One Hell of a Show

1. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007) #128 in IMDB Top 250

Reclining to watch the first film of the year is a pleasurable experience, late at night with the lights out, curtains drawn, a quiet house and a cup of tea steaming away.  With this in mind I thought I’d try and watch a film with a bit of substance about it so I went with an Academy Award winner.  And what a cracking way to start another years film watching it turned out to be.

Daniel Plainview is America. At least I think he represents a facet of what America is.  You see Plainview is an oil man, he first strikes in 1898 and by 1911 he is a successful oil entrepreneur with several drills when an opportunity to expand into California presents itself.  Here Plainview, buys out all the land he can and builds his oil empire.  Along the way he faces interference and distraction from the local church minister, a man purporting to be his brother and his son; rendered deaf by a gas explosion on an oil derrick.

Sumptuously shot by Robert Elswit (for which he deservedly go the Oscar) and delicately edited by Dylan Tichenor this is a technical masterpiece.  Essentially it is as aesthetically pleasing as any other film I can recall.  It’s just beautiful.  All of this is complemented by Jonny Greenwood’s excellent score which is as unique and fitting as the visuals demand.  And then there’s the performance, the single dominating, consuming performance of Daniel Day Lewis as Plainview grows from the silent hopeful of the opening sequence to the charismatic salesman entrepreneur and onto revealing his true sociopathic self.

Put simply, as I have above, this is a simple tale of one man’s all consuming ambition but putting it simply does absolutely no justice to the depth of Anderson’s creation.  This is a story that invites interpretation and infers much throughout the course of its running time.  I’d like to offer a very quick reading as an idea formulated whilst I enjoyed the film.  I think Daniel Plainview represents the corporation.  He begins life on screen as a prospector but he soon grows beyond that when he strikes oil, then he starts to collect assets such as his ‘son’ H.W. and his assistant, Fletcher.  As the film progresses Plainview displays a sociopathic focus on productivity, any act of kindness is only to forward his needs as a businessman – the promises to the townsfolk and the care of H.W. are prime examples.  With the commodity in question being oil the whole notion of corporate responsibility becomes a central theme for this film proving, above all else, a clear relevance in our current global political climate.  All this is based on the Joel Bakan theory of the corporation as a sociopathic/psychopathic entity – much as Plainview is in this film.  Plainview’s response on the occasions he is asked for money are telling.  He responds immediately or shortly afterwards with violence, destroying any obstacle that challenges his authority.

I think There Will Be Blood may well be the best film made in the last decade, how fitting to watch it at the opening of this new one.  It seems I am not alone in thinking THIS. I think that Bradshaw’s Citizen Kane parallel has legs, I think this is possibly the defining film of the modern era, I cannot praise it highly enough.

For anyone who had a few problems following the film, some wag produced this handy flowchart to help you…