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There Will Be Blood (2007)


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I will spare the reader a detailed depiction of the film's next moments.

When the deed is done, a tottering, elderly male housekeeper, having heard the clamor, stumbles onto the scene of carnage in the bowling alley Plainview has installed in his palatial, isolated home. The old man compasses the horror wordlessly, and Plainview—who, throughout much of his contretemps with Sunday has nibbled on a cold breakfast prepared by the housekeeper, who could not awaken him from a drunken stupor to consume the meal when the food was hot—declaims, "I'm finished." The reference is to his breakfast, not the supine body that lies next to him, oozing blood from a crushed skull. "I'm finished."

[blink]

Wow. Fantastic.

It hadn't occurred to me that he was making a reference to the breakfast. But now it seems so obvious. Am I the only one who didn't think of that?

Apparently not, but I'm amazed that it neither occurred to you, nor a good number of others on this board. Utterly amazed.

That said I thought it was more complex than a case of "he means this not that". But still you, YOU, really didn't get that?

You know that at the end of The Godfather he's not really renouncing evil, but has actually ordered those men to be killed right? ;)

Matt

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SPOILERS GALORE BELOW:

It seems obvious to me that, like so many other details of the film, the final line had multiple meanings. There is of course the literal: "I'm finished with my breakfast you brought me. Could you take these plates away?" "I'm finished with my meeting because I have caved the other man's skull in and he doesn't seem to have anything else to say. Could you tidy up and burn this body?" And then there's the metaphorical: the mocking twist on the last words of Christ, said by the Lord when he had completed His mission of redemption, and now said by this anti-Christ as he completes his mission of devouring a false prophet. There's also the point to mention that in killing Eli, he's killing himself, so he's also "finished" in other ways as well, again both literal (prison seems possible) and metaphorical (he has nothing left; those he loves and those he hates are either dead or driven away). He is alone at last, as the "rugged individualist" who strives to separate himself from man and God desires to be.

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[i've forgotten to put this movie on hold at the library. I've wanted to watch it a second time. I'll go put that hold on the title now.

EDIT: It's going to be a while:

You are number 150 in the hold queue. There are 19 holdable copies.

Watched it over the course of two nights and don't have much to add. It struck me as a little bit "showy" cinematically this time; the still images that accompany the stories about this film grab me in a way that the motion picture doesn't.

I found DDL's character no more interesting, no less than on first viewing, but I was more fascinated by Eli Sunday this time. I didn't gain new insights into the character, but one thing that did jump out was Sunday's "confession" at the end of the film -- the one that some folks have pointed to as an admission that he's a fraud. He may be a fraud, but that scene is a clear parallel to Sunday's forcing Plainview to confess and be baptized. I didn't believe Plainview was a true convert after that scene, and I don't believe Sunday is a fraud based on his "confession" either. He might be a fraud, but the "confession" offers no proof.

And I'm still not sure what the battle between these two people signifies, or why it takes so long to resolve. Also, the importance of H.W.'s character later in life plays like an afterthought. I think it's Jeffrey who's pointed to H.W. as the heart of the movie, or to his marriage as an image of true grace/religion. It may be that, but it's so underplayed here I don't know how to evaluate it -- the courtship/marriage takes about 3 minutes of screen time, if that, in a movie that runs longer than 2.5 hours.

What did I like? The final scene in the bowling alley played much more menacingly this time, rather than cartoonish. Maybe I was thinking of Kubrick too much, but it struck me that DDL was in full Jack Nicholson mode ("The Shining") in that one scene, if not earlier.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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[O]ne thing that did jump out was Sunday's "confession" at the end of the film -- the one that some folks have pointed to as an admission that he's a fraud. He may be a fraud, but that scene is a clear parallel to Sunday's forcing Plainview to confess and be baptized. I didn't believe Plainview was a true convert after that scene, and I don't believe Sunday is a fraud based on his "confession" either. He might be a fraud, but the "confession" offers no proof.

Good point. Sunday's expression here is pretty ambiguous. It's not just a fraud being forced to admit he's a fraud; he looks like he's actually having to give up--something (who knows what)--as if, in some sense, he really believes in spite of his hucksterism. I'm reminded of Robert Duvall's answer when asked if his character in The Apostle was sincere or a fraud--he replied that he was a little bit of both.

Sunday obviously tends more toward the fraud side, but watching his performance in this scene again indicates that there's more going on than simple hucksterism.

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Fan mail of the day:

You have a staggering misconception about the world around you if you can watch a movie like There Will Be Blood and not see it as a critique of your faith. If you have not read the book Oil!, work that it is based on, then you should probably do so before making wild conjectures about the similarity between this movie and the teachings of Jesus. Upton Sinclair surely turns in his grave every time someone draws similarities between his work and Christianity. Have you never heard of communism?

Learn to think critically, please.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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It hadn't occurred to me that he was making a reference to the breakfast. But now it seems so obvious. Am I the only one who didn't think of that?

It's an extra layer to the line, for sure. It's certainly still ambiguous, though. Looking at the shooting script, it's pretty clear that that line originated without that meaning intended, though it's certainly a meaning that Anderson may have considered as the film was actually shooting, though; it wouldn't be the first time he intended one thing and discovered another (initially, he wasn't trying to make a Biblical reference with the rain of frogs in MAGNOLIA, but when somebody pointed out he parallels, he went back and sought to draw them out).

Anyway, THERE WILL BE BLOOD is absolutely my favorite film of the decade (with THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD in second place).

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I wonder where the Top 10 Films of the Decade thread will be. I wonder how long it will take to get here. My bet is, not long. Although, film is different than music -- we may have to wait 'til the year actually ends for film lists.

Edited by Persona

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Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Anyway, THERE WILL BE BLOOD is absolutely my favorite film of the decade (with THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD in second place).

This is fine, but let's circle back to a fundamental question, now that a few years have passed:

What is this film about, and what do the two primary characters represent?

I was discussing this film with another critics recently, who said the film boils down to "religion vs. business." I challenged that, and would be interested in reopening the debate. I don't see how the film can be about that, unless we add some qualifiers -- which then dilute the film's central conflict.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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What is this film about, and what do the two primary characters represent?

Well, I do question whether or not the film needs to be "about" anything. I'm not sure THERE WILL BE BLOOD has a strict "message" or "moral," or that the two characters are somehow allegorical representations of some modern construct. In that light, it's a story about greed, about selfishness, and about the isolation and degradation those characteristics ultimately bring. You could make an argument that Plainview (and Eli Sunday) are somehow personifications of the demons that haunt the American spirit, but it's not as simple as "big business" versus "Christian fanaticism," or any such simplistic (and uninteresting) interpretation.

I was discussing this film with another critics recently, who said the film boils down to "religion vs. business."

At any rate, Paul Thomas Anderson rejected such simplistic interpretation, and said while there's hints of it there, he didn't approach it as a film about such topics, and that when you really get into the characters, it goes beyond it (I think you can find that interview over at the AV Club). Not that the filmmaker gets decisive control over what his own work is and isn't, but in this case, I think he's very right.

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I'd be interested in reading the AV Club interview, Ryan. I greatly admire the cinematic quality of this film, but find the resolution deflating. Not because it's silly or stupid, but because I'm left to wonder why a conflict between two men I judge to be creeps amounts to much in the big scheme of things. However, it's a very well played, marvelously shot film, and I can see why some find it such a commanding film. I wish I could go there. I can't.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Carrying over from the Punch-Drunk Love thread:

But I think THERE WILL BE BLOOD is often approached from the wrong place. Anderson said again and again that he approached it as a horror film, and the level on which THERE WILL BE BLOOD functions is primarily visceral. It's a nightmare. On some level, it's like Roman Polanski's REPULSION.

As a longtime admirer of horror-as-art, I just don't see the connection. Anderson and I must have very different definitions of "horror."

As must you and I. What do you deem to be "horror"? I, personally, have a fairly broad definition. In my mind, APOCALYPSE NOW counts as one of the greatest horror films of them all. Wikipedia defines horror films as "movies that strive to elicit the emotions of fear, horror and terror from viewers. Their plots frequently involve themes of death, the supernatural, or mental illness." I think that could be said to apply to THERE WILL BE BLOOD. It's not a very extreme horror film, but I don't think a film's entry into that genre depends on its extremity. Just its intent. THERE WILL BE BLOOD's primary impulse is to disturb and unsettle. It's as much of a horror story as, say, SWEENEY TODD manages to be.

Certainly there is something to be said for the repellent-compelling nature of the protagonist, who is almost like a Dracula figure, but not quite. (There is nothing supernatural about him.) And the Repulsion connection is valid insofar as it deals with a spiral into madness, without satisfying insight into the mind of the character, though TWBB contains none of the hallucinatory imagery of Polanski's masterpiece.

Well, obviously the hallucinations of REPULSION have no equivalent in THERE WILL BE BLOOD, but as you acknowledge, both are deeply unsettling and surreal spirals into alienation and violence depending on an unhinged central figure that rely more on mood and tone than overt intellectual content. They're primarily emotional experiences. That said, I'd say THERE WILL BE BLOOD allows more insight into Daniel Plainview than REPULSION ever allows into Carol Ledoux, largely because Plainview has that altogether very fascinating conversation with his brother in the middle of the film which gives us some answers about how Plainview sees the world.

Let me just ask you point plank: What do you find so fascinating about the movie?

Everything, really. I don't know what isn't fascinating about it, to tell you the truth. Now, I'm definitely on board for the approach of THERE WILL BE BLOOD. I'm in full agreement with Roger Ebert when he writes "I have had enough good taste and restraint for a lifetime, and love it when a director has the courage to go for broke" (from his review of Taymor's TITUS). If you can give me a film that really goes for it, that takes things to sensational heights and explores the extremes, then I'm on board. Even if it crosses a line (which I'm not sure that THERE WILL BE BLOOD ever does). I love how ferocious and strange THERE WILL BE BLOOD manages to be.

Aesthetically, it's one of the most remarkable films of the decade, full of bold--if none too subtle--images, like Plainview literally bowing on his knees before the flaming geyser of oil. It's furthermore one of the best period recreations on film I've ever seen. Rarely does a film make the past feel so vital and physical; Mann may have tried, and failed, to give the past a kind of urgency with the very obvious use of digital camera in PUBLIC ENEMIES, but here Anderson does it with beautiful, sweeping cinematography and often fairly theatrical composition, but somehow never romanticizes the period or gives it an unworthy elegant sheen or the feel of a museum display. Then there's the score, with its sampling from Greenwood, Pärt, and Brahms, which may be the most accomplished use of music in a film this decade (Anderson has always been proficient with the use of music in a film, and is arguably the director with the best musical sensibilities since the great Stanley Kubrick died, but he's sometimes been a bit too showy with it, as in MAGNOLIA; in THERE WILL BE BLOOD, it's noticable while still showing some restraint).

And then there's Daniel Plainview himself, who more or less is the film. Yes, Plainview is outrageous. Enigmatic. Theatrical. Operatic. But that only adds to his incredible appeal. Daniel Plainview is almost supernatural and natural all at once, a mix of smoke and brimstone and fury and despair and desperation. Never has a character been so simultaneously loathsome, entertaining, hilarious, scary, and utterly sad. I've never bought into the idea that Plainview provides a stand-in for capitalism. Maybe he could stand in for the broader category of greed, but there's nothing condemnatory of the system of capitalism in Plainview or the story, which is where THERE WILL BE BLOOD departs from its more ideological source material. Here, the horror of Daniel Plainview is something altogether more personal. Plainview demonstrates how a human being can let their own preocuppations and obsessions gradually alienate them from the rest of the human race. In this case, it's Plainview's obsession with competition. Plainview says he sees "the worst in people," but it's not necessarily so; he just sees his own flaws in other people. He hopes to find a family member to find someone who sympathizes with his loathing of other individuals ("If it's in me, it's in you"), but he's hopelessly blinded. And so we watch a man self-destruct in spectacular fashion, until all he has is a pitiful and ridiculous contest with a weak and helpless enemy. Plainview's victory in the bowling alley is so trivial and pointless, but it's all he has left. THERE WILL BE BLOOD tells a rise and fall narrative, but it's really just a leap from one hole to another. The disease of selfishness that haunts the human spirit eats away at human relationship, even though we might truly try for it (and Plainview certainly makes his attempts). But while I think all of that is fairly clear, Anderson has the good graces to allow us to observe those characteristics without over-explaining Plainview. Some enigma is always good, after all, particularly where human beings are concerned. After all, we only know humans through their actions and self-disclosures, and no matter how close we are to them, they always remain something of a mystery to us.

But I will talk about the other characters, which I think are handled beautifully. There's really only three significant supporting players, those being Plainview's son, H.W., Plainview's "brother," Henry, and that charlatan, Eli Sunday. Each, in their own way, is a kind of kin to Plainview, all mirroring or echoing or providing a foil to Plainview's identity. H.W. is quiet, but perfectly human. There have been many impressive performances by children in the last decade, but Dillion Freasier's is one of the most genuine, even if it's never particularly attention-grabbing. Anyone who knows a monstrous, hateful father in their life will identify with the mixture of complicated emotions H.W. feels throughout the film. His story is the most tragic, going from neglected son to business partner. At least, though, there is some happiness for him; he's managed to somewhat escape his father's legacy. Plainview's brother, Henry, is a mirror for Plainview in a few ways; he too is a cheat and a lier looking for some place he belongs. But Henry is a broken man, Plainview is not. That brokenness, however, pours out through Kevin J. O'Connor's eyes in practically every scene. Eli is the most obvious mirror. Some reviews have complained that Dano can't successfully go toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis, and that's somewhat true. He's not a strong presence. But does that matter? A confrontation between heavyweights would almost feel wrong. Eli's whininess, his insignificance, only underline the futility in all of this, something we wouldn't get from a stronger figure. In the end, Eli and Daniel deserve each other, both sides of the same coin.

But all that is just giving words to an experience. Honestly, THERE WILL BE BLOOD is a film that just washes over me, no matter how many times I've seen (I must have seen it upwards of 10 times now). This film sucks me in and knocks me sideways with each new punch, whether it's a series of beautifully edited and shot visual moments, or a searing bit of performance from the cast. I daresay it has something in common with Alban Berg's LULU, my favorite opera. LULU, too, is a rise-and-fall narrative about a kind of human monster, moving from moments of lush lyrical beauty to sharp atonal dissonance, story told with almost unwavering intensity.

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But all that is just giving words to an experience. Honestly, THERE WILL BE BLOOD is a film that just washes over me, no matter how many times I've seen (I must have seen it upwards of 10 times now). This film sucks me in and knocks me sideways with each new punch, whether it's a series of beautifully edited and shot visual moments, or a searing bit of performance from the cast.

Nicely put. I don't have the time or faculty at the moment to comment further, but I'll stand with you and defend THERE WILL BE BLOOD as one of the great film experiences of the decade, and the moment I went from liking Anderson's work to loving it (I'm also of the opinion that MAGNOLIA is the least Anderson film I've seen - haven't seen HARD EIGHT).

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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After watching all five films within a two week period, I still have my favorite, for many of the other reasons I've already described. But there is no doubt this is an awesome and powerful work. I do think of Plainview as a symbol of greed, from buying up every bit of land around him to how he trumps on the mistakes of others. But man, does the film as a whole feel cynical. The best reading I can give of the cynicism I feel confronted with is that false religion will never be as strong as the outright greed of a secular capitalism. That when the two do confront each other, the one with its roots in a story of grace is simply going to be dominated. It doesn't stand a chance. And while there are a few good figures thrown in to bring some needed moments of a genuine, good humanity, their screen time is so small that it doesn't help those of us who react to the message this way.

FWIW, I do agree that the music in Magnolia is at times a bit too "showy." I definitely noticed that on my recent viewing. But I forgive that in view of the importance of the message in that story, and remember that the first time I saw it, the music actually added quite a bit to the experience, so it's a bit more forgiveable when you already love it.

And I just LOVE the beginning of There Will Be Blood. Those sweeping strings are loaded with immediate tension.

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In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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There's really only three significant supporting players, those being Plainview's son, H.W., Plainview's "brother," Henry, and that charlatan, Eli Sunday. Each, in their own way, is a kind of kin to Plainview, all mirroring or echoing or providing a foil to Plainview's identity. H.W. is quiet, but perfectly human. There have been many impressive performances by children in the last decade, but Dillion Freasier's is one of the most genuine, even if it's never particularly attention-grabbing. Anyone who knows a monstrous, hateful father in their life will identify with the mixture of complicated emotions H.W. feels throughout the film. His story is the most tragic, going from neglected son to business partner. At least, though, there is some happiness for him; he's managed to somewhat escape his father's legacy. Plainview's brother, Henry, is a mirror for Plainview in a few ways; he too is a cheat and a lier looking for some place he belongs. But Henry is a broken man, Plainview is not. That brokenness, however, pours out through Kevin J. O'Connor's eyes in practically every scene. Eli is the most obvious mirror. Some reviews have complained that Dano can't successfully go toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis, and that's somewhat true. He's not a strong presence. But does that matter? A confrontation between heavyweights would almost feel wrong. Eli's whininess, his insignificance, only underline the futility in all of this, something we wouldn't get from a stronger figure. In the end, Eli and Daniel deserve each other, both sides of the same coin.

This is well put, and it makes sense that these smaller characters should provide insight into Plainview—we are given so little otherwise. I suppose it's the Sunday character that reeks of condescension. I myself attend the Church of the Third Revelation twice a week, and we're not as hysterical as all that. :unsure: But seriously though, the Sunday character is barely sketched in—instead of convincing as a historical analogue, as I'm assuming was partly the intention, he comes off as just another in a long line of religious nutters. It's a tired old cliché , and too often accepted by a public that knows little of religion.

But all that is just giving words to an experience. Honestly, THERE WILL BE BLOOD is a film that just washes over me, no matter how many times I've seen (I must have seen it upwards of 10 times now). This film sucks me in and knocks me sideways with each new punch, whether it's a series of beautifully edited and shot visual moments, or a searing bit of performance from the cast.

For its astonishing, wordless opening stretch, TWBB was that movie for me, too. But then the euphoria of those first few minutes wore off and I had to acclimatize to a very linear story that seemed to lead straight downward into madness. Apart from an interesting passage where Plainview's "brother" shows up, the narrative conflict is skimpy, and when things finally do erupt in that wildly histrionic last scene, it adds very little to what came before. You're right when you say that Plainview is essentially the whole movie, and maybe that's part of the problem—as singular as this figure is in the annals of cinema, and as good as Day-Lewis plays him, it's an awfully long time to spend in the company of such an ogre. And there's no redemption.

The film is also something of a slippery fish in that, while I honestly believe it lacks insight, it's nearly impossible to prove this categorically. In execution, it's elliptical and mysterious enough to draw out a whole range of responses from intelligent viewers. Everybody takes what they want from it. When you think about it, it's really quite cunning what Anderson did, tapping into "iconic" imagery and primal emotions and letting the audience do most of the hard work. (And boy, have reviewers worked hard trying to interpret this film.) Ambiguity can sometimes be used as an alibi for artists who don't have a coherent vision.

As must you and I. What do you deem to be "horror"? I, personally, have a fairly broad definition. In my mind, APOCALYPSE NOW counts as one of the greatest horror films of them all. Wikipedia defines horror films as "movies that strive to elicit the emotions of fear, horror and terror from viewers. Their plots frequently involve themes of death, the supernatural, or mental illness." I think that could be said to apply to THERE WILL BE BLOOD. It's not a very extreme horror film, but I don't think a film's entry into that genre depends on its extremity. Just its intent. THERE WILL BE BLOOD's primary impulse is to disturb and unsettle. It's as much of a horror story as, say, SWEENEY TODD manages to be.

I'm still trying to sort that one out (I logged some thoughts here a while back), but I admit I have a special preference for those works of art that go beyond the visceral and into the philosophical. It's very easy to inspire terror (Hostel does it; the Saw movies do it), but a squirrel can feel terror. A squirrel contemplate its own death, construe a myth, or fear a ghost? True horror is a sophisticated—and I'd argue uniquely human—emotion that elicits fear of the unknown. It's the kind of sensation you get from viewing Fuseli's "Nightmare" or reading Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. At times TWBB elicits animal terror (the unsettling score certainly helps in this regard), and as such can be labeled "horror," but only loosely, and for me, not very meaningfully.

Edited by Nathaniel

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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But seriously though, the Sunday character is barely sketched in—instead of convincing as a historical analogue, as I'm assuming was partly the intention, he comes off as just another in a long line of religious nutters. It's a tired old cliché, and too often accepted by a public that knows little of religion.

I rather like Eli. He's not necessarily too sketched it, but for a supporting character, Anderson does a terrific job of rendering him in a fairly distinct fashion (admittedly, much of that distinctiveness must go to Paul Dano, but like many notable film characters, it's how they're brought to life by the actor, not how they're written, that makes them crackle). Yes, the "nutty preacher" is something of a cliché (and one Anderson seems to find interesting, given the topic of his next film), but it's one of the better renderings of it that I've seen, and has plenty of truth to it. THERE WILL BE BLOOD needed another charlatan to give Plainview a level of competition. Given the setting, a nutter preacher seems like the right ticket, particularly for the way it allows Daniel to be subjugated under a level of moral and spiritual condemnation (oh, that wonderful baptism scene!).

Apart from an interesting passage where Plainview's "brother" shows up, the narrative conflict is skimpy, and when things finally do erupt in that wildly histrionic last scene, it adds very little to what came before.

The narrative conflict is skimpy? Well, it's certainly not simplistic. But there's always a level of conflict in each section of the film (many of them overlapping with one another), and so I find it more than satisfactory. The character relationships are always interesting. Regarding the final scene, its function isn't so much to add as it is to summarize and underline. Like a number of Stanley Kubrick's endings, THERE WILL BE BLOOD's final scene provides a short version of the entire film all in and of itself, a kind of final stanza with notes of repetition and reversal, while simultaneously bringing the thematic strands to their most defined and clear point. THERE WILL BE BLOOD's ending may not be entirely revelatory, but it is important.

You're right when you say that Plainview is essentially the whole movie, and maybe that's part of the problem—as singular as this figure is in the annals of cinema, and as good as Day-Lewis plays him, it's an awfully long time to spend in the company of such an ogre. And there's no redemption.

Then I suppose it comes down to how much we enjoy being in the company of such an unredeemed (or is it unredeemable?) ogre. Personally, I think the movie makes it entertaining enough (and yes, Plainview is often devilishly likable, if you ask me) to keep it from being a miserable experience. I never check my watch when sitting through THERE WILL BE BLOOD.

Ambiguity can sometimes be used as an alibi for artists who don't have a coherent vision.

Yes. But truth be told, I don't think THERE WILL BE BLOOD is really as ambiguous as all of that. It's visceral, yes, but that's not to say there's no intellectual/philosophical content, or that it's not at all unified. The ambiguity largely comes in with the characters, but not the ideas. I'd go as far as to say that most critics' interpretations of the film have been flat-out wrong, but that's not unusual; critics have been getting Kubrick's EYES WIDE SHUT wrong for a decade.

At times TWBB elicits animal terror (the unsettling score certainly helps in this regard), and as such can be labeled "horror," but only loosely, and for me, not very meaningfully.

"Animal terror"? Hm. I don't think THERE WILL BE BLOOD deals in too much of that, and that's certainly not the narrative quality to which I was referring. If THERE WILL BE BLOOD deals in a kind of horror--and I think it does--it's the horror of what humanity's more corrosive impulses are capable of doing to a human being and those around him, a kind of ode to the destructive and complicated human qualities that Edgar Allan Poe often found so fascinating. THERE WILL BE BLOOD is a study in a certain kind of sin and madness.

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Yes, the "nutty preacher" is something of a cliché (and one Anderson seems to find interesting, given the topic of his next film...

Um,

-- um?

(salivates)

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I have been all over these boards again lately. I don't know how I could've missed it!

Thanks!

Reading...

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  • 5 months later...

I've been working on an in-depth analysis of THERE WILL BE BLOOD, and in doing due diligence, I've been looking into various articles. Jason Sperb, in particular, has a few worthwhile thoughts. Starting here:

I keep coming back to this question of what
There Will Be Blood
is supposed to
mean
. I suppose I am intrigued by this question in large measure because I’ve always felt that the film was being over-read—both by people who love the film, but also by people who hate it and claim that the film’s themes seem to be unclearly developed, if at all.

[ . . . ]

Is
There Will Be Blood
political? Not really. Well, yes, but to pare it down only to that is ultimately, I think, to be disappointed, even angry, about the film’s effect. In an early review with
, I really think PT nailed the perceptions of the film’s politics ahead of the critical curve:

One of the most obvious contrasts with his earlier films, apart from its glorious outdoors setting in the open desert of Texas (California is too concreted over to provide its own setting), is that There Will Be Blood is more overtly engaged with politics than his previous films. I ask him how could a movie centred on the clash between an oil prospector's desire to make it rich and a evangelical pastor's spiritual attempts to stop him be anything else?

"Of course, I'm no dummy,"
he says with a slight warning growl. "But there's a trap you can fall into. If you set out to make a movie about oil and religion I'm not sure you wouldn't crash the car. Fuck! It's a movie first. You have to put on a good show first, I think."

I’d like to think PT’s metaphor here of “crash[ing] the car” is a subtle swipe at the belligerent didacticism of Paul Haggis’ horrendous Crash (2005), a recent textbook example of hoisting the message at the expense of the medium, but I may be giving him too much credit for cleverness (that, and he may like the film, for all I know).

That note aside, what I think is telling here is that while PT completely recognizes the film activates existing contemporary political discourses by touching upon hot-button issues like oil and religion, that doesn’t mean he fell for the trap of reducing his film to that. Doing so would not make for an effective political message anyway (preaching, so to speak, doesn’t work) but it would have also made for an uninteresting story.

This is, I think, one of the most interesting, and dare I say original, things about There Will Be Blood. It’s a political tale that doesn’t reduce itself cinematically to politics. Real life isn’t that simple—why should the cinema be any different?

[ . . . ]

While many have noted PT's visual homages to Stanley Kubrick (although the film strikes me more as a reference to The Shining than to 2001), I haven’t yet come across anyone who noticed how this reflects on the thematic resemblances between the two autodidacts. In my admittedly naïve book on Kubrick, I argued that much of the second half of his career narratively was structured on the idea that there was no meaning to be uncovered. While his earlier films (often through the use of voice-over narration) fixated on profound truths, his later films let go of the obsession with meaning, structure and order. The story in The Shining was literally that there was no story (“All work and no play. . .”).

Comparing The Killing to Magnolia strikes me as similar to comparing There Will Be Blood to Eyes Wide Shut. The former both obsess over the interworkings of narrative and thematic details; the latter let go of definitive narrative meaning.

There Will Be Blood strikes me in that same vein as later, if not earlier, Kubrick (and this is perhaps the only time I've noticed a clear parallel between the two). It is affectively rich, but reluctant to give itself over to deeper, and thus reductive, truths. That’s not terribly original in and of itself, of course—that same could be said for the Coens’ No Country for Old Men (2007), or any other great genre film for that matter. But what I admire about There Will Be Blood is that its not a genre film, nor a historical epic—it knows it’s playing with (thematic) fire. But it doesn’t get lost (narratively) fixating on the glow.

[ . . . ]

But I think this over-reading may also be part of the tendency to take There Will Be Blood too seriously. What also intrigues me is how some people do not give it enough credit as a comedy. The scenes where Plainview is baptized, the scene where he takes his son out for steak only to drunkenly taunt the oil men at the next table (the funniest scene I’ve seen in any film in the last year), even the horrifying final scene—they are all grotesquely over-the-top, and I think played for laughs. How can anyone watch a grown man talking with a napkin over his head and still take the movie so seriously? On ComingSoon.net, Edward Douglas once wrote “there's very little deliberate humor” in the film, but I’m inclined to feel just the opposite. Anderson himself has said he finds the finale very funny. And I am inclined more or less to agree.

And I really liked his comment from his initial write-up on THERE WILL BE BLOOD (forgive his grammatical error):

Plainview's final moments (out of plain view, with his back turned to us, just as in the opening of that same scene) suggests a child in a sandbox, with no one left to play with, with no destruction left to wrought.

"Well, I'm finished."

And while I don't think his thoughts are anywhere near as well-organized, eloquently stated, or even coherent as Sperb's contributions, Lorenzo Wang makes some interesting claims about Plainview as a God figure. I'm not sure he's on the right track, but he does bring up some interesting points about Plainview's use of religious language, something I intend to explore in my own article.

Edited by Ryan H.
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I've seen Plainview as a Flannery O'Connor fallen prophet-type character, one who is able to expose the deception he sees in others (e.g. in Eli Sunday and the man posing as Plainview's brother) because is so well-versed in deception himself.

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I've seen Plainview as a Flannery O'Connor fallen prophet-type character, one who is able to expose the deception he sees in others (e.g. in Eli Sunday and the man posing as Plainview's brother) because is so well-versed in deception himself.

I, too, think there's more than a little O'Connor about THERE WILL BE BLOOD.

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Plainview's final moments (out of plain view, with his back turned to us, just as in the opening of that same scene) suggests a child in a sandbox, with no one left to play with, with no destruction left to wrought.

"Well, I'm finished."

And yet for this business, the destruction is only beginning.

I've not thought of it before reading all that, Ryan, but I wonder if There Will Be Blood would feel a whole lot different if it were on the back end of a double-bill, the first being a documentary like Crude or Crude Impact. It might really make us look at Plainview in a whole lot more evil light.

I still think Sperb is nuts when he talks about those bits being "comedy." The word "comic" used to describe a happy ending. Even seen outside the context I've described (which would bring so much more tragedy to this

story -- a hundred years down the road and this is the devestation greedy men like Plainview brought), the scenes are tragic, not comic. Having met a few business people that really are that shrewd, I consider it a poor reading to shrug off these scenes as comedy.

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I still think Sperb is nuts when he talks about those bits being "comedy."

Well, the creators seemed to be on that same wavelength; at one point, Day-Lewis said he missed playing Plainview because he found the character funny, and then there's this quote from Anderson from his interview with the AV Club:

AVC: It's a bit surprising at how many laughs Daniel Day Lewis gets in uncomfortable spots, especially at the end.

PTA:
It's great, isn't it? [Laughs.]

AVC: Is that how you felt when watching it with an audience? Were you expecting people to laugh?

PTA:
I wasn't expecting it, but I was hoping for it! We used to laugh so much, but there is this completely nerve-wracking feeling, like, "Fuck, I hope they laugh."

Even if THERE WILL BE BLOOD itself isn't a comedy--and I don't think it is--I do agree that there are many moments of it that are bitingly funny. I'm not sure it boils down to just comedy (I think Anderson is trying to play with all different kinds of moods and shadings, hoping to get us to laugh one moment and cringe the next), but I think it's pretty clear that Anderson is daring us to laugh at many key moments, particularly in that gloriously absurd final scene ("I drink your milkshake!" didn't become a catchphrase for nothing).

Edited by Ryan H.
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