For this column, Eric will be writing about a movie on Netflix each week and using it as a starting point for various musings on culture, art, and the like. There will always be clips to follow along with the column, so you can sample from the comfort of your own room.
"There Will Be Blood" is a movie defined by emptiness and ritual. By emptiness, I mean silence and slowness. It’s the kind of plodding pace that takes us 15 minutes into the film without a single word. It lets Daniel Day Lewis’ character, Daniel Plainview, drag himself out of a mine shaft after a leg injury and crawl away for a full minute, an eternity in movie time.
The first 15 minutes of Plainview mining, drilling for oil, and rising to oil tycoon are filled with dirt, sludge, and long shots of ax against rock, over, and over, and over again. If one image could encompass the feeling of this film, it would be that of a sludge covered ax cracking against rock.
We’ve all studied Jon Cage’s silent piece 4’33” in Music Hum, but the power of empty space goes beyond mere novelty. When directing theater, a great way to get actors to focus on their movement is by robbing them of the ability to talk. In the same way, Cage’s silence allows us to focus on the sounds of an uncomfortably waiting audience and director Paul Thomas Anderson’s shots let us become immersed in the tense moments, or the unbearably endless ones.
Even in games, the highest-rated shooter series of all time, "Bioshock," won its praise from carefully orchestrated emptiness. “You don’t enter into combat for 10-15 minutes, and that was a real experiment,” creative director Ken Levine told reporters in an interview for "Bioshock Infinite." Coincidentally, the game takes place at the same time as "There Will Be Blood," tackling a similar theme of the revival of religion to combat industrialism at the turn of the 20th century.
"There Will Be Blood" is based on "Oil," a novel by Upton Sinclair. "Oil" was written in response to a scandal in which the Harding administration took bribes from oil companies for land, and it looks at the clash between industry and religion in the West. Of course, Daniel Plainview’s rival comes in the form of a wild and obstinate priest, played by "Little Miss Sunshine"’s Paul Dano. At the opening of his town's new well, he is there to make sure Daniel incorporates the church, and sternly admonishes him for letting his men drink and for letting safety standards fall too lax. The tension between the two is always a spark away from catching fire (oil pun intended).
Plainview meets this fever with equally powerful obsession and a lust for power over the land that almost courts the disaster Dano’s character preaches. It is only fair that a character of such manic intensity be played by Daniel Day Lewis, who is known for an obsession with his own ritual. Day Lewis is a method actor in the truest sense. Method means figuring out your character’s goals and motivations, but to Daniel, that means never leaving your character, even offstage. He shares the belief with Thomas Anderson that through repetition, you can ingrain a feeling into your psyche. Maybe that’s why the movie felt so heavy, in every sense of the word. It’s worth watching, but don’t pick it if you want a light break.
Eric Wimer is a CC sophomore triple concentrating in Politics, English, and 'Merican Studies. So, of course, he can be found in the theater, pretending to fight cartoon dogs...Just roll with him.