What is Magical Realism?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
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  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2019
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Magical realism is a genre of art, literature, and performance in which elements of the fantastic are presented within the context of very real scenes and events, typically without comment. This artistic genre emerged in Latin America, although examples can be drawn from other regions of the world as well. Some notable figures in this field include Salvador Dali, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Rene Magritte, Jose Saramago, and M.C. Escher.

Some people mistakenly lump magical realism as a genre with fantasy, but in fact, this genre is distinctly separate. The focal point is not the dreamlike, fantastic, or supernatural elements that appear, but rather the very real world that serves as the framework for the piece. Magical realism is often extremely serious, and it contains embedded commentary about art, culture, and human nature. People may deeply enjoy these works, drawn into an interesting world and the fascinating characters, but it is typically far from escapist, forcing people to confront very real issues and situations.

This genre is characterized by paradoxical events that are never fully explained by the author, and these events are often accepted as perfectly normal and in fact usual by the characters or figures in the world of the artwork. For example, a ghost may appear in a novel, and while its presence might seem difficult for readers to accept, the characters seem to have no difficulty with the ghost's existence and actions.


Often, very terrible things happen in art in this genre. Acts of sadism, torture, and murder may be committed by various characters, and people often struggle with intensely brutal, sad, or frustrating situations. The resolution of such situations may be imperfect, reflecting the reality of the world, and readers and viewers are often disquieted and even disturbed after delving into this genre. Lasting lessons and memories tend to endure for years after absorbing an example of this genre, and sometimes viewers or readers even find themselves haunted by a work of art.

Most libraries and bookstores have some examples of literature from this genre, and staff are often happy to make recommendations to people who are unfamiliar with notable works. Works of art that are considered to be magical realism can be found on display in galleries and museums, and they are also widely reproduced. Some artistic masters in the genre are quite famous for their distinctive, haunting work.


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Post 2

@roser - Sure, I think there are plenty of examples of magical realism movies and Donnie Darko definitely has all of the right elements (fantasy/supernatural/surreal events occurring in an otherwise real life world).

Personally I'd consider many of the films of Wes Anderson to be at least in part influenced by magical realism also. There's no magic or waving of wands as in fantasy movies and I wouldn't even necessarily call them "surreal", but nonetheless I think he presents a skewed version of the real world to an extent that it could be considered magical realism. Even though the vision of the real world he presents is exaggerated, it's grounded enough in reality that it doesn't quite slip into fantasy. People who know more about this than I do: agree or disagree?

Post 1

What about film? Could films like Donnie Darko be considered magical realism?

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