Let’s face the oil well and dance…

There’s something weird going on in P.T. Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. Okay, there are many weird things going on – the film is quite confounding on the whole, as it doesn’t present its story the way you’d expect it – but when you watch the beginning of the film, a long sequence without any dialogue, you feel some strange sort of double vision. At least you do if you’re a film nerd like me, that is.

On the one hand, you’re watching a solitary prospector mine for silver in a desolate landscape, breaking his leg in a bad fall, striking it rich – and then, almost by accident, finding oil. On the other hand, the music and the landscape suggest very different images, recalling one of the most famous (and most parodied) scenes of cinema:

There is some sort of weird intertextual thing going on between There Will Be Blood and Kubrick’s movies that is discussed intelligently in this forum post. Beyond that, though, there something eerily ritualistic and religious about the film’s beginning: it’s as if the black liquid gushing from the ground is the harbinger of some new, cruel religion that will require sacrifices. In his way, Daniel Plainview (a disturbing performance by Daniel Day Lewis that is more complex than its detractors admit) is more of a mad prophet than his opponent, the self-righteous yet wheedling Eli Sunday. It’s just that human beings have no place in his religion.

Is it better to rule in Hell…?

I recently re-watched Magnolia, which I still like a lot, so There Will Be Blood came as a surprise. Even Punch Drunk Love, which I didn’t particularly enjoy (or understand), felt more like the P.T. Anderson who made Magnolia and Boogie Nights. Those latter two films were quintessential ensemble movies. There Will Be Blood has barely enough space for one or two characters next to Plainview. It grows out of its central monolithic (if you forgive the Kubrickian pun) protagonist: perhaps the most frightening character in recent film history.

P.S.: Please keep in mind that I haven’t yet seen No Country for Old Men, so I can’t judge the scariness of that film’s Anton Chigurh. His hair’s plenty scary enough, though.

Prince Valiant, the Cleaner

P.P.S.: After Miami Vice used to be the top search term leading people to this website, it has now become “magenta”. So, my heartfelt thanks to one of my frequent readers. Hope you’re getting just as many hits because of me!

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4 thoughts on “Let’s face the oil well and dance…

  1. magenta February 29, 2008 / 7:58 pm

    Glad to be of service.
    I’m afraid “thirithch” doesn’t seem to roll off the tongue (or indeed, the keyboard) so well…

  2. Russell.J.Coller.Jr March 4, 2008 / 5:28 pm

    “…can’t judge the scarriness of Anton Chigurh…” What do you mean the scarriness ? You mean scarry like the Bubonic Plague ? Dude. Run to the theater — the Spaniard is way scarrier than an Englishman who can’t decide if he’s English or Irish.

  3. Russell.J.Coller.Jr March 4, 2008 / 5:31 pm

    Oops, “scariness / scary / scarier” ah well…

  4. lichanos December 28, 2008 / 2:33 pm

    Doesn’t Magnolia have a scene that is an explicit parody/allusion to 2001? I seem to recall its use of the Zarathustra theme in a dramatic sequence with Tom Cruise…

    Personally, I thought TWBB was awful, and I didn’t like Magnolia either. I enjoyed the scenes illustrating the oil industry, and I think you are right about the power of much of its imagery, but the story made no sense, and the characters had absolutely no depth. I’m not sure what it was about. You can visit my post if you want to read my rant about it.

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