I asked myself an hour ago why I’ve never really sat down and re-watched Paul Thomas Anderson‘s There Will Be Blood since I bought the Bluray six years ago. I’ve never, ever popped it into the player, even after I got my beautiful Oppo and particularly the 60″ Samsung plasma. The honest answer is that among the great films of the 21st Century, Blood is perhaps the most disturbing and self-conflicted in that it constantly fascinates while pouring one of the most vile and reptilian characters in film history into the beaker of our souls — Daniel Day Lewis‘s Daniel Plainview. I’ll never forget this monster for the rest of my life, but I don’t want his poison in my system.
Here are excerpts from my 11.6.07 review, which was actually written after my second viewing of the film in San Francisco. Mostly excerpts about Plainview, I mean.
“Within its own heavily male, oil-soaked, organized religion-hating, misanthropic realm, There Will Be Blood is brilliant. It passes along a kind of insanity, but it does so with absolute greatness.
“But (and I’m talking about the first viewing, not the second) it’s about as hateful as a quality film can be — hateful in that there’s no one to care about except for the young son (and his adult incarnation at the end), and not that much to think about. Most women viewers will probably despise it, and yet it’s easily one of the year’s best made films.
“There is nothing but realism in There Will be Blood — there isn’t a fake line or moment in the entire 2 hours and 38 minutes — but it’s also an embodiment of a very creepy psychology — black as night, black as oil, blacker than the bottom of a sealed-up well.
“And Daniel Day Lewis‘s portrayal of the remarkable Daniel Plainview — a driven, increasingly manic and misanthropic oilman who builds an empire in the early 20th Century — is historic. It’s one of the most riveting and demonically possessed performances ever put to film — more feverish than any monster played by Lon Chaney or Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi — and yet human and vulnerable-seeming enough to stir a certain recognition.
“Plainview is a Count Dracula who spews oil rather than sucks blood. He starts out as a hard-working miner, then evolves into a tough businessman, then a religion-hating misanthrope, then a father who abandons his son, and finally a full-out fiend.
“I’m imagining Anderson and Lewis holding a miniature infant version of Daniel Plainview in baby blankets, fresh out of the womb and wet with afterbirth and yet adultly proportioned (as he is in the film), and saying to us all, ‘Come see our child! He’s a monster, no question, but he came from our ribs and our souls and we love him…God help us but we do. We realize you can’t love him — he’s not constructed that way — but can you respect him at least? Can you at least see that he’s where some of us — perhaps more than a few of us — have come from? Or is a person that, God help us, some of us may actually be?”
“The day after first seeing it I wrote that Anderson ‘has a heart of darkness inside him that would make Joseph Conrad tremble and turn pale.
“Lewis’s ‘Bill the Butcher’ in Gangs of New York was a grand guignol psychopath, but Plainview is even more diseased as he lets no light in whatsoever. No gentleness, humor or warmth (except for the love he shows his young adopted son during the first hour). A shrewd survivor, but consumed by utter greed and calculation. A man looking for love and loyalty, and yet ready to kill or abandon those he feels have betrayed him or let him down. Not a character as much as a kind of demonic force of nature.”