There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson is always an interesting director and Daniel Day-Lewis is always an interesting actor, so it came as no shock that this was one hell of an interesting movie. What came as a surprise, however, is how layered and subtle it all was. Even now, I still find it hard to say what exactly the film was about, because all these ideas still come whenever I think about it.
Basically, I think the movie is summed up in the title. I haven’t read Oil! by Upton Sinclair, but from what I gather the movie was only loosely based on the story, so I don’t feel so bad if I totally miss the target when I say the movie is about blood ties, as in family, religion, and, well, violence.
The character of Plainview (played by Daniel Day Lewis) is incredibly multi-layered. He is anything but a “Plainview”. Here is a man who in the beginning of the film adopts a child (H.W., played by Dillon Freasier) orphaned by the death of his father at an accident in one of his derricks. There is a touching moment during the first half hour of the film when he stares at the child as he sits in a little crate all alone and crying. They both seem so alone in the world, and when the child finally grows comfortable with Plainview and starts caressing his face, one is led to believe they have established a father and son bond grown from circumstance and loneliness. This idea is further cemented when years pass and the two work together as a sales team, pitching oil the way old-school door to door salesmen pitched encyclopedias.
But the fact remains that they are not “blood”. Neither, as it turns out, is Plainview’s long lost half-brother, who shows up in the second half of the film just as Plainview is growing prosperous. God, who also makes a play for Plainview (in the form of Paul/Eli Sunday) also comes up empty handed. Plainview does end up getting baptized, but only to further his ambitions.
Speaking of Paul/Eli Sunday (played by the wonderful Paul Dano), here is a character who is almost Plainview’s opposite. Here is a character who has “blood” (a loving family, belief in God) yet he forsakes both his biological father (this is one ugly scene) and, in the end, God himself.
Or is it that “blood” has forsaken Sunday and Plainview? Sunday, so confident in his life goals of building a prosperous church, fails to see how his ambition tears apart everything he already had. Meanwhile, Plainview’s lack of “blood” makes him doubt those who loved him, including a “brother” who was a loyal friend, a community who believed in him, and the “son” that grew to love him.
It’s interesting that the one pure and good character in the entire film is Mary, Sunday’s youngest sister and later H.W.’s wife. She is the only female character in the entire film, and she is also the one the oil derrick is named after. It’s almost as if by naming the derrick after her, Plainview seems to inherently understand that it is not what he does that is bad, it’s the way he goes about his life that is his downfall.
The movie is a beautiful thing to see. It looks great, and the soundtrack works so well that you don’t even realize that the first part of the film has no dialogue. Sound is a character in the film. There is the amazing soundtrack (by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood), first of all. Then there is Plainview’s speaking voice, a thing that needs to be heard to be believed. Day-Lewis got the tone by listening to recordings from the late 19th century, and also from watching Huston’s the The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Finally, there is the moment when H.W. loses his hearing in an explosion. All sound is gone, and it is as if only then can you finally see what is going on with the characters.
Wow, what a film. Anderson keeps growing as a director, quite a feat considering he started out so strong in the first place. But you can see a definite maturity from film to film. From Boogie Nights to Magnolia, to Punch Drunk Love to this (I don’t count Hard Eight because supposedly it was re-edited against his wishes), there is a definite loss of innocence that is just heartbreaking. I look forward to more of his films.