Thursday, December 27, 2007

Movies: There Will Be Blood

I loved loved loved this movie, and yet I'm more than a bit surprised that it's received any critical acclaim, and that anyone else likes it at all. I imagine that everyone else must find it terribly boring for the first two hours, and then terribly absurd for the last half hour. There's no love story, no adventure sequences (chases, battles, brawls), no sex, no dancing, and a weirdly brilliant semi-avant-garde soundtrack from Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood. Really, there's nothing here to latch onto besides Daniel Day-Lewis' filthy mustache. . . and yet, I was immobilized (as in riveted) until the film's explosive ending, when I exploded with glee, and the man sitting next to me asked, "Excuse me, but did you actually enjoy that film?"

Day-Lewis is Daniel Plainview, a self-made man, an oil prospector cut from classic capitalist cloth, with worse than Machiavellian ethics. In the pit of his psyche is a disrespect-turned-loathing for other people, and he uses them not if he can, but if he must. These are ugly insides, but they resonate with me. He has no truck with religion, but neither is he a principled atheist; he willingly submits to public confession followed by baptism once he sees that it's the only way to get a key tract of land leased for his pipeline. He seems at first a doting single father, but when his son loses hearing in an explosion, and can no longer fuel his father's pride, Plainview nearly disowns him, and actually does disown him near the film's very end, when the now-grown and married young man, speaking in sign language through an interpreter, asks his for his father's blessing to begin his own business, drilling in Mexico. A stranger coming through town, claiming to be Plainview's "brother. . . by another mother" (the only flaw in this film, as far as I'm concerned, is this line) quickly becomes Plainview's new business partner and "friend" (whatever such a term could mean to a Daniel Plainview) , and just as soon becomes his victim, shot in the head and buried in the oil-seething dirt when Plainview discovers he is an impostor of that half-brother, now dead. We might wonder whether this violence is so much a punishment for deception, or actually Plainview's id, lashing out to protect itself; we've just heard him have the most emotive conversation he's had thus far, and seen him swimming half-naked in the ocean, unprotected, bare, stripped.

In the final scenes, the setting shifts from the fiery, sooty, sandy derricks to the interior of a high-ceilinged mansion, where, surrounded by opulence, Plainview shoots his rifle indoors, signs checks, and still sleeps unshaven on the floor, dirt under his fingernails. Here, the young preacher who once did his utmost to humiliate Plainview (after, mind you, Plainview had already humiliated him), comes for a "friendly visit" (to ask for money) and finds himself first humiliated (forced to shout, with conviction, "I am a false prophet; God is a superstition!") and then bludgeoned to death with a bowling pin. At this point, my breath swelled to a delighted pant (is there something wrong with me that I take such pleasure in the destruction of religious hypocrisy?) With a pool of blood emanating from the preacher's head, Plainview looks up at his frowzy old butler, coming down the stairs at the sound of shouting, and says simply, "I'm finished now;" here the movie ends, and the audience walks away, confused, disappointed, annoyed, or, in my case, strangely elated.


andrew said...

Thank you Dahl for your insightful review. Could I perhaps add "spoiler alert" to your already extensive vocabulary? It might make people read your blog more.

Joni said...

Ack! I can't believe you loved this movie. I had to watch it for our department holiday party and I want those 153 minutes of my life back. I thought of you several times during the film--mostly when the soundtrack was giving me an earache and too loud to hear the dialogue. lol.

I appreciate nice cinematography - which this film had - but there was way too much of it. One word: EDIT.

The last thing I'll complain about is how they completely skipped over WWI (I was desperately hoping to see how it might effect the oil business) and ended before the stock market crash of 1929.