the answer in real life.


  1. Interesting analysis. I'm not a Cruise fan, so I skipped Magnolia, but perhaps I will check it out.

  2. Everyone should watch Magnolia. I'm a bit of a fanboy of Magnolia and, to a lesser extent, P.T.A.

    I guarantee, by the tenth time you watch Magnolia, you will love it and think it the best film ever made.