Black & Blacker (50 All-Time Greatest Films)

50 Days 50 Films…One a Day for 50 Straight Days: My All-Time 50 Favorite Films

(Just a single rule: mix-tape-style, no more than one film per director. You know, because otherwise the whole thing would be pointless.)

(#24) There Will Be Blood


Drama     •     dir. Paul Thomas Anderson     •     2007     •     USA

There Will Be Blood
One biting cold Massachusetts morning, on my way to work several years ago, I stood on a familiar mix of ice, snow and grit waiting to board a bus. (Familiar faces waiting with me, but no one ever spoke.) I wore heavy hiking boots, and my eyes were heavy too: half still asleep and struggling to keep out the harsh morning sun. The bus was there in front of us, idling and still, but the driver wasn’t ready to let us on. So we waited and waited. In the biting cold. The bus idling and still… Then, as sudden as a gunshot: silence. The driver cut the engine off, that’s all. But I hadn’t noticed it was on. Unthinking, and dragging myself someplace I didn’t care to go, I had missed – utterly – how the bus shakes, almost violently, with the motor running. I missed its flatulent chugging and wheezing, and I missed how decisively it overwhelms the restful quiet of a winter morning. A joyful awakening, it was also – I realized soon after – how There Will Be Blood had left me feeling a few days before. It thrilled me into remembering what I didn’t even know I had forgotten: what, at its most compelling, cinema can do.

“It’s not blood, it’s red.” So said Jean-Luc Godard once upon a time, in response to a question about the violence in a film of his. In the same sense, it’s not so much oil than runs through There Will Be Blood, though there’s oceans of it, but black. It’s everywhere, a literal and figurative element without which, never mind ‘blood,’ there wouldn’t be a film. It’s the ‘color’ coat, suit and tie Daniel Day-Lewis’ oilman and Paul Dano’s evangelizing preacher do much of their business in, so much the better to assert their domineering influence. It’s the oil that seeps into fingernails and gushes from the ground, that those draining it have to wear on their faces like a mask. At another moment, when an oil well catches fire, it’s the thick smoke that races free, then the impotent silhouettes who stand by and stare. Later, as Day-Lewis kills the man who claimed to be his brother, it’s the lonely night that hides his wickedness from view, yet a cloak around him confirming it, too. In the end, surrounded like Citizen Kane by nothing warmer than unloving wealth, it’s also the irrefutable state of the sorry sinner’s heart: black, black, black (if it’s a comic ending, it’s decisively a black one). Endless credit to P.T. Anderson, then, that out of so much darkness he conjures, somehow, a certain ragged joy.


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About newjonnytransit

Same as ever, only better.
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One Response to Black & Blacker (50 All-Time Greatest Films)

  1. Pingback: All Things Said & Done (50 All-Time Greatest Films) | The New Jonny Transit Blog

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