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The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Dreamlike details, visible themes in "There Will Be Blood

By Lara Avery

Before I comment on this movie, I want you to picture a dream you had recently. If you can’t, pick from the ones you can recall. Now try to list exactly what occurred, minute by minute. It’s difficult, I know. If you can’t remember the sequence of events or words spoken (or even if you can), think about what made this dream memorable. Something was communicated from one side of your consciousness to the other. Then it stuck. There was a certain landscape. Perhaps there were nonsensical objects that made sense, and familiar people and things combined with unfamiliar people and things. In the morning or in the middle of the night, when you woke up, there was a sense of hushed comprehension as you opened your eyes in bed, or a sigh of acceptance at what you didn’t understand. Either way you were sifting through a silent reel of the unreal, preparing to get up or snuggle back into the covers, ready to tell the difference between what is inside and outside your own mind.

That dream and the sifting, or what came about and the quiet working through, is the best comparison I can give to watching “There Will Be Blood.” I could try to tell you the plot. First is the exposition. The setting: a treeless nowhere, a dusty limbo, New Mexico. The characters: bearded, dirty bodies, a baby. Here is what happened: straining, sweat, breaking rock, dust, oil. Then: muttering of men as they drank and ate, scratching of pencil on paper, a creaking wooden structure, chain clanking, a baby crying. See what I mean? It’s as hard as describing the subjective beauty and ambiguity of your own dreams. Similar to dreams, the details of “There Will Be Blood” justify its mystery, and the details make it whole.

According to the Bible of online movie databases,, the topics that make an appearance in this movie are family, greed, religion, and oil. In sync with my unconventional introduction, instead of trying to make or break your will to see the film, I will address each topic and hope you gather from my assessment that “There Will Be Blood” is powerful enough cinema to make or break itself.

Family. There are two major family units. Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, and his son H. W. Plainview (Dillon Freasier) become a family because H. W.’s father died when Plainview and his men discover oil. Their dynamics include H. W.’s adoption by Plainview as an infant, use of H. W. as cute face to buy land for oil, H. W.’s accidental deafness, and Plainview’s abandonment of H. W. on a train. The name of the other family is Sunday. The Sunday family consists of an old man, an older woman, two daughters, and either two sons named Eli and Paul, or one schizophrenic/homicidal son. Both options are possible yet unresolved, and both are played by Paul Dano.

Greed. Daniel Plainview seemed to have stepped out of Ayn Rand novel, except better and obsessed with being rich. The angular features, unstoppable ambition, and indifference to everything around him serve as the only reminders of ‘objectivism.’ The rest of the greed is channeled into Plainview’s treacherous, oil-hungry actions that could only be hidden for so long by Plainview’s brilliant public speaking, and always subdued by Plainview himself in his love of alcohol and steak.

Religion. Eli Sunday is named appropriately for his reverence of the Sabbath. Though young, Eli’s drive to succeed matches Daniel Plainview’s. His face and hairstyle are as flat and blank as the wooden planks used to build a church, but his sermons are as potent as the blackmail he used to fund the church with oil profits. Eli’s religion is televangelism plus the Salem witch trials. Naturally, before he dies in Daniel Plainview’s in-house bowling alley, he denounces God for more money.

Oil. Not a symbol or an abstract concept that shapes the characters’ actions. Think of the Beverly Hillbillies’ theme song, and then multiply that until you have what has become a bubbling oil marsh. Your journey through this movie will be a walk through steaming, shining oil wetlands.

There you have it, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. If you’d like, you can read the Upton Sinclair novel from which it is adapted (same title). This film is nominated for eight Oscars. I know I have highlighted certain aspects that make “There Will Be Blood” seem like an action movie. The money and killing make it look like a gangster flick, Rambo style. This is not the case. As I mentioned in the beginning, it is the quiet that make the sounds important. The movie is made to move throughout a desert, a dreamscape in need of rain and some semblance of morality. Listen. Watch. Tell me what you think.

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