Monday, January 07, 2008
"There Will Be Blood"
I saw There Will Be Blood over the weekend. It's the finest movie I know since The Thin Red Line was released in 1998. There are a small number of great books where the key issues are never settled and the motivations are unclear. This movie is like that; I can't think of any others. I've read reviews where the interpretations share nothing in common. I did not see the story of a born lunatic, but of a shrewd businessman who channels all of his emotion into control and mastery of land. When he tries to simulate a family, the efforts are wrecked by causes he can't control. From that point forward, he must control everything and trust no one. It's about displacing emotions into real property. In suffering for his repression, Daniel Plainview is more like Newland Archer than Bill the Butcher. Newland Archer spent the rest of his life quietly miserable, but Plainview wants revenge against the world.
There are many other ways to view all of this, and none of us has definitive evidence. This movie is full of mysteries. Are Paul and Eli the same person? Was H.W. really just a prop? What was Daniel thinking during his first physical confrontation with Eli? I have opinions about the closing sequence and why people say the things they do, but getting into detail would deprive you of the experience. In much of this movie, I think that when people say extreme things they mean the opposite.
After more than an hour of bleak sandy landscape there is a sequence in green groves and farmlands, and it feels like a tease and reminder, that outside of the bleak landscape and monstrous actions there is a calmer, cooler world. I can't think of any other movie where set design, lighting and scoring are so forceful but never distracting. You feel the sand, heat and darkness, and when it moves to a few brief scenes of foliage and water, there is a great sense of relief. Paul Thomas Anderson uses light and color in a mimetic way, the way a great novelist uses words. That's not unique, but I've never seen it done so well. When it ended, I wondered if this is what it was like to read the modernists when they first published or see the impressionists when they first painted -- to walk away from a work and feel like you've seen a comfortable form of expression turned inside out.