“There Will Be Blood” is a new step in the career of writer/director P.T Anderson. Beforehand, Anderson was better known for lengthy but far different epics like “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia.” But in creating those films, Anderson was credited for paying homage to, or downright ripping off, the styles of others. “Magnolia” was basically like one of Robert Altman’s multi character epics like “Short Cuts”, and “Boogie Nights” camera shots and drug induced hazes were not unlike Martin Scorsese, “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” Anderson even used the Bible to try and make it plausible that frogs could rain from the sky in modern day California. For “There Will Be Blood” Anderson continues to draw from other classics, but has aimed even higher than Altman or Scorsese. Anderson has gotten inspiration from the most classic cinema examples of greed, power, and the loss of a man’s soul- along with some more obscure sources. These are some of the movies, characters, and incidents that are combined to make “There Will Be Blood” try to rival those classic events.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Anderson regards this movie as one of his favorites, and an inspiration for “There Will Be Blood.” Anderson has said that he watched the movie over and over while writing “There Will Be Blood”‘s screenplay. “Madre” is a classic film about how the search for treasure corrupts the human soul, just as the search for big oil corrupts Daniel Plainview. The closest character in “Madre” that could come close to Plainview’s madness is Humphrey Bogart’s Fred Dobbs, hailed as one of the legendary actor’s best characters.
“Madre” was directed by John Huston, who has been rumored to be the inspiration for Daniel Day-Lewis’s speaking voice in “There Will Be Blood.”
By the end of Orson Welles’ historic film, Charles Foster Kane has become a reclusive miser, surrounded by wealth and power but having nothing of real value. Kane dies uttering the word that represents the one thing he loved before he was set on his path. He is a man that got everything he wanted, but then lost it.
By the end of “There Will Be Blood” Daniel Plainview is also a miserly old man, albeit one with a few more screws loose than Kane had. But whereas Kane became lonely through mistakes he later came to regret, Plainview is a lonely man by choice. He says specifically that he wants to become rich so he can get away from everyone, and gets exactly what he wants. His loneliness is through decisions he makes on purpose, whereas Kane simply loses his way and does come to regret it, but only when it is too late.
Kane is a figure who people puzzle over throughout “Citizen Kane”, trying to find out who he is and how he was forged. Plainview is also a man who isn’t fully explained, at least not by any words. But by the end, the reporter investigating Kane realizes that one word or event does not fill in the puzzle of a man. This is true even as we finally find out the meaning of “Rosebud” a minute later. Likewise for Plainview, if “There Will Be Blood” put in a longer psychological explanation for his hatred of humanity, it still would not solve his puzzle.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick did a lot of things differently with his iconic space epic, and one of them was to start without any dialogue. “The Dawn of Man” opening sequence has prehistoric man fighting to survive, until they are inspired by the mysterious black monolith to create tools. As such, they take the first step on the evolutionary ladder, as their tools help them survive, but also helps them kill. When we cut to billions of years later, man is in space, and in the next stage of evolution. To get there, Kubrick shows not only the origins of man’s rise, but of man’s violent urges at the same time. All without a spoken word.
For “There Will Be Blood” Anderson uses no words to explain the origins of Daniel Plainview, and of oil drilling itself. Plainview is like the prehistoric men, fighting to survive and make a living, but without the tools to do so yet. Over this 15 minute sequence, Plainview slowly but surely begins to become an expert in the oil drilling business, which was in its own infancy at a time. When oil is finally found, one of Plainview’s men lifts his oil covered fingers to the heavens, like one of Kubrick’s prehistoric men. Years later, Plainview is a budding tycoon and salesman, ready to take the next step in his evolution, along with Big Oil in general.
As “2001” started to show ancient man taking the next step in evolution, for good and for bad, “There Will Be Blood” shows Plainview and the oil industry taking their next steps in evolution, for the good and for the bad that is to come. All without a spoken word.
When critics first saw “There Will Be Blood” and heard Daniel Day-Lewis’s voice, they concluded he was doing an impersonation. John Huston, already an influence on Anderson with “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” appeared to be the source of Day-Lewis’s speaking voice. The best evidence for what Huston sounds like is in “Chinatown” where he crossed over as an actor to play another famous evil tycoon.
Noah Cross, Huston’s character, is not an oil man, but a water man and industrialist. Through his corrupt schemes and cover ups, the movie paints him as the man who will turn Los Angeles from a small town to a booming economic power, albeit through very evil deeds. In “There Will Be Blood” Daniel Plainview is one of the men who helps turn the oil industry into one of the economic powers of all America, albeit through questionable deeds. However, even Plainview cannot top the lengths Cross goes to in order to secure “the future”, especially within his own family.
Day-Lewis may sound like Huston, and Plainview may share the same job and lack of humanity as Cross does. But you have to see “Chinatown” to know that Plainview has nothing on Cross’s kind of evil.
“Giant” was perhaps the most famous epic about oil until “There Will Be Blood” came along. The 50’s drama starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean was an epic melodrama spanning several decades. It dealt with the drive for oil and the cost of pursuing it, but in a more Hollywood like conventional way. Anderson and “There Will Be Blood” go a lot farther to show the costs of greed, but using oil as the catalyst is the one thing it has in common with “Giant.”
That and the fact “There Will Be Blood” was shot in Marfa, Texas- the very same town where “Giant” was filmed over 50 years ago.
No Country for Old Men
Since these films were done at the same time, there’s no real way “No Country” could influence Anderson. However, the similarities are unavoidable. The obvious one is that these two movies are fighting against each other for the Oscar. The other is that they are both dark, bleak, pessimistic, almost nihilistic films that go to very unusual places by the end. Neither of them conform to the usual Hollywood formula in doing so.
Both were based on a novel, as Anderson used Uptown Sinclair’s novel “Oil!” as the starting point for “There Will Be Blood.” But Anderson only used the first half of the book and then made “There Will Be Blood” vastly different, abandoning Sinclair’s socialist leanings in the book. In adapting “No Country” however, the Coens were extremely faithful to almost everything in Cormac McCarthy’s original text.
In addition, “No Country” did some filming in Marfa almost at the same time as Anderson did. According to Anderson, the Coens shot there for a week as pre production for “There Will Be Blood” was going on.
The Teapot Dome Scandal
Anderson drew some unlikely “There Will Be Blood” inspiration from a real life oil scandal in the 1920’s. The Teapot Dome Scandal concerned a New Mexico Senator named Albert Fall, who accepted bribes from oil industry figures to drill on public lands in California. Fall was convicted after a Congressional hearing on the matter. Anderson read the hearing transcripts to gain inspiration for “There Will Be Blood”‘s already iconic catchphrase.
During the hearing, Fall was asked to describe drainage, a tactic used by the oil men that Fall took bribes from. Fall actually compared the use of drainage to milkshakes. The oil men would suck the oil out of neighboring lands, like if a straw could reach across the room and drink from another man’s milkshake.
Over 80 years later, Anderson has Daniel Plainview use the concept of drainage, as he sums it up in pretty much the same way, only more insane. As such, a Congressional hearing is how “There Will Be Blood” added “I…drink….your…..MILKSHAKE!! I DRINK IT UP!!” as the newest catchphrase of cinema.
The Big Lebowski
There are no real inspirations to be found from this movie. However, it was perhaps the most famous film ever to have major scenes take place in a bowling alley. Thanks to “There Will Be Blood”‘s third act, that is no longer the case.
Filmmaker Magazine- GIANT AMBITION http://www.filmmakermagazine.com/winter2008/blood.php
JAM! Movies- P.T Anderson drills for ‘Blood’ http://jam.canoe.ca/Movies/2008/01/02/4749699-ap.html
An Artistic Analysis of 2001: A Space Odyssey- Act 1: The Dawn of Man http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=832916
City Beat: Review: There Will Be Blood http://citybeat.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A143613
LA Weekly- Paul Thomas Anderson: Blood, Sweat, and Tears http://www.laweekly.com/film+tv/film/paul-thomas-anderson-blood-sweat-and-tears/18140/?page=2