Thursday, February 07, 2008

There Will Be Blood Review, Part 2: Sir Daniel, The Uberman's Man

There Will Be Blood showcases one of the most virtuosic, awe-dropping, flipping magnificent acting performances known to modern cinema.

In this film, Daniel Day Lewis made me forget about that hunk of melodramatic crud "The Last of The Mohicans" (cue Mohicans clip: "Just stay alive! Whatever may occur! I will find you!" - then he jumps through the waterfall like all brave Indians do-) and placed himself on the pedestal reserved for Brando, Pachino, Nicholson, Hopkins... (I realize that I just offended half my readers with that Mohicans slam...)

He was almost too good. I had a hard time caring too much about his costars. It reminded me of a quote by the famous Conductor, Toscanini, while referring to himself to a preening opera diva who demanded she be treated like a star, "Ah, Madame, but the stars cannot be seen while the sun shines," Toscanini said, and pointed to himself.

This was true for D.D.L. in There Will Be Blood. There wasn't a moment when my eyeballs were not glued to that guy, even when someone else was talking.

If they don't gift wrap the Academy Award and hand it to him while messaging his shoulders all the way to the podium, then they need to march over to Jaimie Fox's pad and bust his academy for Ray into a billion shards.

It is hard to describe a performance so spectacular that I can't get it out of my head. Maybe I should just take Hemmingway's advice and deem it "too good to talk about."

As for the movie... I went into the flick thinking that it wouldn't compare to No Country for Old Men. Rarely does a year in film yield two marvels of American Cinema, but this year is such a year.

I've read a few good reviews of this film and for some reason, they still don't capture "that something" that There Will Be Blood made me feel. Maybe because something truly artful cannot be captured, or if it is, it is blemished and made less.

I'll probably fail too, but might as well give it a go.

Not only was There Will Be Blood a commentary on the perils and parallels of pure capitalism and religious corruption, it shines the light deeper, into the soul of why there is capitalism at all. There Will Be Blood was a commentary on survival. It wasn't just about the evils of capitalism and religion and how both can take advantage of people and their possessions. It is about survival through dominance. From the beginning we see a man scratching in the desert for silver. His ladder breaks and he falls back into a hole where he had unsuccessfully dug for silver. He breaks his leg in the fall, but in the entire falling ruckus, silver is found. He then drags himself up out of the hole, with his silver, and miles and miles through the desert to the gold exchange. He survives.

There are two primary characters in this film: The Oil Man, (Daniel Day Lewis) and the Preacher Man. (Paul Dano.) Both want to thrive. They want control. They want to be the survivor, the winner, and the conqueror. In the end... well, it's no spoiler to say one wins and one loses. But there is Redemption here, just not a "Christian" redemption. The redemption is more Nietzschean. (That gives me the creeps just writing that last sentence.) It is the uberman's redemption we see the end. He kills God, or God's man. In doing so, he proclaims that he is finished, he survives, and the film ends.

To the filmmaker's credit, this is neither glorified nor admonished in the film; you the viewer are left to do your own deciding. (Again, another sign of Stanley Kubrick's influence on cinema. As in all Kubrick's films, ironically, we are given a God's eye view of the situation.) The director here shows us what happens, and leaves the viewer to extrapolate the moral, if any, ourselves. And that is hard for some. We like morals handed to us on a silver platter. But life doesn't work that way. It's a bonafide you-know-what-arooney sometimes and everybody knows it. And unfortunately, sometimes the bad guy wins. But is the bad guy really any worse than you or I, in our worst moments?

In "There Will Be Blood," we are shown man as animal. Not a completely savage animal, but a principled and intelligent animal. But unlike the principled villain in No Country For Old Men, who showed us a cold and otherworldly embodiment of evil, Daniel Day Lewis showed actual love. He loved his son, but loved him so long as he was not his competition. Love, in his case, being a natural, chemical reaction that can be broken if the survival of the lover is threatened. Daniel Day Lewis' love for his adopted son is not transcendent in its beginning or in the end. The only thing that is, is his need for power and survival. Man as survivor. And it is only through defeating his enemy, is his purpose renewed. This is distinctly Nietzschean. Even D.D.L.'s religious-church repentance stems from a need to survive and dominate.

The ending leaves you with a strange mixture of triumph and sickness, as all who go down the path of the uberman eventually feel.

I recommend this film for those who want to see a spectacular acting performance, rivaled by few, and for those who want to sit around thinking about the film for days after. It isn't a film for the family. It is a great film though, and if you liked No Country for Old Men, you'll like this one as well.


FancyPants said...

I LOVED this film. And I'm a girl! So ladies, I think you can stomach it, as well. Just don't go in expecting to get a George Clooney or Richard Gere sap story.

And for the record, but you already know this, Seth, I don't agree with you on a few points here. We've already had this argument, so I'm not sure we should have it again for the sake of blogging, but I don't think it was about survival. I think it what drove the characters surpassed survival. It's about ambition and the love of money. And the preacher man isn't God's man at all, but the very same evil that embodies DDL as the oil man lives in the preacher man. They're one in the same. (There being your social criticism on... religious-ism )

Seth Ward said...

Yeeeeeessss by why do men love money??? Survival! Power! Control! At least, that's why I love money, on the rare occasions that you give me some, or let me see some, or let me hold some and give it back to you.

Kelly said...

Enjoyed the review...while we are on this note, I would like to recomment the film August Rush. It would be great to hear your POV on it!

Stephen said...

Seth, have you seen this yet? Pretty funny.

Seth Ward said...

Ha! Not till just now.