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There Will Be Interpretations

From Tom Hagan, Chicago, IL:

I recently saw "There Will Be Blood" the other day. After it was over, I felt like I had just endured a great cinematic experience. I was happy to have paid my $7.50 entry cost, which is something I rarely do, but in this case I can rest assured. I read Ebert's review of this film on line and found it to be a very decent review. However, I do have some quarrels.

Ebert stated that Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis in the film-- is comparable to Citizen Kane, but with no rosebud. In other words, there is nothing we can identify in him that would make him seem more humane and more savory to our tastes. I strongly disagree. Here is one redeeming thing about this character: Remember the scene where he pulls the little girl aside, in front of her father, and humiliates him by saying to her, indirectly to the father, that no more abuse would take place. This was an admirable thing. What Plainview's motivations were I don't know because the film never elaborates on this small detail.

His care for his son is also redeemable. I think his alleged son, H.W. Plainview is the equivalent to rosebud. Whether H.W. is really an actual blood relative of Daniel or not is really not the question we should be asking. We should look at Day-Lewis' performance more carefully. The son is the only thing in the world that really matters to him; well, first and foremost 1.) money and 2.) the son. We can see it in his face. We see this care, or failure to care haunt him in one of the church sequences. He is genuinely angry at Paul Dano during the baptism scene in the film. His hatred for him is pure as Dano exacts his revenge. But we also see something else here.

When Dano asks Daniel Day-Lewis to admit that he's "abandoned!" his child, he becomes distraught. It is not just the emotion of hatred we see anymore. We see that this "abandonment" is something that affects this character. We also see it when Plainview insists he will slit the throat of a Standard Oil exec trying to buy him out when the man mentions his son. He becomes infuriated. The son, besides greed, was his life's work, and he has failed. The son is his failure. And he knows it. And it haunts him till the end of his life, in his giant mansion that might as well have been created with dollars, when he admits that the son was nothing more than a prop.

Whether this is true or untrue, I think, is besides the point because Plainview did truly love the son. When the son became handicap, and loss of communication took its toll, spite sank into a man who found it already peculiarly difficult to communicate. The son is the only person Plainview truly let in. This communication breakdown cements his inability to become part of the regular world, whatever that means.

The funniest thing about all of these interpretations I've seen floating around the net tell me that this movie's performances are some of the best ever put to film. All of these things people are arguing about come from subtle nuances of the performances. It's the actors that are generating these conversations and, in actuality, has little to do with the writers or director, which is usually a conscious decision on their part. I suppose the reason we all find this so worthy of debate is because we all read people differently, react strongly or not at all to body language. This, I believe, is the beauty of this film.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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