Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008

There Will Be Blood

By Jonathan Jackson
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“I have a competition in me. I hate most people. I want no one else to succeed.”

- Daniel Plainview

One of the great American horrors is explored in There Will Be Blood, the dark side of capitalism, the dark side of our unbridled entrepreneurial spirit.

There Will Be Blood is itself a horror film, but unlike most I have ever seen. No edge of your seat thrills, just a psychological slow burn that builds from frame to frame, off every crescendo of Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood’s magnificent score and off every twitch of Daniel Day Lewis’ twisted face.

Being that a large part of the film is essentially silent, the towering and conflicted performance from Daniel Day Lewis and the searing score lurking around every corner loom large in creating the tension that creeps up and down your spine when viewing this bold cinematic vision from Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love.)

For me, Blood is a surprising writer/director turn for Paul Thomas Anderson. I have enjoyed and admired all of Anderson’s work, but have never felt he fully realized his vision because of a penchant for curbing in style and writing from his favorite directors. In his films, you often find sequences that may be stunning in their own right, but really don’t add to the film as whole. With Blood, Anderson has made his first wholly organic film, an almost masterpiece.

After the prevailing themes of Blood become clear, it is shattering to realize that the two prevailing themes of the film, religion and energy, are the two prevailing reasons why George Bush ever made it into office. This is an important point to consider when examining the worth and meaning of Anderson’s film. The remorseless greed and vengeance showed by the central character of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis) was inspired by the events of the past eight years in American society. I have no doubt Anderson was contemplating America’s foreign policy, its corporate greed and new found religious fervor while writing film. One does not have to look very hard to see the dark corridors of the Bush White House, the likes of Jesus camps or the empty executive offices of Enron in the fabric of Blood's story.

The cataclysmic eruption at the conclusion of Blood is being heatedly debated in critical circles, and for my money, there could not be a more perfect ending. For there is no chance for Daniel’s redemption, further there is no satiating his desire for vengeance. He thinks of Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) as a stand-in for God and the harm inflicted on his orphan son. He can never forgive him for making him go through farcical baptizism. Finally, he views Eli as he views everyone else with no relation to him, as a competitor. You can’t help but make analogies here to America’s hostile stance toward the other, whether revolving around religion or immigration. Despite the World being flat in the 21st Century, our foreign policy is still decidedly myopic.

I can only agree with Daniel Plainview’s statement after his baptism, “that was one God damn hell of a show.”

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