I watched There Will Be Blood twice over the weekend, and found it to be an astoundingly, devastatingly accomplished movie. The film defied conventional cinematic conventions and presented itself less as a story and more as a series of character-driven events. The movie worked because of the beautiful writing, the haunting and jarring music, and, above all, the extraordinary performance delivered by Daniel Day-Lewis in the role of Daniel Plainview.
There Will Be Blood transcends its individual moments - each finely wrought and beautiful in its own terms, but otherwise isolated from any conventional narrative arc. The cumulative weight and momentum of these discrete moments is less about storytelling and more about an accretive weight of Biblical judgment that befalls characters, innocent and guilty alike. The power of There Will Be Blood derives from its assumptions regarding the absence of grace and the weight of human sin in a world empty of any divine blessing. If grace and redemption is about truth, in There Will Be Blood, all is false.
At a midpoint of the movie, consider the parallel constructions of two cathedrals - the aspiring reach of the framing for Eli Sunday's new church and the cut to the barely indistinguishable perspective on the soaring wooden derrick, the temple for worship of a different false idol - black gold. In There Will Be Blood, all objects of worship are false idols. Faith is empty.
One of the the climactic moments of the movie occurs in the revelatory instant in which a gusher of oil ignites, depriving Daniel's son H.W., of his hearing while also confirming the wealth that sits below the surface of the ground. The fiery inferno that topples the derrick represents an eruption of hellfire and damnation tightly yoked to Daniel's own self-exaltation fueled by his moment of triumph.
There Will Be Blood is, similarly, both pointed and duplicitous in its association of blood with family - the ties of family provide crucial credibility for Daniel Plainview in his efforts to seduce and swindle poor landowners in Little Boston (the Puritan City upon a Hill) whose crusty, alkaline land sits atop an ocean of black gold. And yet, of course, Daniel's own family is a fabrication. His son is not his son. His brother is not his brother.
A final thought. Females, and meaningful relationships with females are almost entirely absent from There Will Be Blood. In a subversion of the tradition of all-male frontier "romance" that underpins the American epic of territorial discovery and appropriation, the absence of women stands in for the absence of grace. Consider the ultimate fate of H.W., whose loss of hearing - on the surface a tragic deprivation - ultimately frees him from the soul-destroying drumbeat of his father's words. H.W. is the only male character who develops a meaningful relationship with a woman, and his separation from the father who denies him at the end of the movie counts as a liberation. In There Will Be Blood, almost all speech is false. Deafness becomes the only path to truth.