Thursday, January 3, 2013

Cinematic Perspectives in 'There Will Be Blood'

Watching There Will Be Blood for the second time, I was particularly impressed by the long narrative distance P.T. Andersen places between the viewer and the character(s).

The opening sequence of the film observes the struggle of the oil worker with a documentarian detachment, which reminds me of the opening of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey depicting the battle of apes. The tense modern score almost forced upon these scenes make the whole experience stranger than looking at the world through the eyes of an alien being.

This sets a perfect tone for what follows. Throughout the film, the camera examines the character from afar rather than inviting the viewer into his internal world. Daniel Day-Lewis's acting style cooperates perfectly with this. His Daniel Fairview is a man who wears calcified mannerisms like a mask stuck to his surface.

This general style--of distancing--is brought to the extreme in a few refreshingly jarring moments. In a scene where Daniel tries to save his son from a burning drilling rig, the film suddenly and uncharacteristically takes Daniel's point of view (or should I say his point of "hearing") by going completely silent to emulate his aural experience after an explosion, but then quickly pulls us out of his perception to a strict third person point of view, giving us an almost physical sense of separation between Daniel's and our experiences.

In another truly bizarre scene, Daniel embraces his son in an intimate gesture, but we see it only from far away across the vastness of the wilderness while his voice speaks right into our ears. This mind-boggling mix of intimacy and alienation demands our attention and highlights the difference between being there and being here.

Even when the story progresses and the camera starts taking more conventional approach, occasionally going closer to the characters, we are kept on our toes. A good example is the scene where Daniel speaks with the man who had misled him to believe he was his brother. At this moment of heightened emotional intensity, Daniel is photographed from such a strange angle that his face is almost hidden and we can barely catch the tense grimace at the edge of his face.

There Will Be Blood strikes me as an astounding experiment on cinematic perspectives and a true feat. Even the title of the film is steeped in dramatic irony--it reminds us of the epistemic gap between the characters, who are living though their lives, and us, who gaze at the events through the distance of time.