OK, wow. That was marvelous. Watching "There Will Be Blood" is sort of like sending your brain to camp -- it might not be fun*, or the sort of thing your brain would do of its own accord, but it will have some new experiences and come back enriched. Damn, I am pleased to have seen this movie.
I saw it for two reasons: I haven't seen Daniel Day-Lewis on the big screen in forever, and I feel bad about that, as I fancy him. We all kept hearing how great he was in "Gangs of New York," and that really underwhelmed me when I finally rented it, so I felt like I should give him a shot to impress me on the big screen. Second, I loved "Magnolia." I also loved "Punch Drunk Love," but that was a very lovable movie. This I was able to go into armed with "Magnolia" experience: It's going to be three hours long, it's going to be very slow, there's going to be no discernible point, and you should just kick back and see what happens. So I guess I must also love Paul Thomas Anderson. (Why am I such a sucker for people with three names? Me, Emma Blackwood? Odd.)
Anyway. I feel I should warn you that if you go see this, it's very long, and very sad, and not very much happens. If you're not at least mildly interested by the first 20 minutes, it might be good to just go ahead and leave. There's a sketchy storyline -- something about an oilman buying up some property and clashing with the locals, becoming rich and destroying himself in the process; your basic American Dream-dystopia outline -- but what's important is the character study of Daniel Plainview, the angry greedy arrogant bastard oilman at the center of the movie. What he does is drill for oil, taking occasional breaks to charm people into investing in him, and he's very good at both. He's incredibly driven -- he wants to be successful and wealthy -- but he's not working toward anything external. A classic misanthrope, he's most comfortable being entirely alone in his own mind, and the rugged Western landscapes he works in are the external counterpoint to his gorgeous internal solitude. When he starts to find success, he surrounds himself with more people, and that's where his trouble begins.
He rarely speaks, and almost never his own thoughts -- his first spoken words, quite a few minutes into the movie, are "Ladies and gentlemen" as he addresses a group about the oil he's found -- but late in the film he gives a remarkable monologue (there's someone answering him back, but he's not really listening):
I have a competition in 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. I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone....I see the worst in people. I don't need to look past seeing them to get all I need. I want to rule and never, ever explain myself. I've built my hatreds up over the years, little by little, Henry... to have you here gives me a second breath. I can't keep doing this on my own with these-- people.
It's remarkable. I've about talked myself out of misanthropy but this speech gave me such a thrill of recognition and empathy. The only person he really loves is his adopted son, who doesn't talk back and quietly adores him, and allows him to both experience unconditional love and love a projection of his own self-image. (Another child he meets seems to arouse similar feelings.) But mainly he loves his work on the oil wells. He feels about oil the way Flaubert did about fiction, or Florence King does about the South: misanthropes do great work.
But he's not a true misanthrope, of course; misanthropes don't bother with the competitive streak he alludes to, and this is why his character is so fascinating. Oh, I just adored this movie. Also, his mustache is fantastic: it sort of turns him into the anti-Vondo, for those readers who may be familiar with Vondo.
*There will be no fun, ever.