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Pattaya Daily News

09 April 2008 :: 15:04:37 pm 6918

Thai Movie Critic Proves His English is First Class

Between the Frames is the alias of Wuttipol, an English-major graduate with a joint minor of Comparative Literature-Linguistics from Chulalongkorn University. He is an incurable cinema addict. Currently, he is a freelance writer for some newspapers, The Bangkok Trader Magazine, Look Magazine, and a registered contributor for wikipedia.org. Though troubling himself by working on his M.A. English for Careers at Thammasat University, he has been occasionally asked to give lectures for private lessons on topics such as Aspects of Cinematic Artistry, Between the Frames: How to Watch and Why, Literature and Cinema, and Literary Approaches to Film Criticism. Any doubts about cinema can be sent to Wuttipol.
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There Will Be Blood – Hypocrisy in American Political Allegory

Excellent films hit viewers where it hurts and they have to engage a part of our life. This often happens in subtle ways, but the overall rhythmical succession of the film must speak to our reality. Through brutality, selfishness, savagery, and violence, Paul Thomas Anderson comes out swinging after a five-year hiatus with the inflammatory “There Will Be Blood” and delivers exactly that kind of film.

Adapted, with a great deal of departure, thematically and otherwise, from Upton Sinclair’s garrulous 1927 novel “Oil!”, the story covers a thirty-year span in the life of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), who begins as a lonely silver miner in 1898 and winds up as one of the richest, and craziest, tycoons in early-twentieth-century California. Much of the first part of the story is given over to raptly silent passages of physical effort, with men lifting, hauling, pounding, and working silently in the muck and adhesive slime. It is about the driving force of extreme capitalism as it both creates and destroys the future, and its tone is at once invigorated, exhilarated, and sickened. Plainview’s great antagonist is a young man, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), who thinks he has the word of God within him, and who creates, in the oil fields, the revivalist Church of the Third Revelation.

Anderson proves that a great film “must” make people see with new eyes, and he has done it with grand scope and a knack for detail. He has shown himself to be a master of imagery and motion. The film’s cinematography subtly exhibits a father forcing milk down his son’s dry throat, an arthritic woman dancing when she is healed, dark clouds signaling the shadow of the oil business moving in, a son watching his father abandon him from a train car pulling out of the station, dirty hands striking a match, and impish figures wrestling in mud and oil. In the film’s first moments, the discovery of oil is met with a baby’s cries. Shortly after, Daniel Plainview asks about a swath of $6-an-acre land with a gleam in his eye: “Can everything around here be gotten?” Daniel Plainview is a man running on pure greed, and the common thread of its devastation weaves its way through every inch of this movie.

What cannot be ignored is the film’s treatment of the church. Eli Sunday, the Spirit-led preacher at the Church of the Third Revelation, is Plainview’s only true competitor. Into the mad race for oil enters the imagery of the church: baptisms, false prophets, superstitions, and most acutely felt, the covering of blood.

Anderson portrays the most devastating evil in Day-Lewis’s character, and the method actor extraordinaire Day-Lewis demonstrates how he is the Olivier of his generation. Every great story runs on the oil of well-devised characters. And in this one, Day-Lewis’ character Daniel Plainview is the mad, pulsing heart that drives the story along. The entire work revolves around his magnificent performance of a man who will stop at nothing in his quest for success in the oil industry. Day-Lewis lowers his chin slightly, and the dark eyes dance with merriment as he speaks in full, coarse, and rounded tones. It is the voice of dominating commercial logic, an American force of nature. Day-Lewis’ Plainview is a deeply antisocial person (“I hate most people”), refusing to trust anyone other than himself. Day-Lewis’ performance is akin to a knockout roundhouse kick to the head. The actions here speak more clearly than words would. Viewers know what kind of man he is when the ladder of the silver mine he’s working on collapses while he’s climbing it, and he falls to the base, breaking a leg and maybe a few ribs. Plainview claws his way out of the pit and then crawls his way back to civilization.

He is a plain-speaking oilman. As he buys up oceans of oil in California, he appears chivalrous, reasonable, wise, and a gentleman’s gentleman. He is a brilliant community developer. He meets people holistically, with bread, crop cultivation, employment, and education. He is totally accommodating, convincing, and winsome. Then he turns around and says this: “I have a competition within me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people. There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking.” Daniel says at one point – that’s his religion. Viewers know that feeling. Day-Lewis’ shows in gross measure where Plainview’s greed and competition lead: murderous insanity. Through Plainview’s crippled glory, the film encapsulates both a lament and a gross celebration of twenty first century greed and nihilism. In the film’s climax, the oilman Plainview tells his antagonist, preacher Eli Sunday, that he drinks “the blood of the land” every day. There’s something to that symbolism. Most of this man’s transgressions are subterranean, lurking out of view of the public he needs and secretly despises. As things start to go wrong, Plainview’s heart seems to go as black as the oil he mines.

Though Day-Lewis is phenomenal, the real discovery is Dano, who matches his highly pedigreed costar in scene after scene. His performance as Eli Sunday is both shocking in its fervor and terrifying in its believability. When he heals a member of his church by casting Satan out of his congregation while screaming and shoving and shaking, it seems, with dramatic irony, like he’s the one possessed by a supernatural force, not the woman with the achy hands. Sunday’s Church of the Third Revelation is the setting for many of the best scenes, including Plainview’s reluctant baptism, where Sunday confronts him about his mistreatment of his son. Eli, like Daniel, can be viewed as a nightmare archetype of American hypocrisy. His false piety is matched by Daniel’s personal code. In the film’s ironically frightful pinnacle, Daniel, in order to secure a business deal, undergoes a baptism, viciously presided over by Eli. While Plainview is a character of rigid menace, Eli must be a force to behold. A passionate, bombastic, egotistical fifteen year-old with a “Jesus complex”, he has several scenes that will chill you the bone because Dano has a role on his hands that could very well transform him into one of the most recognized actors of his generation. Eli represents a corruption of power, which is religion in this case as he bends an entire community to suit his will, his frenzied rants and threats of damnation making him a figure to be feared.

Because Sinclair’s novel was about capitalism versus socialism and the added ingredient of religion, Anderson’s liberty to depart from that aspect has set up a kind of allegory of development, in which the two overwhelming forces, entrepreneurial capitalism and evangelism, build Southern California together and then, inevitably, fall into combat. Their final confrontation goes as far over the top as one of Plainview’s gushing wells. This can be further viewed as an allegory of American development in which two overwhelming forces, entrepreneurial capitalism and evangelism, both operate on the border of fraudulence as well.

Though Anderson has publicly declared that he didn’t intend for his movie to be a political piece, you cannot believe every word every one says. Take a step back and think about the whole story as directly related to the United States’ relationship with the Middle East. Google the word “H.W.” and the first thing you will find is “George H. W. Bush” (George Herbert Walker Bush). Then read the film’s official tagline “When ambition meets faith”. Now connect the dots and you will see the engagement in a strong subtext of political allegory here. With a film about an oil tycoon set at the intersection of industry and religion, you can put both Bush 41 and 43 in the film’s context. Like Plainview and son H.W., the Bush father-son team also made their millions in the oil industry, and control of the black gold has resulted in actions that mirror Plainview’s, only on a much larger, global scale.

At the same time, however, the film’s subtext speaks of the triumph of business over religion, which is certainly contradictory to the current state of affairs in Bush’s America, where the two have become increasingly intertwined. When Plainview first speaks to the people of Little Boston, he employs standard political rhetoric (“the children are the future”) and then unsurprisingly fails to follow through on his promises. After successfully obtaining the land from the pious Sunday family and cheating them out of a fortune, Plainview becomes something of an authority figure over the community, having power such that he can put an end to the beatings that patriarch Abel Sunday inflicts on his youngest daughter Mary for not praying enough, the first of his triumphs over faith, which will continue for years until he announces “I’m finished” after snuffing out the final vestige.

Here, Anderson doesn’t play favorites, though. There’s equal corruption on both sides, and neither Daniel nor Eli are particularly worthy of our sympathy. Daniel’s contempt for Eli’s church is perceptible and palpable, but he has to play the game, which includes public humiliation, in order to achieve his goals. Eli will in turn do the same thing. Not only can the final confrontation be interpreted simply as one man versus another, but they also represent something greater. Eli is a charlatan, and a self-confessed sinner. Daniel’s destruction of the false prophet does not merely constitute the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

“There Will Be Blood” is a beautiful and horrific account of a man so nauseated by the hypocrisy around him that his only option is to embody the very same characteristics. From its dialogue-free first 15 minutes, to its bowling-alley conclusion, Anderson’s latest masterpiece is nothing short of distressingly brilliant. This enthralling and powerfully eccentric American epic is a perfect movie that succeeds in what it sets out to do because it grabs you and doesn’t let you down.

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : Stories

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