By Bryan Nixon.
I cling to films that strive to reach the cinematic outer limits, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Apocalypse Now, and 8 1/2; I dare say that There Will Be Blood is one of those films. It is a film defining corruption and greed that tears apart the American dream, paranoid, with a vengeance, and in complete control. There Will Be Blood, a 1900’s period piece, acts as a character study that proudly displays the central performance, colossal in execution, by Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview. The true brilliance of the film, however, lies in the complexity of the seemingly simple screenplay, and director Paul Thomas Anderson’s dedication to the undertaking of grandiose set pieces, juxtaposed with the quieter moments unfolding in long takes that slowly fuel the rage boiling deep within.
The expository opening fifteen minutes of the film act as a modern silent film piece. During these moments, Plainview ascends from the depths of the earth as a silver miner who eventually strikes oil. The superbly haunting score by Johnny Greenwood, of the experimental rock outfit Radiohead, layers foreshadowed doom over the imagery of a determined Plainview devising his oil empire. When Plainview’s voice is first heard, he is giving a speech to potential prospects, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I am an oilman’. Daniel Plainview is a man who speaks in speeches, telling people what he believes they want to hear, in order to sell himself to gain land, unearth oil, and produce a profit. These good-hearted speeches, however, are shrouded in lies; Plainview is slowly revealed as a deceitful man who hates those around him and seeks a life of wealthy solitude.
Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), the pastor of the Church of the Third Revelation in Little Boston, stands as Plainview’s primary yet indirect nemesis. Eli is a weasel who is arguably just as crooked and greedy as Plainview. When giving a sermon, Eli the charlatan is possessed by something that encourages him into believing that his cult-like behavior heals those around him; Eli shouts violence toward the devils and demons of this world and uses brute force to beat ungodly stupidity out of people. In one scene, Eli attacks his father at the family dinner table and terrorizes him with the notion that God does not save stupid men. Paul Dano’s performance seems to be overshadowed by Day-Lewis, but he injects much-needed vulnerability and ignorance, commandeering an infected soul crying out for his own hypocrisy to be revealed as opposed to seemingly chewing up the scenery during his self-righteous outbursts. Plainview amasses his repulsion for Eli because he sees through him; he sees himself in Eli, yet he is not as foolish.
The last scene, which has already become famous for the absurdly perfect quote ‘I drink your milkshake’, is daring, darkly humorous, and purposefully yet necessarily overreaching. The final confrontation in the bowling alley between Plainview and Eli serves as the instant in which both men finally reveal whom they are deep within to one another. Plainview thrives off of so much hatred, especially toward Eli, that he ultimately has to erupt violently. He is a ticking time bomb of a man who had, over the course of the film, driven away everyone, even his adopted son H.W., to live a life of self-damning solitude in his mansion. Eli intrudes upon Plainview’s drunken serenity and, like a fool, squirms for money to unknowingly ignite his vehemence. Anderson takes advantage of the opportunity to mirror Plainview’s hollow baptismal scene, also: Plainview demands Eli to confess that God does not exist for the sake of the almighty dollar. Eli does so, and like the Devil, Plainview takes Eli’s life immediately afterwards before he could repent for his sins, therefore casting him into Hell.
There Will Be Blood is a beautifully shot piece. The dusty, barren landscape as an infinitely spreading realm of loneliness remains a constant until the claustrophobic dénouement. Anderson often positions the camera in a symmetrical manor that recalls the visual style of Stanley Kubrick; the bowling alley sequence could be considered homage to The Shining based on Anderson’s grueling attention to space. The gusher sequence, in which a derrick is set ablaze throughout the night while oil continually erupts, is visually as monolithic an entity as anything else that the cinema has to offer. Oil rains down like ash from a volcano drenching the onlookers and confirms wide-eyed Plainview’s suspicions that he has indeed found an ‘ocean of oil’ to quench his greedy thirst.
With There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson has crafted a modern masterpiece that follows two men on opposite ends of the spectrum who are in fact the same in their demeanor, declaring deceptive promises to crowds whilst building their own egotistical empires. As a character study, There Will Be Blood examines the self-destructive soul just as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull before it. Anderson then brings into the forefront issues that affect our daily lives, such as the necessity of oil, the avarice it creates, corruption in big business, and the rise of self-righteous hypocrites who spread their version of ‘God’s Word’ in the spotlight. But as a whole, There Will Be Blood analyzes character. Plainview accomplishes all he sets out to do, gets everything he wants, and achieves the American dream as he sees it, having the last laugh in every scenario; in response, the film promises an eternity confined in Hell.
Bryan Nixon is an independent scholar.
There Will Be Blood(USA, 2007)
Director Paul Thomas Anderson Producers Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi, Scott Rudin, Eric Schlosser, JoAnne Sellar, David Williams Screenplay Paul Thomas Anderson Cinematography Robert Elswit Editor Dylan Tichenor Art Direction David Crank Costumes Mark Bridges Original Music Johnny Greenwood With Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Kevin J. O’Connor Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Runtime 158 minutes