There Will Be Blood (2007) Paul Thomas Anderson
Yes, I am one of those who think that There Will Be Blood is an incredible piece of modern art and filmmaking. But as I’ve said before, I’m hardly one to think about these things (you know, PTA-related things) rationally. So whatever, you agree or you don’t.
On this viewing, I was really struck by the strangeness of the repeated insistences by Eli and Daniel that others say things aloud. I’m still struggling to figure out what I think about these occurrences, but I think there’s something there (and I can’t struggle any longer, or I’ll never get around to writing about another film ever again). And they seem to really contrast with the opening sequence.
The sequence - fourteen minutes with no speaking, except for a strangled “no” escaping from the lips of Daniel Day-Lewis - is often lauded for being the stunning opening it is. One of the things I love most about Hitchcock’s films is his visual storytelling - the opening of Rear Window is an example, telling us so much about Jimmy Stewart’s character with no verbal exposition. Similarly, the opening sequence of There Will Be Blood also tells a story of a man using images. It paints the picture of this solitary man, the lonely prospector, self-reliant, determined, disciplined.
We’re expected to learn about the main character of the film without the reassurance of words, but the characters themselves need the words to be said.
There is the matter of Paul/Eli. At the first meeting of Paul and Daniel, Paul does not want to say his name. I think this is sometimes used as evidence by people who argue that there is only one person, but I don’t know, I don’t really care so much about that argument. Still, it’s strange.
And Eli - When Eli tells Daniel that he will say a prayer at the opening of the oil rig, several times he says, “and then you will say my name”, but Daniel will not say his name, and will not allow the rig to be blessed.
We know what happens to the rig and after, and in some ways it seems like we are being led to believe that the collapse is due to Daniel not saying Eli’s name and allowing him to give the blessing. But I don’t think that’s right, I think it’s the same as in Magnolia. The religious texts tell us that we should see coincidences as signs, but I believe that both films’ views on this are pretty negative. All of the signs are there, but they don’t necessarily point to any meaning. They are signifiers without significance.
At the end, Daniel will not allow HW to communicate through sign language, he makes him speak out loud.
And there are the mirrored moments when Eli and and Daniel each make the other say something that they don’t want to say, but that is true.
People may search for meaning, but in the attempts to find it they are often led astray. Frank Mackey isn’t so very different from Eli Sunday. None of the characters are entirely good or bad. Eli is a man of words, a man spreading The Word, but he is not a man of his word. I think it is this essential contradiction that makes the film so interesting.
#183 - 9/2/2012