There Will Be Blood

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I’ve finally seen it, and yes, it is all it’s cracked up to be. There Will Be Blood is the best film of 2007.

Paul Thomas Anderson is certainly a distinctive auteur, but until now (with the exception of his first film, Hard Eight) he’s not really been my cup of tea. Yes Magnolia was a great film, but There Will Be Blood is something altogether greater.

It’s an artistic masterpiece on countless levels (cinematography, score, production design, sound design), but is not nearly as tidy and well-coifed as your typical period epic. This is a reckless, unsteady film that threatens to cave in on itself but never does. On the contrary, its gurgling oil, buzzing string music (by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood) and fire-and-brimstone foreboding push the film to its boundaries but never over the edge.

It’s a film that pulls us into a character and forces us to fester within him like no other film has done in years. Daniel Day Lewis is remarkable as the Citizen Kane-inspired Daniel Plainview—a man as full of ambition and greed and pain and pride as the country he’s meant to personify. He’s a self-made oil millionaire who doesn’t care much for anything but his own success, and will do anything (and I mean anything) to get to the top.

There Will Be Blood is about a lot of things, but perhaps the most interesting commentary it offers is an examination of America’s unique and at times unholy alliance between religion, politics, and capitalism. In the film Plainview clashes with a fiery young preacher, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), who is the God opposite Plainview’s mammon. Or so it appears at first. Sunday does all he can to convert the backslidden, mucked-up soul of Plainview, but is it really about saving his soul or tempering his power and influence over the townsfolk? Plainview needs the church to gain legitimacy and trust so he can build oil pipelines and make millions. Sunday needs Plainview for his own purposes. They need each other, but the merger brings blood.

Though not a political film in the traditional sense, Blood nevertheless captures the blood-oil-Iraq-evangelicals-capitalism zeitgeist far better than the countless Lions for Lambs-type films have this year. It got me thinking about the presidential election, and how—like Plainview and his “conversion” to Sunday’s church—so many candidates are pandering to religion not out of spiritual need but material necessity. Like Plainview, it’s not that they necessarily want God on their side; they want God’s people—and the money and support that comes with them. This sort of melding of sacred and secular purposes, however, proves toxic for all involved.

There Will Be Blood is a stunning, thoroughly modern work of art that paints a stark picture of what happens when greedy capitalism and power-mongering is bedfellow with something so contrary as Christianity. As the title forebodes, the results—for all parties involved—will not be pretty.

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5 responses to “There Will Be Blood

  1. I hadn’t heard of the film until I read this this morning, and then I saw the trailer before The Kite Runner this evening. I’m excited! Well, I will be when it’s finally released in the UK!

  2. I was able to catch a midnight preview screening in Portland a few weeks ago, and I’ve been looking forward to your thoughts since then. I was interested in how the Christian film crit community would respond to TWBB. It’s the kind of film that’s easy to for Christians to reject — bleak and hopeless, and most importantly, shows Christians as either a) power-hungry charlatans, or b) their mindless followers. Oh and don’t forget c) child abusers. The recantation of the final scene was almost more than even I could bear. But my hope was that reviewers would be able to overlook this abuse (we should be used to it by now anyway) and see that this is a film with a deeply Christian ethic at its core. You and Jeff Overstreet have satisfied me in this regard.

    (Aside: I was suprised you didn’t namedrop Malick like everybody else.)

    Anyway, I completely agree that this is the best film of 2007. In fact, it just might be my favorite film since Punch-Drunk Love, and Magnolia before that. :)

    Would it be presumptuous to welcome you to the Paul Thomas Anderson club?

  3. Yeah I don’t see all the Malick comparisons. Malick would never do something so linear and character-driven! (though Malick’s production designer, Jack Fisk, did work on “Blood”).
    And as for welcoming me to the P.T. Anderson fan club, I think that is fair. I’m a big fan of Hard Eight and now this one… and the others certainly have some great moments.

  4. Pingback: Decompose » “There Will Be Blood” and Its Portrayal of Christianity

  5. Pingback: Top 25 Films of the 2000s « The Search

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