Religion, Fuel, Fathers, Sons, Egomania, America: A Look Back at “There Will Be Blood”

Five years ago, on September 27, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood screened for the first time. And a sure-thing Best Actor Oscar-winner came into… plain view.

 Daniel Plainview, to be precise. Playing the ferocious “oil man,” Daniel Day-Lewis lived up to his reputation. Some thought the film might win Best Picture — it was easily my choice at the time, only recently surpassed by In the City of Sylvia — but it lost the award to another nightmare about evil in America: No Country for Old Men. No matter. People quickly forget about Oscars, and both films are now treated as classics.

What a year, that 2007! I saw close to 30 movies that I would have happily included in my top ten list of favorites. This year? I’ve only seen four or five that seem list-worthy.

One of them opens nationwide this weekend…

That definite top-tenner is Anderson’s new film — The Master. It’s a film about a lost and broken young man who, traumatized by his war experience, crumbling under the influence of alcohol, reaches out in desperation to the one man who will believe in him. That man is Lancaster Dodd, a philosopher and author who is becoming a sort of cult leader, rising to a modest measure of popularity in post-war America.

These two volatile, complicated men develop a relationship that is one of the most compelling I’ve seen since There Will Be Blood.

My review of The Master will be published at Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine on Friday. But first, I am finding it worthwhile to reflect on There Will Be Blood again, as it feels like it belongs alongside The Master. The two films have a lot in common, but they also contrast in fascinating ways.

Here is my original review of There Will Be Blood, which was originally published in an abridged version at Christianity TodayI’m restoring to this site today as a “warm-up” for this weekend, when The Master expands to screens nationwide.

I recommend you watch them both. Viewer discussion advised.

Which Paul Thomas Anderson film is your favorite?

And looking back at 2007, which has settled as your personal favorite? (Feel free to peruse my own long list for ideas.)

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • Michael Hovey

    In my opinion There Will Be Blood is the greatest film ever made and The Master doesn’t come close to touching it, but at the same time it is definitely worthwhile to see and think about long after it’s done. The problem is The Master has such a strange and somewhat unsettling mix of weirdness and sermonizing going on that it’s hard to tell just what the movie’s getting at, or what Paul Thomas Anderson is trying to tell you in making it. For me There Will Be Blood is more easily understood and so incredibly rich with ideas that I became instantly in love it and have grown even more in love with it with each subsequent viewing of it. On the other hand The Master is maybe a tad too challenging and too complicated for me to fully grasp everything going on in it, and that’s the main reason why for me at least There Will Be Blood remains the far superior film, while to be honest I’m still trying to wrap my head around The Master and I’m not sure if I ever will.

  • Justin Hanvey

    My theater didn’t play Moonrise Kingdom, my theater didn’t play Lawless, and now it will not be playing The Master either. I am sorely disappointed. Since I live in Moses Lake it’s the only theater that close to me.


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