Country: United States
Genre: Drama/ Art
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
TRASH CINEMA HIGHLY RECOMMENDED MOVIE
My first thought when I started watching There Will Be Blood is that it would be a hatchet job on capitalism and religion, but writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson is up to something more interesting and elusive.
When we first meet Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), he’s a driven, solitary man, relentlessly digging and scratching at the hard rock beneath the surface of the earth, determined Midas-like to create gold from dirt through sheer force of will. Paul Thomas Anderson films these early scenes (the first 15 minutes of the picture) wordlessly, only accompanied by the eerie early 20th Century classical strings of composer Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead). The dissonance and harsh visuals speak to the madness of the true entrepreneur, driven to create something out of nothing. Later, Daniel Plainview tells us that his goal is create wealth so he doesn’t have to coexist with other human beings, but that’s just the story he tells himself. The compulsion comes from a deeper, more atavistic place.
Everything, including Plainview’s humanity, is ultimately sacrificed to this inner compulsion. It’s not that Plainview is an evil monster–he’s human enough. When one of his workmen dies, he adopts the man’s son as his own. Sure, he uses the boy as a selling tool so that homesteaders will sell him their land to drill on for oil, but he has real feelings for the boy. Later on, Plainview’s hunger for family connection will lead him to take in a long lost half brother and teach him the oil business.
But ultimately, all of Plainview’s human feelings are subordinated and channeled into his unshakeable lust to create something from nothing and claim as much, if not to the world, at least to himself.
That is why he is so hostile to Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), who seeks to piggyback on Plainview’s financial success to build an empire of his own, in a preview of today’s megachurches. Yes, Sunday’s father beats his daughter when she doesn’t pray, but that is just an excuse for Plainview’s hostility towards religion. Really, if there is an all-powerful God, Plainview doesn’t get to claim sole credit for his success, and that, he cannot tolerate.
Thus begins a tug of war (hardly an equal one) between Eli Sunday and Plainview.
Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has made some striking filmmaking choices here. He has eschewed a strict realism, which will no doubt alienate many literal minded viewers. The character of Daniel Plainview speaks in a clipped formal way that is probably not historically accurate, but it does reflect the premium he places on absolute control. I haven’t always found actor Daniel Day Lewis’ mannered approach to acting admirable, but he’s perfect for Anderson’s conception–Lewis is utterly mesmerizing in the role of Plainview. Like Plainview, Lewis never loses control, even when Anderson has him turn up the volume of the performance to earsplitting levels in the utterly loony climax.
Again, Paul Thomas Anderson uses repetition in his script in a way that calls attention to its artificiality, which will drive some people nuts, but for me, the repetition functioned, along with the stateliness of the cinematography, the archness of Lewis’ performance, and Jonny Greenwood’s overpowering and eerie score, to elevate There Will Be Blood into the realm of myth.
Is There Will Be Blood a great film? For me, it’s a little too fond of it’s eccentricity for that, but it’s undeniably powerful and magnetic. If you watch films for entertainment and escapism, There Will Be Blood will provide some amusement, along with the inevitable headscratching. On the other hand, if you care about films as an art form, you can’t afford to miss it.