Saturday, 7 May 2011

"I am a false prophet! God is a superstition!"

          It is the beginning of the 20th century and Daniel Plainview is a silver prospector who while working in a mine strikes oil. He starts an oil drilling company, in which while working one of his co-workers accidentally dies. He then adopts the man's infant son and names him H.W.  Almost a decade later, we see the Plainviews are richer and their business is in full swing. It is then that a young man named Paul Sunday comes to them with information about oil under his property in a town called Little Boston, California. Daniel and H.W venture there and find out that Paul had been true to his word. Daniel decides to buy the Sunday farm and it's owner, Paukl's father is more than happy to do so. Except then Paul's twin brother Eli, who is the pastor of the Church of Third Revelation there, asks for more money to fund the church. The deal is made at the former price and along with the Sunday estate, Daniel buys all the available land in the area, save that belonging to a certain Mr. Bandy.
           Oil drilling begins in full swing but for the two accidents in the beginning, a man dies during extraction and then an explosion in the mine causes H.W. to lose his hearing completely. Around this time an unspoken feud starts between Daniel and Eli which continues till the rest of their lives. Also a stranger name Henry appears at the Plainviews' footstep claiming to be Daniel's half-brother. He takes him in and starts showing him the ropes but H.W., on reading his diary, finds some discrepancies and tries to kill him by setting him on fire to protect him and his father. The fire is stopped in time and Daniel, angered by H.W.'s act, sends him away to San Fransisco. While rival firm Standard Oil tries to buy him out, Daniel decides to go with Union Oil instead, which requires him to build a pipeline to the Californian coast, but it can only be done by striking a deal with Bandy as it has to run through it. It is at this time when Daniel finds out that Henry is not really his half-brother but rather a friend of him. He had died and by reading his diary he had gathered information about him, and had decided to come to Daniel for company and a comfortable living. Enraged, Daniel shoots him in a drunken stupor and then buries his body.
             In the morning, Bandy confronts him and says that he will only sell Daniel his land if he joins the church and washes away his sins. This gives Eli a chance to take revenge for a previous fight between Daniel and him, and he humiliates him while washing him in the blood of the Christ, making him repeat that he is a sinner and has abandoned his child, a painful memory that stays with him forever. Still his oil work is soon well on the way, and H.W also returns with a sign-language specialist, Eli goes away for missionary work and all seems well.
             Then the story forwards to 1927 when H.W. marries his childhood sweetheart Mary, Eli's sister. He comes to Daniel, now a rich and powerful man, to say through his interpreter, that he is moving to Mexico with Mary to start a company of his own. Daniel flies off the handle at this, screaming at H.W. for various things- starting from the fact that he now becomes a competitor, to the interpreter being there, till he finally reveals to him that he was an orphan he adopted to make his appearance look better to clients. Angered, H.W. leaves. It is after that, when he is lying in his very wooden, very polished bowling room, drunk, that Eli return to him. At first he tells him that he has a radio show and is doing very well, and wants to sell the Bandi farm to him as he had died. In return, Daniel asks him to make two statements- "I am a false prophet. God is a superstition."
           Now despite having said the whole plot, I will not reveal the ending. Just know that there will be blood.

           After watching P.T. Anderson's Magnolia and hearing all about how brilliant his There Will Be Blood is, I had to see it too. So I did...and I agree with the common is one fantastic, eerie, lovely film.

         The story is loosely based on Upton Sinclair's novel Oil! and was written for screen by Anderson himself. It is a story about greed, religious fanaticism, rise of capitalism...but in the end it is the story of one man- Daniel Plainview. I have written once before, give me a flawed hero and I'll give you a devoted Nikhat. And Daniel was much so that to see any redeeming qualities was nearly impossible. But I don't think so... I see a man who raised another man's son with a lot of love, but because he hated others more, it was masked by it. I think he was an excellent businessman. He was so lonely that he chose to accept a stranger, Henry, in his life- remember he had earlier threatened Paul about investigating him if his information regarding the oil was false, and he didn't attempt to do so with Henry. But of course there were blaring flaws- this man is the modern man...a man of the 20th century, which brought with it progress and industry, but also environmental degradation, religious cynicism and an insatiable greed. A common saying that money is the root cause of all evil is truly explored in this film. Daniel becomes a sinner because of his avarice, and not the blood of Christ but rather from a source much more sinister proves to be his salvation- "I'm finished," he says in the end. The hatred that had grown in him, little by little, over so many years, seeing the worst in people- in his own words, so much that he thinks that every one else also sees him in the same way. Magnolia started with the song "One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do" by Three Dog Night. Those people were lonely, but none as much as Daniel Plainview.

           To say that Daniel Day-Lewis is an outstanding actor is an understatement. Originally British, he adopted this American-western accent expertly. I've read in other reviews about how it's like John Huston's accent- I have never seen any of his films so I cannot say. For me it was very unique- gruff yet eloquent. The first time we hear it was 14 minutes after the title card gad been shown, and it stood out immediately. I had originally not wanted to see the film because Johnny Depp had lost the Oscar to him, and being the completely mad fan I was back then, I was very pissed off. I'm still a mad fan but I do know that Sweeney Todd wasn't the greatest of films or Depp's performances, and Day-Lewis was the rightful winner. The ambition, the wrath, the greed, the pain, the loneliness, and the hatred- everything is as clear as the day on his face. Yes Daniel Plainview was never a man to expose his feelings, but Daniel Day-Lewis is. It was glorious to see him on practically every shot of the film.

            The other person ofcourse is Paul Dano who played both Paul and Eli Sunday... and god he has such an interesting face. Ebert described it as pudding-faced, but I really don't know what that means. The first time we see him at work- in his little church, he looked to me like a total rockstar, "My dear Mrs. Hunter... dance with me... dance with me." But he is just so menacing. A debauched man, who uses the blind faith of others to get what he wants- attention, revenge, money. I think I would have found it harder to side with Daniel were it not for the absolutely unattractive character of Eli Sunday. And Dano did such a great job. He was vicious with such a smile on his face that The Joker would have felt scared. H.W. who was played by Dillon Freasier reminded me so much of Stanley from Magnolia. Both were these meek kids, used to amuse adults, who eventually stand up to their fathers. He was especially good after the explosion scene as we, along with him, understand the horror of what has happened to him. Kevin J. O'Connor, who played Henry, too was good, but I couldn't help keep remembering him as Beny Gabor from The Mummy. They were both liars, weren't they?

         Now I never knew that this was a film where visuals played any role. As said earlier about my anger towards it because of Depp, I had never so much as seen a trailer of it. I only knew vaguely about it. So you can understand what a surprise it was too see these stunning graphics. The wide deserted lands, the oil drills, the smoke from the train and obviously from the explosion filling the horizon. Robert Elswit won the Oscar for his cinematography and like Day-Lewis it was very well-deserved. Another thing was the music. It was odd, but so very apt, like I cannot fathom the film with any changes made in it. My favourite scene in the film is that of the explosion, and the run that Daniel makes with the traumatized H.W. The sound of the bursting oil slowly tones down, along with the screams of all the other men. Then comes this weird music which sounds like it is being made from all these different instruments and all these different surfaces and all these different sources and when H.W. reveals that he cannot hear his own voice, it shows that it's all these different things which he will never be able to hear again. The sound editing was very good too. There were always things being built and everything could be heard distinctly.

          I haven't really gotten my head around what I think of P.T. Anderson as a director. He is very good ofcourse, even a fool could say that. But Magnolia and There Will Be Blood were very different. Speaking of the latter alone, I really like the way that he used both the man and the surroundings. He got a breath-taking performance out of the already fabulous Day-Lewis, but also a creepy and intense performance out of the "silent" Paul Dano. The film is of a Western-ish genre, but so much more dramatic and believable. I really like the flow of it...there is a continuity, but the film only seems to grow from the beginning to the end. Throughout the film I felt that something greater is going to come next. It is suspenseful, but for what I am yet to fully grasp- maybe to see Daniel's final success, or to see what he does with himself, or to see where his greed took him, or if he let go of all the hatred, or maybe just to see whether there is blood, but I really was biting my nails (metaphorically) till the end. And what an ending... "I'm finished," he says.

        This film gave me a lot to think are some random musings that resulted from there:

Random Observation which May or May Not have any Basis- Now I have heard a lot about how this film is alot like the great Citizen Kane; it is- in a grittier, less fashionable way. I had also personally thought that The Social Network was like Citizen Kane, Zuckerberg's Facebook being Kane's Xanadu. This ofcourse made me compare There Will Be Blood with The Social Network. They are similar, aren't they. Just character-wise- the lonely Daniel is like Mark, the betrayed H.W. is like Eduardo, hell both films have twins! And ofcourse the treacherous Henry is like Sean. There were barely any women in the former...someone failed the Bechdel Test bad (!), but I don't think it mattered all that much. And though The Social Network didn't end with any blood, it is Fincher and one can dream.

Random Dream regarding Paul Dano- Don't you just dream of a film where there can be actors like Paul Dano, Emile Hirsch, Patrick Gugit, Kieran Culkin etc. all together? Like a big under-appreciated kick-ass actors film with a lovely kooky story. And the director...not the Coen Brothers because I'm a little sick of them but maybe someone like Jim Jarmusch...and Bill Murray can be like the patriarch and we can throw in Steve Buscemi somewhere. Yes? No?

          Anyways, I will say again that There Will Be Blood is a cinematic jewel and Daniel Day-Lewis' performance is as good as they come. And as it was recommended to me, I must recommend it to anyone who loves good cinema and hasn't seen it yet.

1 comment:

  1. Best ending I've seen for a long time! And this film made me such a Paul Dano fan.