The Essential Series – There Will Be Blood (2007)

Summer is reaching its twilight. The festival circuit is developing buzz as lineups are announced. And the awards season is taking shape. It has been an odd transition period for me, as I’m settling into a position at work and embracing a new apartment. As much as I want to fight out of it, cinema just has not been a top priority for my summer. But things are taking shape and the energy surrounding potential awards contenders are again sweeping me away. This is obviously all compounded by watching a lot of films again. 

My 70mm screening of The Master is what really started things off for me again. Surrounded by fellow cinephiles and local press (Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of mubi.com were in attendance), coupled with the general hype of seeing the follow-up of one my favorite films was nothing short of amazing. As I’m still digesting the picture, I thought it appropriate to look back at the film that spurred my interest in not just Paul Thomas Anderson’s picture, but to cinema in general.

There Will Be Blood (2007) Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Most cinephiles tend to embrace a particular film that changed how they view cinema. These pictures tend to broaden the scope, whereupon the formal qualities and emotional gravity that a film possesses break the glass ceiling of interpretation. They are typically films that widen one’s worldview and possess an intrinsic understanding of its viewer’s emotions. There Will Be Blood was that film for me. The circumstances of my viewing were hardly complimentary. While I appreciated the early screening of the picture, its midnight screening in the midst of a Chicago winter did not bode well for this commuter. But my interest in the picture overtook me.

From its beginning, Johnny Greenwood’s score attacks the senses. With the wide open landscape in full view, There Will Be Blood embodies a tonal sense of loneliness. Contempt and greed may be considered the opportune word to describe Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), but the character’s follies stem from a perpetual state of social abandonment. While I certainly acknowledge the rich capitalist undercurrent found throughout the picture, my most recent viewing of There Will Be Blood afforded me the opportunity to delve into some of the more enigmatic elements of the film. 

While I granted There Will Be Blood a rare 10/10 upon first viewing, I did find a narrative hiccup in the manner pf which Paul Thomas Anderson removed HW (Dillon Freasier) from the narrative. He was then immediately replaced by Henry (Kevin J. O’Connor). The decision remains an awkward point in the picture, wherein Plainview and his estranged brother become business partners. Upon my most recent viewing, the substitution bares a particularly interesting window into understanding the complexities of the Plainview character and provides an additional reading of the title itself.

While some viewers may have been disappointed by the lack of violence and well, blood, as promised by the picture’s title, one could possibly acknowledge the word “blood” in relationship to kinship. Given that Anderson and Greenwood have already thoroughly established the isolation of Plainview’s spatial and cerebral perspective, one can assume the importance of what familial bonds he might have in the continuation of his prospects. While Plainview is deeply rooted in his capital ventures, there’s undoubtedly an added pressure of continuing this upon his death. Provided the fleeting scenes of sincerity bestowed upon HW, I would argue that his greatest priority rests in his kinship to HW. While their relationship is bound by false pretenses, Plainview attempts to mold HW in the ways of the oil business.

Upon their arrival to Little Boston, California, Plainview and HW discuss what to do with the ocean of oil under their feet. They converse as if business partners, both capable of addressing the various moving parts to their industry. The two share an obvious camaraderie, whereupon the aspects of business and kinship are intertwined. Plainview has found his ideal partner, one who he can maximize his capital while insuring a trust and bond between. Basically, HW is a part of the molding process until he loses his hearing following a derrick explosion. Now, HW’s behavior grows erratic and Plainview can no longer shape his child as an image of himself. As the audience viewed Plainview without dialogue in the initial fifteen minutes of There Will Be Blood, HW is left to interpret his father’s actions. Interpretation is not sufficient to molding HW; therefore he is shipped away to a boarding school for the deaf. Henry enters.

Henry’s arrival, as jarring and unexpected as it was, brings the concept of Plainview’s quest for a successor to fruition. With Henry, there initially appears to be a legitimate blood bond that unites them. An absent quality in HW, Plainview accepts Henry with little debate. While there are scenes were Plainview looks upon Henry with skepticism, he becomes distracted by his capitalist ventures. But on the eve of his success, Plainview discovers that Henry is an imposter. Plainview’s violent reaction serves to underscore the singular missing familial component in his life – there’s no one that Plainview can mold because, no matter how close he gets, there will be crucial inconsistencies.

This falls in line with the casting of Paul Dano as both Paul and Eli Sunday. Originally cast for the small role of Paul, Dano was hastily cast for the role of Eli. While a casting made out of convenience, the implications it has on the picture is quite interesting. For one, the two characters share opposite characteristics – one is motivated by capitalism while the other is driven by religion. That’s the dichotomy that is explicitly played between Eli and Plainview, but given their brotherhood, it’s a startling dividing line. Moreso, their appearance plays on the concept of expert molding – a physical manifestation is possible, but to shape a worldview in the same manner that Plainview attempts to mold HW and Henry proves impossible. People think for themselves and it’s there that Plainview’s demeanor and social position cannot impose influence. And much in the same way that Plainview fails to shape the worldview of HW and Henry, Abel Sunday (David Willis) fails Eli in a similar fashion. His son admonishes him for failing to adequately predict Plainview’s intentions – this causes a scuffle between father and son, where son rejects the principles laid out by his father. Worldviews cannot be constructed and displaced from one generation to another. Blood may or may not unite two people, but even if it did, it certainly does not guarantee loyalty.

This scatter-shot dissection into expanding beyond the presumed thematic intention of There Will Be Blood as anything more than capitalism versus religion required multiple viewings to cogently put into words.  But the beauty of films like There Will Be Blood is that there is room for interpretation. There’s no singular analysis of the film – nor will there ever be. The depth of the picture is immense – an ocean of interpretation left for the viewer to dive in and comprehend.