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Supermassive Blackhole in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007) February 16, 2008

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood.
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Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier
Based on Upton Sinclair’s Oil!

The first ten minutes is the opposite of salvo — but to same effect. The magnificent play of sight and sound consummately introduces the grand scale of evil that will soon fill our eyes and ears, summoning undivided attention and leaving us with a majestic view of Southern California’s booming oil industry during the turn of the 20th century. Daniel Plainview searches for silver but in turn finds oil — an ocean of fuel beneath the desert — after slipping himself down into the hole, almost breaking his neck and leg, and dragging himself down and up the hills to confirm his discovery. It is silent cinema at its finest, lyrical, captivating, obliterating, and the way it establishes dismisses every amount of foretelling that is needed. Indeed oil is more precious than gold as he proclaims he is just an oilman and a family man, ladies and gentlemen, and becomes one of the most prolific magnates in the region, constantly burdened by strategical and geographical mishaps. The transformation from evil to more evil is smooth, as if ocularly we tend to regard the images as surreal given those years of spiritual and pecuniary paranoia. Greenwood’s masterful gift for edgy dissonance is overwhelming — he could well be credited for almost half of the film’s tormenting asphyxia and if reverse psychology works then it’s quite a blessing that he isn’t nominated for that Oscar. P. T. Anderson’s brilliant choice to work with him in his most ambitious film to date is nothing but quantum mechanics working perfectly. The music that ranges only from atonal to low-key coughs with blood — hence the title speaks also of its abysmal scoring — and gains an exceptional degree of catastrophic epiphany afterwards. The susceptibility to accidents echoes all throughout Plainview’s business — small things are magnified and transmogrified — moderating greed as his standard principle, educating evil without him knowing it. But definitely the greatest accident he encounters is when he meets Eli — god Eli! — shaking him down until his death in the bowling alley. Although what he does is very little in pushing the narrative, Eli reinforces Plainview’s corruption of his soul — he acts more like a representation, a caricature of ideals that Plainview rejects and abhors, and the oblique turning points of the film nestle into the battle between their putrid souls. Who would not enjoy the sight of Plainview being baptised in Eli’s Church of the Third Revelation, with him screaming “I am a sinner! I’ve abandoned my child! I’ve abandoned my child! I’ve abandoned my boy!” down on his knees and Eli asking him to look at the sky, and get stirred by the whole act, the hilarity, the seriousness, the repentance. Paul Dano equally matches Daniel Day-Lewis’ seismic capabilities — the clash between their characters is more astounding than any explosion that happens in the oil rig, more repulsive than when H.W. loses his ability to hear in a massive tower blast. And the closure is just inconceivable — although I believe that someone who sees the ending must really see it in proper context, the way things went for Plainview, still I will not refuse to consider that it can also be seen independently, without any context, and still be sufficient in asserting its purpose. P. T. Anderson clearly knows right from the very start that this is his film and no one else’s, not Day-Lewis’, not Greenwood’s, no one, and he proves it — in epic proportions. “I drink your milkshake” could well be the prefatory greeting of the recent years, replacing “This is Sparta!” — easily achieving inevitable immortality. The victory that Plainview asserts against Eli, the reversal of fortune, the atmosphere of paranoia that envelops the two of them, the death in the alley, and the triumph of the will lock everything — he is finished. There Will Be Blood is dedicated to Robert Altman. * * * * *

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