Well the hubby and I spent most of Saturday evening watching There Will Be Blood. I say most because this film is 2 and a 1/2 hours long, but worth every minute. I didn’t write about the movie sooner because, well because we didn’t see it until now (since it came out on DVD and was available through Netflix) and because I’m still ruminating on all the nuances and references throughout the film. I’m also still trying to process the ending. My God the ending!
In our day, movies are notorious for either ending very badly or for ending on an upbeat and hopeful note. Somehow I don’t remember such extreme dichotomies in movies gone by, but this is 2008 after all where people are giddy about the latest political messiah or depressed about the latest war. Emotions could go either way. Yet along comes Daniel Plainview, played deliciously by Daniel Day Lewis. Now there are numerous wonderful reviews of the film out there so I won’t bore you with a blow by blow account. I only wanted to mention a few things that stick with me and might stick with you.
The first that struck me was the musical score. What an extremely odd and jarring choice of music. For the first 25 or 20 minutes there is no music or dialogue and then when Plainview finds oil, we are treated to a weird mix of sounds that are created to keep us from becoming comfortable. I don’t know why you would become comfortable anyway with Daniel Plainview. He is perhaps the most irredeemable character on recent film. What’s odd is that there are moments where you like him and agree with him and the next moment you see how despicable he is. But that’s precisely why he is so HUMAN. The twin of Plainview’s character is the creepy Brother Eli Sunday, played by Paul Dano. Where did this guy come from? What a find. For every masterful play for oil by Plainview, there is a masterful play for souls by Brother Eli. If Daniel is irredeemable, then Sunday is doubly so because his motive is not even money per se, but power. In a way Plainview and Sunday are both misanthropists, as Plainview admits freely, but Dano only demonstrates by his actions. What? But he’s a pastor? It matters not. I suspect there are many a misanthropic pastor out there. Why else is there such glee for hell?
The second thing that struck me was the powerful, masterful, and all-encompassing way that Day-Lewis creates this character. The voice, the look, the insanity…are all timed and honed to a veritable fever pitch of acting. I do not understand why Day-Lewis did not win the Oscar here. I saw No Country For Old Men and while Javier Bardem also played a ruthless irredeemable character, it was nowhere fleshed out to the nth degree as Day-Lewis’ character was. Bardem’s character was also ruthless, but in a less nuanced Terminator sort of way. But, it’s Hollywood after all, where stellar performances are rarely rewarded and political statements replace good quality choices. But I digress. Day-Lewis is a phenomenon. His reasons for being who he is are oddly satisfying and, to me, understandable. Which made me really question how I see humanity. At it’s core, how misanthropic am I? It doesn’t say much for my character I suppose if I could sympathize with the main bad guy. Well, there you go. Let’s just say … I understand his motivation.
There are so many things to point out that it’s difficult to choose where to start. There are no important women characters in this film. It’s all male, all the time. There’s absolutely nothing to soften the rough edges of this film with the softer elements of love and understanding. Mary, Eli’s little sister comes the closest to “saving” the rougher aspects of the film. The film is obviously about religion and capitalism as a weird symbiotic combination that characterized this country back then and still does now. The numerous analogies and metaphors could be analyzed to death and like a rich wonderful novel (it’s based loosely on Upton Sinclair’s “Oil” so no wonder) you want the film to fill in all the loose ends for you, but it won’t. Brother Eli’s church scenes remind me, for some weird oddball reason, of scenes out of Freaks. Don’t ask me why. And I’m sure the creepiness is fully intended. Usually I am deeply offended by someone’s view of church folk that grossly over exaggerates, especially the prophesying, laying on of hands varieties of churches. But Paul Anderson’s vision is so out-there, that it’s hard to see it as anything but a caricature. I think the message for the audience is merely that no matter how insane the pastor, there WILL BE FOLLOWERS.
Another mention must go out to the wonderful cinematography and settings for this film. Texas is a whole other character in this movie. It has a stage presence of its own, one that was briefly but beautifully evoked in scenes from The Three Burials of Melquiadas Estrada. The landscape is absolutely beautiful. You feel every raw, gritty, oily, dusty moment of this film. No actor is ever wasted either. Anderson carefully places top-notch actors in every role.
Overall, I have not had such a visceral reaction to a film since I saw Kill Bill. My tastes in movies are pretty eclectic. There is no rhyme or reason to why I love movies or why I merely like them. I enjoy everything from stupid comedies like Beer Fest to Asian horror like A Tale of Two Sisters. For There Will Be Blood perhaps the visceral reaction comes from the sheer power of Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance as Daniel Plainview. Ye Gods, but that was enough for me!