It might be tempting for some Christians to allow the unfavorable presentation of Pentecostal worship services in the trailer to There Will Be Blood to prevent them from viewing the film or appreciating its merits. They do so to their own disservice.
Rather than being a denunciation of faith, There Will Be Blood relentlessly exposes the effects greed and envy have on the human soul, whether that soul is seeking oil or healings.
At the core of the film is a conflict between Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis), an enterprising oil man, and Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a young man who claims to be a prophet from God. Though they operate in very different worlds, they are fundamentally the same. While Daniel is hostile toward those around him and is resolute in his irreligiosity and Eli is disturbingly devout, they both have a keen eye for making a dollar and a loathing for those they consider beneath them.
It is, in other words, a dark tale that exposes the corrosive effects of envy and greed. The film’s opening ten minutes, during which there is no dialogue, are a sign of things to come. Daniel Plainview’s closes in on himself, reducing his life to the (unhealthy) silence that comes from an unwillingness to engage in human contact. By the end of his life, he is an empty chest—an oil man who has made millions, but closed himself off from everyone in his life.
The bright spot in the film is his adopted son, who goes deaf partway through the film, and who marries Eli’s sister, Mary. The sequences of Mary learning sign language, the wedding in the Catholic Church, and their playing despite his deafness drive home the fact that it is not the ability to speak that matters, but the kind of speech that one uses. In refusing to speak of anything outside of economic matters, Daniel loses the humanity that Mary and his son so obviously enjoy—a fact that becomes evident by the end of the film.
In all, There Will Be Blood is a strong choice for Best Picture. For one, the screenplay is exceptionally well-written, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction is sophisticated without being pretentious (which Juno bordered on). In addition, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood’s score and its haunting, disharmonious string sections provide an eerie, yet enormously effective backdrop to the film.
But it is Daniel Day Lewis, who will almost certainly win “Best Actor,” who impresses most with his arresting (though at points slightly over-the-top) performance as Daniel Plainview. Lewis manages to keep Daniel Plainview’s complexities below the surface for much of the film, only to let them rise to the top at the appropriate moments. It is an impressive performance, and worth viewing.
In all, There Will Be Blood is a solid choice for Best Picture and a “must-see” for this movie season.