Sons & Fathers in Paul Thomas Anderson films

Magnolia Cruise and Robards

While perusing a new book on the films of Paul Thomas Anderson (“The Master,” “There Will Be Blood”), I came across an observation on the relationship between fathers and sons in Anderson’s films, especially “Magnolia” and “There Will Be Blood.”

The book, “Blossoms and Blood: Postmodern Media Culture and the Films of Paul Thomas Anderson,” was published by University of Texas Press in December.

As you could probably guess from the title, author Jason Sperb submits Anderson’s films to extreme academic gobbledygook.  From what I can tell, there’s some nice bits like the one clipped below, but those are few and far between. Plus you have to translate a lot of the overstuffed prose to get at what he’s saying.

And sometimes Sperb is just way off (e.g. contrary to an offhand comment by the author, Barry Egan would most certainly not be a member of Mackey’s Seduce and Destroy audience – the phone sex scene in “Punch Drunk Love” is about the intimacy missing in his life like the place setting and empty chair at his dinner table).

Still this selection from Sperb’s book nails the father/son theme that infuses almost all of Anderson’s movies:

“Mackey is also outrunning his father, just as Anderson’s characters time and again negotiate complicated relationships with their biological or surrogate fathers. Cruise’s character, originally named Jack Partridge, is abandoned by his celebrity parent.  ‘Mackey’ is thus reborn—new name, new persona—on and beyond TV. As scholars such as Susan Jeffords have argued, Hollywood’s collective depiction of dominant masculinity during the 1980s age of Reagan was one centered repeatedly on broken homes and the desire for a strong father figure. As a cinephiliac child of this era, Anderson reveals in his work a similar conservative impulse—love between a father and son is often more important than that between a man and woman. Like Mackey’s return to his dying father, most every film ends with a son’s return to his elder—though this makes the final, unexpected rejection at the end of There Will Be Blood all the more devastating.  Even the notably father-less Punch Drunk Love (2002) is defined—Timothy Stanley and Julian Murphet have argued respectively—by a family’s absent father figure, a void filled by over-bearing sisters.”

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