Sunday, November 23, 2014

There Will Be Blood

Towards the beginning of Paul Thomas Anderson's 2007 film, There Will Be Blood, there is a shot that descends from the bright sun-washed Californian desert into a dark long hole filled with oil. Below, is Daniel Plainview. This is where the movie begins, in Plainview's "heart of darkness." Daniel Plainview is not a man, not in the traditional sense at least. He is a demon, a devil, a fiery being whose origins unknown. It is not wholly unbelievable that he was simply begat by the bowels of the Earth, thrown forth in some vicious gushing of oil. Daniel Plainview cannot be a man, for he is far too ruthless to be anything other than supernatural. A god made of anger, gristle, fury, and determination. He is the ultimate personification of all of the greed and evil in America, a build up of pure corruption. Yet, one cannot help but feel a sense of respect for the character of Plainview. He is a "bad person", yes. But, he got to where he is all on his own. All of the oil wells and land and money he has procured, he has procured himself. One looks at him with the same fearful admiration they would of Adolf Hitler. A man of unconscionable evil, but he's worked hard to get all that evil. One of the greatest actors of our time, Daniel Day-Lewis, portrays the character of Plainview. With a role like this, many other actors would make the character campy. Day-Lewis makes it one of the most intense and horrifying performances I have ever seen. It is a fact that he is great here, an indisputable one at that. It is a performance so good, people often overlook the other fantastic elements of the movie. There Will Be Blood, after all, is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. A filmmaker who I firmly believe is one of the best, if not THE best, person working in the movies today. There Will Be Blood is his masterpiece. A masterpiece, coming from a man who has made such films as Magnolia, Boogie Nights, and The Master is an extraordinary feat. The filmmaking on display in Blood is comparable to the best work of Stanley Kubrick. I do not make these claims lightly. Anderson began his career making brilliant character ensemble pieces. He frequently referenced his directing heroes, people like Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme. With Blood, he proves that he can make a film so purely his own. He also proved he is a true genius with filmmaking. I struggle to think of any other filmmaker who not only fully understands the human condition and how to write it but also how to film it. With There Will Be Blood, Anderson has cemented his name in the history books. At its very core, the film is about good versus evil. The pious preacher Eli Sunday (played by Paul Dano) up against the violent oil man, Daniel Plainview. In any other movie, good would prevail because goodness always rises above the evil. Yet, in real life that is not always the case. Eli Sunday may be a man of god, but his hands are far from clean. In the end, the most godly man does not win out, but the man who is most equipped. In some sense, There Will Be Blood is a perfect argument for Darwin's "survival of the fittest theory". The film takes place in between the years 1898 and 1927. An epic expanse of time that ends right at the edge of national disaster. The Great Depression. The events take place on the brink of a collapse. An apocalypse. At the end of the movie, Plainview (who at this point is near insanity) begins to scream "I am the Third Revelation! I am who the lord has chosen!" This line might be more than just ramblings of a man gone mad. Plainview is the harbinger of  the end. A horseman riding a steed made of oil, evil, and greed. He is the lord of his wide desert expanse. The very end of the film is the ultimate summation of Plainview's insane determination. It is the American Dream, like it or not. It does not come with a majestic waving of the flag over a bright blue sky, but with a bowling pin smashing down on a man's head. This is America. This is Daniel Plainview's America. Anderson does not point his finger at capitalism or at corruption in this country, he simply shows us it and laughs. With There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson has more or less crafted a perfect film. I have seen the movie three times now and I can say that with the utmost confidence. It is a cinematic landmark that will be remembered for a long time.


  1. Nice stuff here, Whit. Definitely a masterful film from PT Anderson, and DDL is incredible, just a haunting performance. :)

    1. Thanks Chris! For sure. Haunting and masterful are pretty fitting words for this film.

  2. Man, I really got to see me some Paul Thomas Anderson at some point. I keep hearing so much about his movies and he certainly sounds like a better director than Paul W.S. Anderson, but I just never seem to get around to seeing any of them. The most I've seen of his work so far is the first few minutes of Magnolia.

    With hindsight, There Will Be Blood would have been a great choice for my 2015 blindspot list. I feel kinda silly for not thinking of it sooner.