Ten years ago I was in a strange place. I had just graduated from college and moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan for a job that I ultimately hated. I was working 70 hour weeks, living in a city where I knew no one save the people I worked with [luckily, most of those people were pretty cool and have remained friends over the years]. The demands of the job kept me in Ann Arbor over Christmas, my first time away from home during the holidays, and with all my friends with theirs, I decided to go to the movies.
Not only was I not using my cinema studies degree in a professional way [but who does?], I didn’t have much time, energy, or money to watch many films at all. The films I did see were coming from the library to check off my blind spots from the They Shoot Pictures 1,000 greatest films list. Even while studying film in school, my attention was paid to the classics and historically significant films, so I was never really in the habit of going to the theater or renting new DVDs. As I walked into the theater on Christmas Day ten years ago, I think I had seen Boogie Nights and liked it [obviously] but don’t think I had any real association with the work of Paul Thomas Anderson. I had no idea what to expect from There Will Be Blood. I wasn’t exactly in the right headspace for the incredibly tense, epic theatergoing experience.
Ten years later, I didn’t remember many specific details from There Will Be Blood, but as I rewatched the film for the first time so much came up from my subconscious—of course, the film’s reputation and more renowned [and parodied] scenes being in the cultural consciousness helps.
There is so much obviously perfect about There Will Be Blood. Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview is a towering presence. Paul Dano might get a lot of hate for his snivelling performance as Eli Sunday, but he is the perfect foil for Plainview. Robert Elswit’s Oscar winning cinematography is beautiful and a major source for the film’s tension. The camera is rarely completely still even in the long static shots, with a pulsing, hovering feeling. Johnny Greenwood’s score is one of the best of the century [it is a shame that the score was disqualified from Oscar consideration; seriously, Academy, figure out your shit]. I am in no way qualified or interested in talking about movie music, but this is among the rare scores that immediately stick out for me. And, of course, there is Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction. He crafts the larger than life story with complete control of the great dramatic shifts.
Films are called “Shakespearean” far too often—it is one of my fave peeves when it comes to film discourse. There Will Be Blood is undeniably Shakespearean. Surrounded by an epically scaled backdrop and themes, at its heart it is a story about family and rivalry and often told in a quiet, personal manner. It is the conversations and confrontations that stick with emotional resonance. Especially considering its scale, the film is at its best when it is at its most theatrical. Speeches, conversations, confrontations, all which could happen on a stage. Simultaneously huge and intimate.
This is what I love most about There Will Be Blood. Though the dramatic stakes and scope are incredibly large, the character moments are what make it memorable. Among the movie epic themes of greed and commerce are more accessible narrative threads on family and community. Plainview and Sunday stand in for two opposing institutions, yes, but their opposition isn’t really about their theological differences but their ego. They are petty, raw, and make things personal. For Plainview, this is obvious: he’s the type of man to hold a grudge and willing to destroy a man’s life for any reason. On the other hand, I can believe that Sunday wants to save Plainview out of his Christian goodness, though after being publicly slighted at the christening of the oil derrick, he starts to unravel. He’s successful at building his church community, but that isn’t enough—his scorn for Plainview violently drives him to win.
Marking the 10th anniversary of the week There Will Be Blood debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, this is a perfect week to drink it all up [and, honestly, beat the crowd that will undoubtedly be revisiting the film later this year]. Though I may have used this “perfect time” to finally revisit the film nearly ten years after it was released, I really have no good excuse. I don’t think I’ll be waiting another ten years to dive into this world again.