<em>There Will Be Blood</em>

Spoilers, as always.

My sister and I went to see There Will Be Blood yesterday.

Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!, on which the film is based, is little in evidence, thankfully. I do not enjoy Sinclair, because his narratives expect the reader to sympathize with his Socialist views. I am a miserable failure at sympathizing with Socialists.

I was worried that There Will Be Blood would be all anti-industrial in theme, and it mostly wasn't. The first three acts are really quite good. Plainview is competent and knows it. He puts on a hard sell, but he doesn't swindle people. He expects only what is coming to him. The villain, by contrast, is a perfectly loathsome, manipulative faith-healer con-man in whose ultimate destruction we delight.

The first three acts, like I said, are really quite good. The last two acts, starting when Plainview's "brother" shows up, didn't make any sense. Plainview's devolution into drink and hate doesn't make sense. There was no reason for him to kill the impostor, and there was nothing at all in the first three acts to suggest that kind of flaw. It was, I think, forced on the character by a filmmaker who didn't completely understand what he was doing.

Act I has not one spoken word. It tells the story of Plainview's start, and provides important background information on his relationship with his son. The score is most noticeable during Act I, too. Much of the score is awful. If you have ever seen the prologue to 2001: A Space Odyssey, you have an idea about how Act I felt.

(Aside: An even closer comparison is to the score to the "The Architect and The Apprentice" sequence in Matthew Barney's Cremaster 3, but this sequence is not available on the commercially available Cremaster 3 DVD, and so you've probably never seen it. The DVD only has the "The Order" sequence. I have the score to Cremaster 3 on CD, if you want to borrow it. The part of which I am speaking is amelodic, atonal, arhythmic, aggressive, and altogether unpleasant.)

A lot of the score is like that, but sometimes it gets some structure and works out really well. The score during the accident at the well is still amelodic, but it gets a rhythmic quality that really drives home the anxiety of the scene. So the score wasn't all bad, just mostly.

Throughout the film, Plainview is an atheist. He gives credit where credit is due - to the oil men who have the skill to extract great wealth from deep in the ground. Ely Sunday (the antagonist preacher-boy) continually presses Plainview to give credit to God. In Act IV, after Plainview has shot his impostor brother, he is blackmailed into allowing Ely to baptize him into the Church. The ritual is purely a vehicle for Ely's revenge, and Plainview plays along in order to get an easement for his pipeline to cross the land of a holdout in Ely's pocket. So Plainview professes that he is a sinner and abandoned his son. (This isn't entirely true. After an accident at the well destroyed his son's hearing, Plainview puts the boy on a train to San Francisco, to be enrolled in a school for the deaf. The boy loved working with his father, and would have never agreed to be separated from him. But Plainview was doing what was best for the boy, not just getting rid of him.) Plainview has a "revelation" during the scene and sends for his son to return (now accompanied by a sign instructor). There is clearly a very strong bond between the two, and Plainview is set up as truly caring for the boy, despite the boy's true parentage. Which makes Act V so much more inexplicable.

Act IV is where it starts to go downhill. We see changes in Plainview, and flaws that were not in evidence for the first three acts. Acts IV and V do not follow from the earlier acts.

Act V really ruins the film. Plainview totally self-destructs, for no good reason. The film seems to suggest that he is corrupted by his wealth, but hasn't done anything to really make us understand how. I guess this is the Socialism. We are expected to take for granted that wealth corrupts and destroys. Plainview disowns his son. Again, for no good reason except that the boy, now grown and married, wants to leave his father's company and strike out on his own in Mexico. After his son leaves, Ely comes back asking for money. Plainview gets his own revenge for the baptism scene by making Ely profess his own iniquities, in much the same way Ely had made Plainview do. I guess we are supposed to think that the two men are really no different from one another - both parasites and con-artists, but those of us who actually watched the first three acts know better, and the scene comes off as really quite humorous. When Plainview starts chasing Ely around the room with deadly intent, the scene is truly comical. Plainview bludgeons Ely to death with a bowling pin, and my sister and I were laughing. We weren't the only ones, either.

It really was a pity, because so much of the film was really good, and Daniel Day-Lewis (as Plainview) gave an excellent performance. The first three acts were quite good and very well-told, and are visually and thematically appealing. For these reasons, I could not rate it too harshly.

Tom G Varik