Monday, January 14, 2008

There Will be Blood

(Contains spoilers)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will be Blood prefigures the causal relationship that dictates so much of world affairs today: where there is oil, there will be blood. A person can easily make this connection by matching the tagline with the title, however, film goes well beyond the prediction of violence, greed, and war—a that prediction might seem obvious if it weren’t made through such poetic, allegorical means. Anderson elegantly, dramatically, circles around a political message without ever stating it, and his complete avoidance of didacticism is one of the film’s many strengths.

The final sequence delivers the blood that the title promises, but there is more than one type of blood flowing throughout. The atheist Daniel Plainview accepts the blood of Christ as part of a business deal, and the blood of family taunts him throughout the film. Like the blood of Christ, blood relations remain an unconfirmed phenomenon, a hypothesis, and a superstition. Family and faith are feigned. Plainview’s son is not his son, his brother is not his brother, God’s son is not the son of god, and the peoples’ prophet is a scam. Plainview’s father and sister, who are referenced but never pictured, are either dead or absent. Thusly, the spectator is left to wonder if parts of Daniel’s personality are not pushed to full capacity. I do not mean that he is underdeveloped or incomplete, but that the awesome power of his character is at once kinetic and potential—spent but not exhausted. Even when Daniel is an old, broken alcoholic his cruelty does not cease or desist. More so than his actions, his everlasting potential to kill, pillage and destroy devastate spectators in the final moments on the film. Sitting on the floor in a pool of blood, his victim laying dead by his side, Daniel mutters, “I am finished.” This brilliant last line should do for resolutions what Antoine Doinel’s frozen face did for open endings. Daniel Plainview is neither exonerated nor absolved, and if he is truly finished, we are forced to reinterpret his quest. The resolution comes not because things are repaired, or because goals are achieved, but because the land and Daniel and finally sucked dry. This is a resolution that resolves nothing.

When the screen went black and the title dominated screen once again, I couldn’t help but feel that it said “I told you so.” Like everything else, I felt spent from a truly rewarding cinematic experience. There Will be Blood is a film that exhausts all its resources, and pushes every aspect of cinema to full capacity. The score, the performances, the cinematography are never humble. Daniel Day Lewis’s theatrically twisted portray of Daniel Plainview, Jonny Greenwoods avant interpretation of a classical score, and Robert Elswit’s uncompromising frames are all powerfully exaggerated. No screen is too big for this film.


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