There Will Be Blood
By Brett McCracken
January 28, 2008
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 backslid, 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.