“There Will Be Blood”: Jack Torrence is “Shining” Through

There Will Be Blood Oil

While “There Will Be Blood” hasn’t been a box office stud it’s being called a movie that will never be forgotten, which it may become, whether anyone has seen it or not.

The ShiningThe people that do never see it will think that it has something to do with milkshakes and bowling pins. Of course those that never saw The Shining will always remember that movie being something about an axe and Johnny Carson. It’s no surprise to me that Blood has entered into the public consciousness as The Shining did, as through my eyes I can confidently say that the former has influenced the latter exponentially.

Aside from quotable lines some of the other similarities include a larger than life performance by a highly regarded actor; performances that while the films were still fresh people complained they were perhaps too exaggerated. Then there’s the unsettling Bowling Pinwide shots and long takes with drawn out silences and the post modern music that heightens the tension; some incidental moments are even by the same composer. When P.T. Anderson claimed his movie was more like a horror film in last week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly it’s obvious he wasn’t lying.

It’s one of the things I love about Blood. Its willingness to really let loose and unhinge itself from anything human. These character’s represent the worst of their kinds.

Over at Jim Emerson’s Scanners (“Biggest Acting, Best and Worst; Over the Top, Ma!”) there’s talk about over acting and when it’s applicable and when it isn’t. (He also makes comparisons to The Shining.) I responded to the article with this: “If there’s a level of truth in the performance, and when I say truth, I mean emotional truth, then as far as I’m concerned the actor can be as over the top as he wants.” In some instances it’s left up to the viewer to find that truth. It doesn’t help if the creator of the films cheats…will come back to this. Being truthful and unlikable are two different things. Truth can sometimes be even more poignant when the character isn’t likable in the least.

And people complained about Plainview (as played by Daniel Day Lewis) not being likable, but you don’t go to see Taxi Driver because Travis Bickle is likable, you don’t sit down to watch Scarface’s Tony Montana because you need a friend. You don’t watch The Shining because you want to give Jack Torrence a hug. You watch these films because seeing someone lose their mind and leave their soul in the back seat of a taxi cab is an intriguing process to behold.

You’ll also know Tony Montana‘s and Travis Bickle’s pop cultural catchphrases even if you haven’t see their respective movies. So why is everyone worried that Blood movie won’t be taken seriously because pop culture has grabbed onto a few choice lines. It’s happened before and I have to say Taxi Driver and The Shining remain two of my most cherished movies.

A BLACKENED SOUL

Father WIth SonAlthough Plainview is one of these tarnished souls it’s a misrepresentation to say that he doesn’t have redeeming qualities and not unlike De Niro’s Bickle he never tries to reach out to save what’s left of his own humanity, as charred black as it may be. People say Plainview doesn’t care about his son, but the way he hauls off on Sunday after the oil well explosion says to me otherwise. And while he meets his brother-in-law with skepticism, it’s healthy skepticism, and he ends up welcoming him – willing to share everything. To just say that Plainview doesn’t care I think shows peoples’ unwillingness to see humanity in what is ultimately a ruthless human being.

The Shining Tender MomentAs I mention in my review of Blood it’s almost as if Plainview is digging towards hell in the beginning and he never stops that downward haul. The earth bleeds black blood much like I imagine his own body does. When he stares up at the fire spewing from his well covered in black he almost appears like a demon sneering at the heavens.

I could continue to praise this film until the dogs come home, but that wouldn’t be fair, because in the end and perhaps not the very end, which has become the pop culture phenomenon that it has become, there’s a really terrible scene that sucks the life out of the third act and that emotionally disconnects us from what’s happening and nobody seems to want to talk about it. They want to focus on the genre melding, tone defying finale. But just before this scene is another, a scene shared by an aging Father and his newly wedded son.

There Will Be Blood

THAT TERRIBLE CHEAT

While there are many similarities that can be discussed between Blood and the others, there is one big difference that makes Blood if nothing else unique.

The ShiningThere is something entrancing about watching Jack Torrence and Travis Bickle slide into madness uninterrupted by the directors’ God like hands. Kubrick and Scorcese knew to step out of the way of the downward spiral. True that while one of these ends in an ironic redemption and the other in physical death, including De Palma’s Tony Montana, P.T. Anderson’s Plainview dies in a more spiritual and transcendental way (though Kubrick’s vision is left open to interpretation with that final shot of the picture in the frame.)

Backing up a bit we see a glimmer of hope in Plainview’s world after the baptism, which seems to have more of an effect on him than anyone expected. It’s a thrilling experienceThere Will Be Blood Over the Top that took me through the gamut of every emotion I could possibly feel in a movie theatre. And he’s renewed. He embraces his son once again, both figuratively and literally. But his son remains distant; stiff in Plainview’s arms.

The effect of the baptism begins to wear off. It’s an awkward wearing off. One that I don’t think P.T. handled as well as he could have. The scene in which he confronts the people who wished to purchase his oil wells is an awkwardly written scene. One that says very little about what’s happened and what’s to come. It seems to live unto itself.

Then a final shot of Plainview watching Eli Sunday board a train. His eyes are cutting straight through the heart of Sunday. What’s going on here? The scene before in which Plainview confronts the oil tycoons doesn’t help us. The only assumption you can make is that the transforming power of the baptism was like trying to cover a cut with a band aid when the real problem was the internal bleeding that no one could see. It’s not a definitive solution.

What Plainview doesn’t realize is that without a constant personal commitment baptism means nothing. The act of baptism can’t change a person outright, but getting slapped in the face can give you quite a buzz: this is how most faith healers work. And when he realizes this I think his power struggle with Eli Sunday truly becomes a deep seated hatred. But this is an assumption. There’s no other clues for Plainview’s return to the downward spiral other than the fact that P.T. Anderson has said that it’s watching a down ward spiral from the beginning.

Is this cheating? To put your character in a box that he can’t get out of. I was always taught that as a writer one should know how to end a movie before beginning it. So, this isn’t a cheat. It does become a cheat though when the writer and director, two in one in this case, forget about what’s happened a scene before and disregards his own story to get to the finale he wants.

The son, feeling no connection with his father finds solace in the love of a woman and marries her. It’s a strange transition through time since the son was never a driving force behind the story, but suddenly, for all intents and purposes he’s needed as a story device. All grown up he visits his father. But inexplicably their positions have changed. The father is now the one who is cold towards his son and the son for whatever reason has grown to love his father, and wants to be understood!

Anderson uses this transition through time to pull a fast one. Instead of allowing the characters’ relationships to find their natural conclusion. He boxes them up and forces them to feel towards each other how he, as an artist, needs them to feel about each other. Now that the son loves the father it gives us an opportunity to watch Plainview take that final step in pushing his son away.

Now, if Anderson had kept it in the present, and he had found another way for Plainview to push away the young version of his son, it would have been repetitive, as he had done so earlier. So perhaps this felt like the better choice. But why does the son have to love the father? Isn’t it enough that the son is leaving to start his own oil company? Isn’t it enough that he didn’t invite his Father to the wedding? Then why the need to reach out? It’s a dishonest moment. One that doesn’t play and left me suddenly disconnected from the emotional weight of the story. Hearing Plainview shout after his deaf son holds some irony, but it so earnestly wants to show that his decent into a life alone is complete it forgets to find the emotional truth.

Once disconnected I found it difficult to completely enjoy the final brilliant scene.

Anderson has done this before, interjected as a writer/director in the final moments. The frogs at the end of Magnolia spring to mind. But in the final moments of Magnolia he remains true to the characters’ progression. They react to a strange occurrence as their characters’ would react. In Blood Anderson goes a step too far and it ultimately hurts the film. If he had stepped back as Kubrick, De Palma and Scorcese did and let his characters take control of the scenes he would have found his way through. But I guess it wouldn’t make him P.T. Anderson if he didn’t. And while There Will Be Blood suffers to some extent because of it, we might be better off over all if he continues following his own set of rules even when he contradicts himself, because the next film could be that much better…or it could be that much worse.The Shining Photo

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10 Responses to ““There Will Be Blood”: Jack Torrence is “Shining” Through”

  1. matt. Says:

    i completely disagree.

    i don’t think the baptism had any effect, as it’s so obvious when he states, ‘that’s a pipeline’, after it’s over. it was a means to an end. he did what he had to do to get what he wanted. what i took from it, was that he was highly annoyed with the whole process.

    as far as the father/son relationship…..

    ….there’s a lot that isn’t shown in the years from childhood to adulthood. it’s left up to interpretation as to why their relationship is the way that it is. it’s obvious in that scene where his son is telling him that he’s going to go on his own, that he’s very wary to tell him such a thing. you can see from the reaction he gets, why he would be.

    i personally don’t think that p.t. anderson got in the way of his own film, and i couldn’t blame him if he did. he wrote and directed it, how could he not?

    one of the greatest things about the film is that it’s left open to interpretation, a lot of things aren’t ‘explained’. over explanation is what seems to bog down a lot of american films.

  2. Phillip Says:

    Being left open to interpretation and illogical use of characters are two different things. I have no problem with a movie being up for interpretation, that’s not my complaint with the film. As in “Magnolia” the frogs are left open to interpretation, but the characters react in a way suited to their characters when it happens.

    P.T. has spoken many times about how “Blood” was meant to be a digression into madness, that there was only one way for this to turn out for Plainview. He did whatever he had to do to get there, and the steps that he allows us to see sometimes forgo logic. Maybe that’s the point, but it didn’t work for me.

    Think about other movies that are left open to interpretation. “Mystic River” for instance. There’s a clearly defined resolution – it follows it’s logic until the end, then allows itself to be left open to interpretation. The only thing that’s clearly left open for interpreting in “Blood” is the final line. With everything else P.T. painstakingly went step by step to show a through line to get to the end, unfortunately that through line doesn’t add up. With open interpretation everything leading up to the end should be a clue to what that interpretation should or could mean. These elements we’ve spoken of don’t add to interpretation of the conclusion. Take the son out of the third act and you can still have the final scene between Plainview and Sunday. If you think the son adds to the final moments of the film, I would love to hear why, but thus far I’m unconvinced.

    It’s a wasted scene between Father and Son. A forced conclusion between the two of them so that it, in fact, isn’t left open to interpretation. If interpretation was his concern he would have let the son walk away, with no words exchanged, allowing a look between the two of them to tell the story. But he doesn’t. Word for word the relationship is “solved” and is concluded.

    Lacking logic in the story unto itself isn’t a flaw if the emotions presented are truthful. Now, a feeling that I had while watching the film is that Plainview didn’t want to push his son away, deep down underneath. He would never allow himself to be happy. That was the only truth I got from this scene.

    The baptism…I’ve only seen the film once, and I don’t recall Plainview saying anything after it was complete. I remember the look of elation on his face as people were hugging him. Daniel Day Lewis does a superb job allowing the weight on Plainview’s shoulders to physically be lifted. The tension in his body is released. The entire film you get the feeling that Plainview isn’t the best at showing emotion, but here he opens up. The smile is authentic, even as the girl behind him embraces him as he sits down. To say that he doesn’t open up in any way, shape or form also dismisses the incredible performance by Lewis.

    The change isn’t necessarily an internal change as I suggested, but an external one. Adrenaline. It’s like a good massage. Your head is light. Your body loose. Then the next day you’re swearing and cursing at traffic again, and you hate your life completely. Or a hair cut, it’s refreshing at first, until you walk into work on Monday morning and realize nothing has really changed. Or the band aid and internal bleeding analogy.

    When Plainview glares at Sunday as he boards the train, I think he’s realized that nothing is going to change. He’ll remain closed off, spiraling downward. Of course, I have no reason to disbelieve you when you say that he says “That’s a pipeline.” So my reading of these events could very well be wrong based on my missing of this one line, if that’s the case, then it may change my reading of the last three quarters of the film, even under this light, it wouldn’t change my perspective on the final scenes with the son. And may continue to disappoint me, as I felt another mistake was making making Sunday a hypocrite. It took less guts allowing him to be false than it would have if he had been a force to be reckoned with. Even Jack Torrence has his moment in which he questions what he’s doing before Grady talks him back into it. Heck, Matt, you may have given me a reason to like this movie less. I’ve been meaning to see it again, guess I’ll have to now.

  3. Billy Moreno Says:

    I think what makes Daniel Plainsview seem so crazy is the rigidity and narrowness of his core motivations. First, he needs to be the most powerful person in his sphere and chosen field, and in a distant second, he needs his relationship with his son to work (and to be unquestioned) because it maintains his humanity, something he recognizes he’s losing but isn’t ready to relinquish yet. In watching and rehashing the movie, these two facets
    pretty much answer all the questions I might have about how Plainsview acts. He kills the brother-impostor, not so much because of the betrayal (he tells the man from the beginning that he thinks very little of people and it doesn’t take much poor behavior from the guy for daniel to doubt his authenticity), but because in lying the impostor didn’t let Daniel choose, because he tried to insinuate himself into Daniel’s work. DDL threatened to kill the Standard Oil guy because the guy questioned his parenting and so his humanity, not because the guy represented a threat to Daniel’s oil-autonomy. I’m sure that Daniel was eminently confident in that regard.

    Those base motivations dictate his every action almost formulaically, so much so, that I don’t even know if you can call it a descent into madness. I can’t think of any point in the movie where i’d say that Daniel Plainsview got more crazy. Sure, there was some social digression but I think it’s safe enough to say that Daniel walked around his house in a robe looking like a nut because acting like a nut wasn’t a threat to his power anymore. To me, it was less a descent into madness than a portrayal of how internal/mental madness leads to external/physical destruction. His visible deterioration is inevitable because his motivations are so inhumanly rigid, so irreconcilable with each other, and so incompatible with society.

    As far as the penultimate scene, I’m not sold that it doesn’t make sense. Frame it like this. Your dad is clearly crazy, an overdriven workaholic who has clearly shown that his work is more important to him than you are, but one who has also pretty clearly shown that you are more important than anything else besides his work. His mania scarred you as a child (physically and mentally in this case) and you’ve spent the rest of your life until now recovering. And you’ve succeeded. You’ve found love (what a safety net!), gotten married, and prepared to move on with your adult life. unfortunately, you’ve decided* to grow up in a way that forces the question: is dad’s work really more important to him than i am? can our relationship be reconciled with his fundamental insanity/inhumanity? if you’re the son, and you recognize the question, and you love your father, and you have hope for a future with him, don’t you have to pose the question to him as favorably as possible? it seems to me like PTA gave us every thing we needed for this scene to make sense organically. sure, the time-jump is jarring and it doesn’t initially make much sense to make the son the immediate focus of the future when he seems so tangential to the bulk of the movie, but i’m pretty sure PTA wanted to remind or point out to the audience that this relationship held major significance for Plainsview, and to make sure we understood the question being asked and the definitive answer, because i’m pretty sure it’s the key to understanding the violence of the final scene. the question is asked less explicitly (or rather the answered less definitively) throughout the movie, ie when daniel leaves his traumatically injured son to go back to the fire. so i’d like to repeat the point that daniel doesn’t actually get any crazier over the course of the movie.

    even with the father/son relationship seemingly dissolved, eli dies because he questioned daniel plainsview’s fatherhood and humanity in the baptism scene, because he forced daniel to make that humanity a tool of his power hunger. maybe, he also died because of poor timing, the pain of the argument still so fresh, but he certainly didn’t die because he represented a threat to daniel’s livelihood and power. he had been defeated in that arena long ago, and certainly the moment he came back to beg.

    *decided might be a strong word because HW is almost certainly driven to the oil industry by a need for an answer from Daniel.

  4. Richard Paynter Says:

    The aspect of this film that was a real nod to the shining was the decoration of the bowling alley at the end… the framing of it… almost identical in colour and general layout to the shot of the interior of The Outlook. Think of the shot where blood pours out of the lift shafts.

  5. The Sergeant Says:

    Matt’s got it right. The baptism had no positive effect on him. He was still Daniel Plainview. He did the things he needed to do and said the things he needed to say to get to where he was going.

  6. C Says:

    Weak comparison. Very weak. The comparisons to Kubrick and There Will Be Blood show lack of knowledge of both directors and proves the vacuous nature of Blood. Blood, wihle a good film, stifled its greatness and has become a fanboy film for pseudo-intellectual film fans to point and say “There it is. That is Genius. Very Kubrick-like.”

    • Phillip Says:

      Crucify a guy for having a little fun with his film referencing.

      I didn’t think “There Will Be Blood” was genius. I thought it was greatly flawed. If you read my review you’ll see that. I think “Blood” was aping “Shining” in a huge way. “Shining” happens to be one of my favorite films, and is by far brilliant.

      I was being precisely tongue in check with my comparisons. Come on…an axe and a bowling pin?

      In fact, if you read the whole article, you’ll see that I use the comparisons to point out the flaws in Anderson’s work. Yous film snobbery kills.

  7. warwick Says:

    There is no god, Kubrick and Anderson said the same thing, they took different paths is all.

    I agree that the 2nd last scene is awful, i cant say why. Because of the time change? the sudden change in character, setting and actions. To me, it was rushed which for this film is unforgivable.

    Look, he’s not Kubrick, no one is. Nobody will ever be given 3 1/2 hrs to tell a story ever again. I think theres alot of edits and Anderson was told to finish it. Still atleast he got his milkshake at the end.

  8. Phillip Says:

    Ha, ha. Warwick, he did get his milkshake, didn’t he, and good for him! For even getting this movie made!

    I think my problem isn’t that it happened so fast, or because of the time change, but it was the shift in perspective. The whole film we follow everything through Plainview’s eyes and not through the son’s. The we’re sudden;y asked to care about the son? It was awkward.

    I would have been more pleased perhaps if it was just a sudden cut. No time change. Nothing. Just Cut, and we’re in the mansion. Cut and we’re following his son. Cut and we see Daniel Plainview. Let us be confused for a second. I didn’t need my hand held so suddenly going into the third act.

  9. รายได้เสริมทางเน็ต Says:

    รายได้เสริมทางเน็ต…

    [...]“There Will Be Blood”: Jack Torrence is “Shining” Through « Phil-zine![...]…

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