Why Magnolia Has So Many References To The Book Of Exodus

Even before it went into limited release in late 1999, Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia," seemed to tease biblical connections with an enigmatic movie poster depicting a rain of frogs. The film contains numerous background references to a line of scripture, Exodus 8:2, in which the prophet Moses, seeking to liberate the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt, tells the Egyptian Pharaoh: "If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs."

"Magnolia" also has a boy named Dixon (Emmanuel Johnson) identify himself as "the prophet" as he raps about "the devil" and "the good Lord." In 2019, when "Magnolia" was celebrating its 20th anniversary, we dug into the meaning of Dixon's rap, which was shaped into its mysterious movie form partly by Anderson's creative decision to delete a subplot involving a character named Worm, played by Orlando Jones.

In the same way that Quentin Tarantino attributed Samuel L. Jackson's hitman speech in "Pulp Fiction" to Ezekiel 25:17 — when, in fact, it was quoting from a Sonny Chiba movie and not the Bible — it seems that Anderson's inspiration for the rain of frogs in "Magnolia" came from a different source, which he then retroactively linked back to the Bible. In an interview with Creative Screenwriting, he explained:

"There's certainly a Biblical reference there, but I'd be a liar if I said to you it was written initially as a Biblical reference. I truthfully didn't even know it was in the Bible when I first wrote the sequence. I had read about a rain of frogs through the works of Charles Fort, who's a wonderful writer. He was the person who coined the term UFO, who wrote about odd phenomena. So when I read about the rain of frogs, I was going through a weird, personal time."

When frog rain 'somehow makes sense as a sign'

Anderson continued:

"I don't want to get too personal, but maybe there are certain moments in your life, when things are so f**ked up and so confused, that someone can say to you, 'It's raining frogs,' and that makes sense. That somehow makes sense as a warning; that somehow makes sense as a sign. I started to understand why people turn to religion in times of trouble, and maybe my form of finding religion was reading about rains of frogs and realizing that makes sense to me somehow. And then of course to discover it in the Bible and the reference that it makes there just sort of verifies it, like, 'Hey, I guess I'm on the right track.'"

The Bible is a religious text, but it's also one of those literary and historical texts, like the works of Shakespeare, where it's filled with words and phrases that people quote from sometimes without even realizing it. Anderson arrived at his biblical reference in "Magnolia" by coincidence, but once he realized there was a precedent for frog rain in Exodus 8:2, he fully embraced the serendipity of that coincidence as one of the movie's themes.

If you go back and watch "Magnolia" with an eye toward the numbers "8" and "2," you can see where he seeded them all throughout the film.

Occurrences of the numbers 8 and 2 in the prologue

During the prologue of "Magnolia," the voice of the narrator (Ricky Jay), speaks of matters of chance and coincidence. He tells a story about three men named Green, Berry, and Hill murdering another man who happened to live in a place called Greenberry Hill. One of them is hanged with the numbers "82" around his neck.

The narrator then tells a story about a scuba diver who got scooped up from a lake by a plane putting out forest fires, only for it to be discovered later that the pilot and diver had crossed paths before in a casino where the diver worked. The numbers on the side of the plane are "82," and when the pilot is playing blackjack at the casino, he needs a "2" card to win but gets dealt an "8."

The final story, first told at an awards dinner for forensic scientists (held at 8:20 p.m.), involves a young man named Sydney Barringer jumping to his death from the roof of his apartment building. On the way down, he's accidentally shot through the window by his own mother, which ends up being the thing that kills him, since there was a new safety net installed on the ground that would have saved him. Before Barringer jumps, you can see two ropes coiled into the shape of "82" on the ledge next to him.

These are just a few examples from the opening minutes of "Magnolia." There are many other instances where the numbers pop up again, such as a weather update that gives an "82% chance of rain." In the same way that Anderson himself was unaware of Exodus 8:2 at first, most viewers probably won't notice the recurring numbers in his movie on their first viewing. However, they are there, hiding in plain sight, ready to add another layer of interconnectedness to a film that is almost divine.