The Top Ten (or so) Films of the Decade: #1 There Will Be Blood (Anderson, 2007)
An American epic, a monster movie, a father-son story– There Will Be Blood is a film (and, perhaps, the only film) that is big and primal enough to encompass the era, scarily intimate enough to be disquieting and unnerving on a deeply personal level. Its characters are archetypes, and yet they are characters just the same: they are suggestive, even symbolic, of things that are deep and primeval, but they are not pawns in an allegory. Though the film is a fiction, it rings true in a very eerie way, as though it is, secretly, a history.
I have remarked numerous times that, to me, Anderson’s film plays out like a horror movie, where Daniel Plainview himself is the monster, but thinking about it now, that isn’t quite right; he is monstrous, yes, but he remains a man, someone very different from, say, the purely evil, spectral presence of Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. He is not without his redeeming qualities, and not without his human side. But his virtues– his hard work, his sense of vocation, his relentlessness– are warped and turned rotten. The true menace in this film is, basically, greed, but here it is manifest in the unholy marriage of religion and commerce– a theme that is important to me, and apropos for the 2000s.
Daniel Day-Lewis is astonishing, close to preternatural here. I have heard his work criticized as being too broad, and it is true that he is stretched to cartoonish proportions, but that’s who Daniel Plainview is; Day-Lewis simply inhabits him perfectly, and I have no trouble believing that there really are men like Plainview, because I have no trouble believing that there could be a man like Plainview lurking somewhere in the dark corners of my own soul.
The film seems to be fueled, at times, by sheer audacity– the magnificent set piece of the oil fire, Johnny Greenwood’s twisted score– but Anderson’s mastery here is that for all its boldness, this is basically a very real story that is, if anything, a little too close to home, not out there in the cinematic abstract. I am increasingly drawn to the film’s father-son dynamic; this arc is ripe for Freudian psychoanalysis, yet it is, more essentially, affecting and complex.
Watching There Will Be Blood is a terrifying and awesome experience. It leaves me shaken, and in wonder. It is a monument forged from darkness, a film that wrestles with shadows and comes away with a piece of the sublime.