© 2015 by James Clark
I want to begin dealing with this fairly recent film, having already attained to august singularity status in the eyes of legions of film folks, by committing the heresy of, while recognizing it to be a very fine product, identifying it as a witty and ardent contribution to a long-standing vigil by a large crowd of filmmakers many of whom have brought to us even more fertile overtures which have gone largely unnoticed. One of those devotees not having been ignored was Stanley Kubrick. One of his contributions to that comprehensive concern, namely, 2001, Space Odyssey (1968) finds itself right up there with There Will Be Blood (2007) as an object of flat-out worship. There Will Be Blood is essentially a remake of Space Odyssey. It takes a run, in light of Kubrick’s Dave coming up short despite Herculean intensity, within a panoramically vast imperative bearing down on all of us, not only Americans and their difficulties with couth (perhaps the germ of the huge love affair for this film deriving from its brush with satanic materialism and inefficient Christianity).
The writing and cinematic force behind this love-fest turns out to be an inspired explorer of the rich lodes of headway buried in the more or less accessible vaults of art works from recent and distant times. So it is that Anderson sends to us, in There Will Be Blood, a scenario that opens with a barely discernible but soon palpably urgent ringing which reveals more complex structure on the order of that increasingly higher volume and an increasingly high pitch, culminating in an eruption of sound. That jolt lifts the initial entropic optics of dull rocky desert to the point of far more radiant light and touches of green and yellow in the hitherto grim terrain, in addition to which showing the grey hills nearby to have texture and subtle appeal. The high tension aural motif continues over a cut to a creature powerfully chopping away with a pickaxe at the enclosing walls of a dark rocky cave. His historical position, as far as we can see at this murky point, lies somewhere between frantic primeval apes and authoritative high-tech high-flyers. The pit where he toils is untouched by speech—he being, in contrast to those apes we know, alone—and after the ringing subsides we find a similar function arising in sparks shooting from the collision of steel and rock, from the carnal effort. The intensity of his eyes (as he examines a rock), picking up what light has made his way down, is arresting. His beard is full, his hair thick and long and his tan-colored hat (which he puts on after the digging is done and he heads upwards, clambering and pulling powerfully on a rope) gives his head a roundedness. On the surface, night having fallen, he squats morosely and pulls a blanket across his chest. Wisps of his fire show at the bottom of the screen. The wind howls, there is thunder and lightning in the distance and then the date 1898, in neo-Gothic style, appears. Back to work, now by candle light, he with hammer and crowbar dislodges a small piece and examines it, finding there traces of silver. He places a stick of dynamite at the promising area and the flame of the explosive challenges the inert rock. Climbing up he encounters radiant sunshine and blue sky (giving us pause). He struggles to bring up his samples by pulling and failing twice to manage the load. (The dark vertical container being somewhat, in shape if not size or texture, like the monolith administering to the apes. A distant aftermath of this early struggle delivers to us another such arresting configuration—an oil well tower exploding and sending up a huge shaft of black smoke, and then being superseded by raging, devastating, angry flames.) The explosion, far down, suspends that focus and after the dust clears he heads down to check the vein. In his haste he misses a rung and plunges downward. We see his fall from below with an intense light in the zone of the opening to the sky—a fiery figure melding for a microsecond with the play of light. All goes black as his falling body covers our outlook. He wakes up crying in pain with a deep, wild animal timbre. He gasps and a sound like “No” comes through. Looking upward his eyes catch whatever light is to be had in his bind—a link to the apes and that leopard. The low growl of his pain also brings them onstream.) Soon he’s dragging himself up by a rope (this bid invested with more strength than those bids at the surface.) Just before that he has the presence of mind to spit on one of the rocks broken off by the explosion. The silver there braces him and he places a small rock into his shirt near his heart. Agile as an ape, his three long functioning limbs at full capacity, he heads upward. And as he does, he’s joined by steadily heightened and modulated calling, becoming increasingly excited as he negotiates the terrain on his back, pulling himself along with his uninjured leg and his two arms and hands. This crescendo develops from ringing to a siren, revealing traces of conscious imploring. The sonic apparition not only intensifies into jangling high notes, but there is a harmonic quality, elements of high and low somehow rewarding him for his courage. This new component touches upon voices, wild and resonant. At the assayers, while the staff checks out his finds and he remains on his back on the floor, the song of tribute and encouragement continues. There is a human-like sensibility in the lower registers of this extraordinary patterning linking to an extraordinary feat of heart. (Most viewers, it seems, see the protagonist as entirely lacking heart, apparently stricken with an American virus, and thus an opportunity to wallow in hatred and smug self-righteousness.) (more…)