There Will Be Blood Made Me a Better Person
This movie sucks, yet months later, I kept thinking about it.
By ROB SAMUELSON
I sat in the theater nonplussed.
Why are people losing their minds over this? I thought aloud to the friends I’d dragged with me for cultural currency reasons to see There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007). Everything felt so on the surface.
I get it. Oil is bad. Bad people make money from oil. George Bush: these were the extent of my critical faculties at the time. The violent ending was juvenile — no more vile word exists in the mind of a college freshman. For an hour throughout our post-movie burger run, I whined about the saga of the “unlikeable” Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his precocious son/swindling tool, HW (Dillon Freasier).
During spring break, I felt vindicated while discussing There Will Be Blood, Academy Award Loser, with my friend who was a film major. He looked at me with condescension and said something to the effect of, “You just didn’t get it.”
My spite reflex kicked into overdrive: “This movie sucks and you’re all tricking yourselves into thinking it’s some masterpiece.” That type of thing.
Yet it was months later and I kept thinking about the film. People continued bringing it up and, in my contrarian desire to prove them wrong, I would challenge them.
Everyone sucks! Whom are we supposed to root for? Why isn’t there a real ending? Okay, that oil derrick explosion was pretty thrilling. Yeah, the landscapes are beautiful. It was fascinating how Day-Lewis sort of loved his adopted son when the kid made him money but abandoned him after he become handicapped.
So on and so forth this went, until I was worn down enough to admit that maybe There Will Be Blood wasn’t as bad as I had thought. But I’d be damned if I was going to sit through it again. You can keep your “brilliant” movie.
I sat through it again.
Oh, that’s better this time, I said to myself — this time alone in my room to save face.
The sandy color palette and the widescreen vistas of the Texas heat made me sweat. The dread of seeing Daniel Plainview’s inevitable descent into hatred for all humanity scored a direct hit. I was never supposed to root for him. He is a warning to me about disconnecting from people, teaching me that viewing everyone in the “idiots or assholes” lens doesn’t lead to anywhere good, even if some people fit that bill.
Ironically, now There Will Be Blood is bi-annual viewing for me. My film education may have helped me pick out its nuances of filmmaking greatness, but my conversations about being so sure the film was bad were what did me in.
This is a film that promotes the need for empathy by showing its lack. It is about people too certain of the righteousness of “getting theirs.” It taught me to accept nuance, to refuse my reactionary nature, to embrace, and to contemplate before I condemn. I’m a better person for having tricked myself into thinking There Will Be Blood is a masterpiece.
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