As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

There Will Be Blood

Posted by Hedwig on March 5, 2008

I never quite know how to start a post about a movie I get to late. I don’t mean classics – I like discussing classics because it frees me from saying the obvious, and allows me to reflect purely on my own reaction, and the small things that stick out to me. But movies that have been discussed and quoted and analyzed to death by the time I finally get around to them. Discussion, I might add, that in the case of There Will Be Blood I’ve been extremely careful to avoid. And as much as “I drink your milkshake” became an inescapable catchphrase, I needn’t have worried so much, because this is not a movie that can really be spoiled, or even described in a way that prepares you for what you’ll see, nay, experience once you sit in that theater. I’d originally appended a spoiler warning for after the jump, but after writing realized I hadn’t really revealed anything myself, either.

Is it odd that I want to start with my reservations? I will, anyhow, because I don’t want to close with the few, negligible things that stopped this movie from beating No Country For Old Men and possible also I’m Not There as my top 2007 movie. I don’t want that to be the taste that lingers. But in all honesty, looking back at the movie after a night’s sleep, now that the original impact has subsided, I do regret that the film is so focused on being an epic, that it so wants to be not just Art, but ART!, that it doesn’t have any sense of – dare I say it – humor about itself. There’s no wink, no irony. There are some laughs to be had, but from everything you can tell the filmmaker – and the main filmmaker – take themselves very seriously.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me get to what’s great. And trust me, the great far, far outweighs the minor quibble above. Daniel Day-Lewis is simply breathtaking, so precise, so bigger-than-life, so immersed in the character. He does go over the top in the final act, but even that works. And it helps, of course, that Paul Thomas Anderson has created an absolutely unforgettable character for him to embody. Daniel Plainview is just so many things. A misanthrope, an actor, an atheist – and how refreshing to see one who’s not necessarily more evil than his religious counterpart! He’s capitalism made flesh, the illustration of the corruptive power of greed, and he’s also just a profoundly lonely man, incapable to connect to anyone, and disappointed by the few who get past his first, ruthless, assessment.

Plainview is one of the main reasons this movie keeps you in thrall for all of its running time: the plot may meander, and you might not know where the story is going, not even care, perhaps, but it’s impossible not to watch him, not to search his face for signs of humanity, and for clues about what he’ll do next. The other reasons? The precise, perfect editing of the gorgeous compositions (Deakins finally getting his little gold man would’ve made me happy…but I have to admit Elswit’s just as deserving), and of course the amazing Jonny Greenwood score.

I’m not generally a fan of intrusive scores. I like soundtracks of film to be either a) collages of old songs put in a new, fresh context or b) supporting what’s on screen but not calling attention to themselves. So really, I should have disliked this score: it’s brash, loud, outright discordant in moments. The score assaults you before we even set eyes on our protagonist. I know parts of it were adapted from Arvo Pärt music, but the composer it reminded me of was Shostakovitch. And no other music would have done, for this movie. It keeps your blood racing, keeps you constantly on edge, waiting for something to go wrong. It isn’t content to just support and strengthen the action, like most soundtracks, but it complements it, adds so many layers, so much tension. It’s the first score Greenwood made, and he seems totally unhindered by convention, totally unrestrained. And for this grand, operatic movie, it’s perfect.

My word count tells me I’m already at 700. I don’t want to turn this into an impenetrable, endless enumeration of all that I liked. And so, even if I want to say so much more, about the wordless first act which tells you all you need to know about both Plainview and the themes, about the biblical allusion, about the beautiful symmetry of the ending… But for now, I will leave it at this.

The strange thing is: I doubt I’ll revisit this movie, as many commenters on my previous thread have. I don’t want to see this film scaled down, and even a second time in the cinema doesn’t really appeal to me. More than a movie, this was an experience for me, 2.5 visceral, transporting hours that I don’t think a second viewing can equal. It was an experience that managed to surprise me despite towering expectations. A unique work of art that managed to floor me. And maybe that’s how it ought to stay.

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6 Responses to “There Will Be Blood”

  1. “Plainview is one of the main reasons this movie keeps you in thrall for all of its running time” Exactly, and notions of him overdoing it are crazy. Is his acting ‘big’? Absolutely, but I don’t think the film would’ve worked if it hadn’t been.

    I also have my reservations about it that keep it just behind No Country as my favorite movie of the year, but I don’t quite agree that the movie takes itself completely seriously. It is serious business, yes, but it also has a twinkle in its eye as it tries (and succeeds in my case) to trick you into liking this monster.

    I’m not proposing that as an argument, just thinking out loud.

    Though you’ve expressed reservations about it, I do hope you catch it again. Your ability to perceive and absorb movies may outclass mine, but for me a second viewing was essential for reasons I’ve elaborated elsewhere. I needed it to come to a full appreciation.

    Having said that, it started to wear out its welcome after the 4th time whereas No Country For Old Men just kept getting better.

    I also understand a certain reservation about revisiting a movie I loved. This might not be what you’re thinking, but for me sometimes when I have the rare transcendent moviegoing experience, I worry that seeing it again will fall short and the movie will reveal itself as not being as good as I thought. I’m afraid it will tarnish my original experience.

    I had to wait a long long time to revisit The New World because the first time was so amazing. I’m happy to report in that case that the movie held up just fine.

    Anyway, glad you liked the movie and it was great to hear your fresh thoughts on it. Nicely done.

  2. Well there is not much that I can say in terms of how I agree/disagree with you, but you have wet my appetite for this film even more, which is more minor feat.

    You see, I am not sure what exactly to expect. I guess that is the fun part about it. Anyway, I see it {hopefully} tomorrow, so I will come back and say something that is actually meaningful 🙂

  3. Paul C. said

    Hedwig~~

    I know what you mean about not wanting to revisit this over and over again at home. For me, it’s like 2001, a movie that’s a must-own on DVD, but which is better sampled in pieces at home than it is viewed from stem to stern. I imagine myself watching certain favorite scenes from There Will Be Blood over and over on DVD, but not so much sitting down and watching the whole thing, especially after seeing it three times to date on the big screen. It’s just not the same movie. However, if it plays in rep anywhere near me in the future, I’ll be first in line for a ticket.

    Also, check this out:

    #2 is especially relevant to you.

  4. Okay, so I just saw Blood, and I now understand even more why you wanted to let the film settle and process everything before writing about it, and I need to do the same.

    I must just say that I never knew a film could knock the wind out of a person, I have experienced this before, but with No Country and Blood, it is hard to believe I will ever breathe again. Dramatic much?!

  5. Alison Flynn said

    Excellent review, Hedwig. I’m glad you liked this. I can understand the reservations you have – there are certain aspects of the film that make it just short of being a ‘perfect’ film. But I can overlook those aspects because the rest of it blew me away.

    I have to agree with the others who commented that it was even better on the second viewing. So far I haven’t gone for a 3rd viewing. I probably won’t, as I’m already behind seeing the newer movies coming out.

  6. I too agree that there were shortcomings, but I was able to look way past them.

    I still have to go for a second viewing, and if what you say is true Alison, that it gets better on the second viewing, I might just go into heart failure, I was so impressed with it on the first viewing!

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