THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

Based on Upton Sinclair’s Oil!, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood begins in 1898 New Mexico, when Daniel Plainview breaks his leg in his silver mine before discovering a wealth there of black gold. Why does Anderson set the story’s beginning earlier than the novel does? Perhaps to give it a toehold in the decade of Darwin, evolutionism, and Tennyson’s warning against humanity’s “reeling back into the beast.”
     The film’s opening movement is extraordinary—a silent filmlet with discordant work sounds. One of Daniel’s fellow workers, a young father, dies while drilling, and Daniel assumes the burden of the orphaned son, presumably in part to ground his own consciousness in the noble concepts of sacrifice, loyalty, devotion and love. But that’s part of the problem; Daniel’s feelings proceed from abstract ideas. Is this the truth about emotions in America?
     Daniel’s pursuit of drilling rights on private property constitutes his demonic possession by competitive capitalism at the expense of humane and social values. How fitting that he uses his young adopted son, H.W., as an endearing inducement to trick people into letting him pocket their land at a minimal price. His son goes deaf as the result of a well’s explosion. This predicts the estrangement from the boy that Daniel enforces. He keeps burning his bridges to humanity.
     The film slides deeper and deeper into the muck of slick melodrama. It goes on too long, reiterating Daniel Plainview’s propensity for denying his own humanity and everyone else’s. Alas, this atheist’s long quarrel with a preacher who is as exploitive in his realm as Daniel is in his own realm leads to a bloody mess that fails to illumine the thematic material.
     Daniel Day-Lewis, as Plainview, cleverly impersonates two Hustons: Walter and John.

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