Dissecting ‘There Will be Blood’

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Well, I am one movie away from completing the rounds for 2007 as I will see Charlie Wilson’s War this Thursday and finally saw There Will be Blood yesterday and I can’t help but wonder if anyone really knows what they saw.

There Will be Blood currently stands with a 95% rating at Rotten Tomatoes with only Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine giving the film a “rotten” rating. There are 25 other critics that disagree with him on the film’s quality, but reading through the reviews I can’t help but think most of them missed a major piece of the story.

In the production notes Ciaran Hinds is quoted saying, “It had a whole different feel to it… The themes were biblical and epic, about desire and revenge and emotions driven by ambition.”

Pretty much everyone has grasped onto the whole desire/revenge/ambition portion of the story and how it leads protag Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) down a dark and disturbing path; they all have disregarded the biblical metaphors. Yeah, plenty of them mention the role religion plays in the film’s overall plotline, but there are several biblical influences here that I wish someone would explain to me.

The story surrounds Daniel Plainview, a self-proclaimed oil man traveling the country with his adopted son H.W. buying up land and bleeding it for oil. One day he is visited by a young man named Paul Sunday who tells him of a small town called Little Boston where the oil is seeping out of the ground thanks to a recent earthquake. Paul sells him this information for a small price and is on his way.

Daniel descends upon the California town and begins to buy up all the land and There Will be Blood is the story of what happens next.

In town he meets people such as Abel Sunday and his son Eli Sunday, Eli being something equivalent to an early 1900s televangelist. I don’t believe these names to be mere coincidence considering writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson is hardly someone that would make religious such a focal point in this film, name these folks as such and do it all on a whim.

Perhaps I am wrong and I am looking so deep into this film only because I feel I need to. I need to make something of the dark and dirty film I just saw. I need to make sense of why I would watch it, why any one would watch it and why critics are falling all over themselves to proclaim it the best of 2007.

There Will be Blood appears to be a film you need to see multiple times in order to fully grasp and take in all that Anderson has done with it. The only problem is why would you ever want to watch this again?

Sure, Daniel Day-Lewis is once again amazing as Plainview and Paul Dano has certainly opened eyes with his performance as Eli Sunday, but are good performances alone reason enough to watch a film that goes down with such a hard swallow?

I was asked by the publicist to forward on my reaction of the film to which I responded:

It’s a dark and rather nasty film with excellent acting, a Kubrick-esque score that almost turns it into more of a horror film than an oil/religious drama. I can’t say I necessarily liked it, I think it takes more than one viewing to really decide, but I am not sure if I would actually want to watch it again either.

That of course is about as close to industry speak as I get, and yes, the score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is interesting, but it is hardly worth noting in terms of being overlooked come award season. It isn’t a score you would want to replay. For a taste of it just go here and give it a listen. The most effective and most Kubrick-esque piece is “There Will be Blood”, which along with “Stranded the Line” sounds a lot like something I would have heard in The Shining.

People have compared Day-Lewis’ performance as Plainview to Charles Foster Kane, but I think Plainview’s decline is far more horrific than Kane’s and this film really does play almost more like a horror than anything else… Just wait until the bowling scene or Plainview’s threats when offered a million dollars for his land. These are moments that turn this into much more than a drama.

Taking into consideration my reaction statement sent to the publicist above I think there is a better, and more realistic way to describe this film:

A very well made movie that no one will see until after it gets nominated for Oscars, perhaps wins a few, and then baffles them once they ultimately see it on DVD.

The next time I will watch this film will undoubtedly be on DVD and I feel I have to wait to reserve judgment until then. There Will be Blood is going to get plenty of recognition come award season and I can’t help but think Day-Lewis is assured his second Oscar win, he is just too good not to be recognized. Cinematographer Robert Elswit may also get the same treatment as this film truly transports you back in time and I would even love to see this film get recognized for its sound design as it really has that dry dusty hand print feel to it.

Is it safe to say this film has polarized me? Yup. After I saw it I was ready to hate it, but the more you think about it the more you open up to it, just not all the way.

Will it make my top ten of 2007? Now that is the real question, but it is a question much along the same lines as No Country for Old Men in my opinion. Both films I didn’t really like on first viewing. I have already seen No Country a second time and liked it even more, but when making a top ten list for any individual year how much does the effect a movie have on you compare to overall entertainment value? I know I wasn’t necessarily “entertained” by either There Will be Blood or No Country for Old Men, but I was mentally stimulated. What’s more important?

I guess we will find out next week when I release my top ten, for now I will just have to let it simmer.

However, if any one out there can let me know if I was looking too deep for religious metaphors in this film please tell me. Otherwise, enlighten me and let me in on what I am missing.