Symbolism Runs Deep in There Will Be Blood
- Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Shot in rural Texas (as a stand-in for San Luis Obispo County, California), There Will Be Blood boasts truly outstanding cinematography by Robert Elswit (who also won an Oscar). The first fifteen minutes, during which no dialogue is spoken, are a washed-out landscape—an auteur allusion to the lead character’s barren conscience. Later, when the oil is flowing and life is good, the visage warms up. It reaches a colorful pinnacle on the day that Plainview takes a swim with someone who claims to be his long-lost brother (Kevin J. O’Connor). Their reunion, and their dip in the blue-green waters of the Pacific, has the feel of a long-awaited baptism. Plainview washes away the oil and dirt that has sullied his soul and his relationships, and as he emerges, we feel the distant stirrings of hope that somehow, he will be redeemed. This stands in stark contrast to one of the final scenes between a father and son, which uses bright lights and darkness much like Francis Ford Coppola did in Apocalypse Now.
Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Punch-Drunk Love, Magnolia) has done an outstanding job, although those more attuned to fast-paced thrillers and action movies are bound to find it overrated and perhaps even cumbersome. It’s a film for film lovers—not those seeking fast-food entertainment. Like the classic novel it is derived from, There Will Be Blood is replete with symbols and metaphors that are destined to become film student fodder for many years to come.
Anderson also serves up a powerful message about the wages of sin, especially greed. Sadly, however, he offers no redemption—no message of hope about how we might defeat a man like Plainview. Especially if that man is ourselves.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Characters drink alcohol and/or smoke cigarettes in multiple scenes throughout film. In one scene, an adult gives alcohol to a baby; later, adult puts alcohol in baby’s bottle. Multiple scenes where characters are drunk, including one where preacher drinks shots of alcohol.
- Language/Profanity: Two or three profanities and an equal number of (mild) obscenities. In one scene, a man curses his son and calls him names.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: One scene in a brothel, with couples embracing in the background (blurred). No nudity. One mention of lust in a church setting.
- Violence: A man falls from a ladder and breaks his leg, then drags himself into town (shot of twisted bone under pants); two deaths due to falling objects; a bloody body is dragged up from the bottom of an oil rig and examined; a boy is injured during an oil rig blast; a preacher repeatedly slaps a man to rid him of “demons;” a character murders a man with a gunshot to the head (very little blood; shot is partially obscured by murderer’s hand but victim cries in pain); a boy sets fire to a house; a father abandons his adolescent son, who screams in fear and begs him not to; several fistfights, one of which is very violent; one character murders another by beating him to death with club-like object (body is offscreen during murder, then seen face down, with blood seeping from beneath face and splattered onto walls.
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