There Will Be Blood (2007)

Reid, 11. February 2008, 17:18

Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis,

A lot of the critics compiled on metacritic raved about the film, throwing out descriptions like “an American classic,” and even a favorable comparison to Citizen Kane. I watching the film and even though I didn’t feel like I fully understood the film, I felt like there was more to it, if I took the time to dig. Well, I took the time, and I don’t feel entirely satisfied about what I’ve found. Nevertheless, I don’t feel a need to change my rating (for what that’s worth).

As for other idiots, I can’t really say. I don’t feel like people will love or hate the film.

In a way, the film reminds me of other films about ambitious male characters that pursue the American Dream, films like Scarface (the DePalma version), Godfather. But there are some big differences, which I go into later. The film is based on Upton Sinclair’s book, Oil! (although I heard it’s a loose adaptation). The film follows an entrepreneur wanting to make his mark by finding oil. Along the way, he adopts an orphaned boy of one of his workers. The main action of the story occurs when the man, Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis), convinces a town to let him dig for oil in their community. He is challenged by a local religious leader and Standard oil.

Here’s what I think the film is about: Plainview is a man whose greatest desire is to have a family, primarily children (a son). But he never fully recognizes this–or the filmmakers don’t show him admit this, although there are many scenes that establish, beyond question, imo, that he really loves HW and, perhaps, children in general–e.g. stopping Eli’s father from beating the girl, Mary. Plainview seems driven by one thing–to find oil and maybe more precisely, to beating others at getting oil (at one point he confesses that he has this competitive streak where he has to beat everyone else). The tragedy is that this competitiveness which makes him such a success at business is what ultimately prevents him from getting the one thing he wants–his son, H.W. When H.W. decides to make start his own oil company–the Plainview’s drive to be exclusively on top crashes headlong into his love for his son. The competitive side wins out.

There’s also another twist (or what I thought was a twist) on Plainview’s character, specifically that he was deep down more genuine about family values than he liked to admit or show. He tells H.W. that he adopts H.W. strictly to win over people in business deals (as people will be more trusting of a man taking care of a cute boy); he tells the townspeople that he will build a community with good schools for their children. In the end of the film, I don’t think there’s anything to indicate that he wasn’t really genuine about these things. A part of me feels like he really wanted to create a good community for children and families and actually have a family of his own (he and H.W.), but he doesn’t openly admit this or maybe even realize it himself.

This is partly the reason he hates Eli so much. Eli is a con man, using religion for personal gain, while Plainview, perhaps, thinks of himself as a con-man, only to hide his true feelings. When H.W. is injured, Plainview rages at Eli for not being able to heal his son. I wonder if the rage stems not only from his frustration from his son’s condition, but also a disgust with Eli’s hypocrisy. There’s a sense that Plainview knows he’s not a fraud, and the contrast with Eli is what enrages him.

In this way, I wonder if Thomas-Anderson considers Plainview a hero, afterall he takes on the Big Corporation (and wins) and religious hypocrite–two big American villians. If so this is somewhat surprising, as I kept expecting Plainview to be cynical and ruthless like other American characters in a similar story.

There’s an alternate theory about Eli that I considered, but didn’t really think too much about, namely that Eli is Thomas-Anderson’s perception of the religious right: they have an inferiority complex (See the scene where Plainview lashes out at Eli calling him inferiority to his brother) and they’re really interested in money. That seems kinda hokey if so.

Actually, the interpretation above, if accurate, seems lacking for some reason. I’m not quite sure what it is. Perhaps, I feel that way because I’m off the mark.

Some other comments. Is Day-Lewis’ performance great? I thought it was fine, although I’m not really a big fan of his. Partly because his performances feel like performances. The fact that he sounded like he was trying to imitate Jack Palance didn’t help matters.

The direction was OK, but not mind-blowing to me. The visual part of the film was OK. Yet, I liked the movie. I’d be interested in comments on my take.

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