Monday, February 18, 2008

Film Analysis 101 - "There Will Be Blood"

This past weekend I got to see the movie There Will Be Blood starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Day-Lewis is probably best known for his work in the movies, Last of the Mohicans and Gangs of New York. He also is reknown for his ability to completely inhabit the characters that he is representing on screen, and he does not fail to deliver in There Will Be Blood. This performance is riveting, mind-blowing and will stick with you long after the movie has ended.

However, I can't say that I loved this movie, because it ultimately was much more disturbing and thought-provoking than I was expecting. And actually, I have to say, that as I was watching the movie, I didn't expect it to cause as much turmoil as it did after viewing - that is, until the end of the movie. And I suggest that you stop reading here if you don't want to know what happens in the end!

So this is my attempt to be like Ms. Brittle and analyze this film - The thing is that after I watched the movie and was thinking it over, especially the last line, "I'm finished", I started to see a lot of Biblical allusions throughout the movie. From the naming of some characters (there is a father who sells his land to Daniel Plainview named Abel Sunday; Abel has either one son with a split personality or two sons - one named Paul and the other Eli). Eli Sunday essentially becomes the archnemesis of Daniel Plainview, spewing twisted "Christian" rhetoric at him.

Plainview is a captain of industry - an oil driller who strikes it rich in California, but in the process loses everything, including his humanity. In fact, I would say that this movie is about his descent into inhumanity - other reviewers have talked about it like it is his descent into immorality, but it is much stronger than that. Plainview ends up "adopting" a son one day in the beginning of his journey into oil drilling after one of his workers is killed. His son isn't even given a name - his name is "H.W." But throughout the movie, you get this sense that Plainview does in fact love his son - his son is the one thing that keeps him from devolving into a complete monster who cares only about the bottom line and beating his competition. Actually, I should say he cares about killing his competition because beating is too nice of a word and doesn't capture the feelings of hatred that Plainview has of the competition. In fact, at one point in the movie, Plainview is having a discussion with his "brother" and relates to him that he "feels a competition burning inside of him, and feels this intense hatred of people" and that in fact he hates all people. At one bizarre point in the movie, Plainview threatens to cut the throat of a man who wants to buy his company out - and the man points out the craziness of the statement by plainly asking him (and questioning the audience) "Are you crazy?" And that is the question you have to ask yourself as the movie continues to move along - is Daniel crazy? Is Eli crazy? Are they both crazy? Is there a good guy?

There are so many layers to this movie - how Daniel "sacrifices" his son in the end, how he ends up destroying Eli, and how the movie ends with him sitting in a pool of blood, stating that "I'm finished" - it's as if he is almost sayting that his sins are atoned with Eli's blood - Eli, who is this insipid, despicable preacher who makes his parishioners look like a bunch of sheep being led to the slaughter - they cannot think for themselves and Eli makes all of their decisions. I'm sure I am not being very coherent in relating all of this, but there is so much to think on and ruminate over. I don't know if I can recommend this movie - only if you want to experience a mind-blowing movie, but not the good kind of mind-blowing movies like Into the Wild, which remains my favorite movie of 2007.


Josh said...

hey Lauren, i'm glad someone has seen this. i'd really like to see it, i know it is going to be violent and heavy, but i think it will be good. my favorite Daniel Day-Lewis movie is "In the Name of the Father". Again, violent, heavy, etc. but really good.

i'll have to let you know what i think after i see it. thanks for the recommendation/review. it sounds tough, but important to see.

Lauren said...

Yeah, it was really, really heavy. I have to say that there aren't too many scenes of violence, but the ones that are there are pretty violent.

It's really disheartening the portrayal of Christians that the movie contains, but the way that they show them arcs in the same way that Plainview's character arcs. I feel like there is even symbolism in what he eats! It really is a thinking movie.

Anonymous said...

Hey Lauran just wanted to share this article with you. This movie is not anti-Christian. I would say that Plainview rather is a Christian sinner, and there is much proof in the movie:

Critical Analysis of There Will Be Blood

Lauren said...

To lenchobw - not quite sure who you are, but thanks for posting this link to the critical anaylsis - there's a lot of good stuff in there. While the movie may not be overtly anti-Christian, I do think that the portrayal of Christians that they give (and albeit, it is a charismatic church) isn't very flattering at all.

But again, thanks for posting that link to that review. Good stuff.

Otodat said...

I don't think it is necessarily a bad thing about how Christians were portrayed in this film. I feel that it would only be Christians that are offended by this film. I am not a Christian and wasn't offended. I feel that on interesting thing that people are missing is that if one is to assume Plainview's attitude to be of the naturalistic kind (survival of the fittest and most aggressive) then perhaps one of the messages here in the film is an allusion to a victory of the naturalistic perspectives on life over the Christian or dogmatic doctrines. Anyway, just my thought.

I also had a strange reaction at the end of this film Some people don't like the abrubt ending, but I actually burst out laughing in joy and applauded the jarring end. I didn't even catch that he said "I'm finished", that would have made it even more perfect. I really liked the ending. Violence in film doesn't bother me too much (as long as it isn't stuff like Saw, I can't watch sick stuff like that, It's like watching porn for cereal killers). Part of the reason I liked this movie is that I actually agree with Plainview's outlook on the world, except that I don't believe you have to hate people to anhialate them in competition, I feel you actually have to respect them to do that. I don't see him as a monster like others do, but I'm quite sure that says more about me than anything about what he is.

Lauren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lauren said...

This is a much better and more succint analysis of the film and captures the essence of what I was trying to say in my own attempt:

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon this review and analysis after a google search. It's one of my favorite films and I've been exploring other people's ideas toward the film since it tends to polarize people.

I would say there is a very important element to Plainview that you've missed, which is how important family is to him. He obviously cannot express himself well, but his actions show that family is important. He wants HW to inherit everything from him and continue his legacy. He's already accomplished everything else he wanted, so that's really all that's left (that and destroying Eli). When HW wants to leave and start his own business, Plainview is angry and calls him his new competitor. This doesn't make a lot of sense because HW wouldn't be operating in the same areas and couldn't be an actual competitor. But this is how he sees HW...if HW leaves then Plainview can't live through HW. The legacy will be lost.

This is when Plainview reveals to HW that he isn't really his son. He wants to hurt him and this is the best way he knows how. It also helps Plainview to distance himself from the dissapointment.

The threat to cut the throat of the other business man was after he told Plainview how to deal with his family affairs. No one is allowed to tell Plainview what to do. Ever. His words are important, perhaps the most important skill he has. He uses words to control and almost conjure things into existence because he says it is so (a little god complex for sure). When HW loses his hearing, this is a very difficult blow. The power of the spoken word no longer works on HW.

I think the essence of the story is really about a man who could get anything he wanted but the things he really wanted, the things he had trouble expressing, are the things he will never get. This is the importance of the title...there will be blood isn't necessarily referencing violence, but blood ties. There are many ways to read this film, and this is all just one interpretation, but I really do think Daniel Plainview is a tragic character who, judged only by his actions, would appear a monster. I don't see him that way at all, however.