"The fact that we can think with certain films, and not simply about them, is the irrefutable sign of their value" - Nicole Brenez

Sunday, 6 April 2014

"OIL CHRISTENING" by Muthoni Maina


Greed, hate, power, revenge- are some of the words that can be used to describe the intense emotion in Paul Anderson’s 2007 film, There Will Be Blood. Starring Daniel Day- Lewis as Daniel Plainview and Paul Dano as Paul and Eli Sunday, the film is a captivating story of a silver miner (1898) turned oil miner four years later (1902). Plainview is a hard-working, money driven individual, who will stop at nothing for his success strongly communicated in the first scene in which despite him breaking his leg after falling into a shaft, he drags himself out and all the way to the nearest trading station to get money for his precious metal.

Plainview’s only son, H.W, is his only family, and is seemingly a part of the business from birth, even “christened” with oil as a baby. The relationship between father and son is a touching bond, and almost borders on unnatural or possessive, with Plainview describing his child as a business partner at a young age. We encounter Paul Sunday early in the movie when he offers Plainview a business proposition, directing him to his family ranch which lies on a major oil reserve in California. Plainview visits the ranch with his son pretending to camp and hunt quail. Eli, Paul’s twin brother, confronts Plainview when he offers to buy the land, as he knows that he wants to drill for oil. Eli sells the land at a higher price than originally quoted by Eli’s father in the hope that he will be able to build a church, the 3rd Revelation Church, of which he is the preacher. Dano’s pseudo-antagonistic role in the film is brought out by his wanting recognition and power in his community, which Plainview is stealing away by means of money and development. He is humiliated, beaten and conned by Plainview, which he in turn blames his weak father for.

Plainview’s character is gradually darkened by an accident on the drilling field, in which H.W loses his hearing. Shortly after, a man claiming to be his long lost half-brother shows up looking for work, providing some sort of solace and company for a tormented and confused Plainview. However, he is murdered by an increasingly alcholic Plainview after he confesses to be an imposter of his real brother who died some years before of Tuberculosis. All this time, Plainview becomes richer and richer, turning down an offer to be made a millionaire by a company wanting to buy his oil well. To this, Plainview asks “Then what will I do?” showing that drilling for oil had become his only reason to live. He even threatens to slit the throat of the man who suggested that he could take care of his son, a touchy issue in their broken relationship, brought to surface by his extreme guilt in abandoning him to boarding school without an explanation. He hits the “jack pot” by striking a deal with Union Oil, which allowed him to build an oil pipeline. Eli gets a chance to get revenge by beating the sin out of Plainview and forcing him to confess in church, as Plainview would do anything to get the pipeline deal.

Anderson beautifully incorporates music for dramatic effect - the score is not exaggerated but is enough to evoke fear, suspense and avarice throughout the film. The first scene is a powerful silent depiction of passion and determination - everything that Plainview is; so that the first dialogue we hear fourteen minutes into the film helps to put the character in sharper focus.
Anderson directed a great story, the spiral towards disaster is quite a ride for the audience. It is understandable then that the movie scooped two Oscars, as well as numerous other awards, with Day-Lewis winning award for Best Actor (2008). However, I do think that some scenes were too long, lengthening the movie a great deal (over two and half hours).

The film is strongly influenced by and partly based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 political novel, Oil! centred around the oil boom in Southern California in the early 1900s. Day-Lewis embodies a man in search of the American dream, for him and his son, and does a brilliantly convincing job of gradually morphing into an alcoholic maniac tormented by his own ambition. It has strong moral undertones, questioning the insatiable desire for wealth and power which erode Plainview, leaving him alone and dependent on alcohol, not even able to enjoy the grand house he had always dreamt about. The film also questions religion as a means of control. There was no big difference between Plainview and Sunday- they both utilised various ways of control, seeking revenge from each other, which ended up with a dead Eli, being clobbered by Plainview after a dramatic chase in Plainview’s bowling alley (which I thought was a terrible ending- there really was no justification for his murder, though it is understandable that Plainview was crazy and had reached a point of no return).

All in all, There Will Be Blood is a wonderful story of greed and destruction, leaving the viewer asking, “is there really anything worth my blood?”

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