Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Art of Violence

Daniel Day-Lewis portrays the cold and evil Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, a story about a rising oil tycoon, which is loosely based on Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!

This movie is made fascinating by the acting and its unusual characters. Not only is Daniel Plainview an over-the-top greedy and pathologically competitive man, but the small town he's looking to exploit is headed by a charismatic preacher who has his own agenda and peccadillos. Aptly named Eli Sunday, this young preacher is likewise driven by a sort of ambition and tunnel vision. The young actor Paul Dano portrays Sunday, and it must have been intimidating, maybe downright frightening, to work so closely with such a renowned actor, but he acquitted himself very well.

Sunday and Plainview certainly have their share of physical fights, the literal expression of a struggle between greed and ambition and small town tradition and religion. In the end, of course, oil changes everything.

This movie kept my attention the whole time. Daniel Plainview is an amazingly bad human being, and the few clues we are given about his background inspire the imagination. I found the ending rather surprising. It could be said that the symbolism in the last scene will hit one over the head.

No Country for Old Men is a page-turner, a fast read. It's very cynical, though, and I worry a little about Cormac McCarthy.

The tale is set in motion when Lewellyn Moss, who has until recently led a quiet life with his young wife, comes upon a grisly scene while hunting in his native Texan desert. Shot up vehicles, lots of blood everywhere--and millions of dollars in cash. It's a drug deal gone awry. I would have hightailed it out of there and called the cops, but Lewellyn, a Vietnam vet, carefully surveys the area, takes note of the single man still alive and begging for water, then takes the cash. When he gets home, he hides the money and returns to the scene in order the take the lone survivor some water. When Lewellyn returns, however, this man has already been shot, and it becomes clear that Lewellyn's life is now in danger, too. He manages to get out of there and back home briefly, but he has made a huge and permanent mistake.

The villain is Anton Chigurh, a sociopath who nonetheless has his own strict code of behavior and his own way of killing people. Lots of people. Chigurh is nightmare, personified. It is impossible to negotiate with him.

It is interesting that the climatic killings at the end are not told in the same straight forward style as the rest. Instead, the reader is told, through conversations, that they have occurred. McCarthy has written this novel sparingly, which is why is goes so fast. The conversations speak volumes about the individual characters, and in the end, I truly mourned their fates.

Veteran Sheriff Bell finds himself at a loss to understand this level of evil crime, and his memories of serving in this small town provide a stark contrast between then and now. In the end, he resigns, feeling totally defeated.

It's a sad book which does not romanticize Lewellyn Moss's bad decision one bit. It's also a very good book, but not if you're already feeling depressed.

I will see the movie with some trepidation.


Ariel the Thief said...

I loved the first 2/3 of the book No Country For Old Man, it was very good.

You must see the movie for Chigurgh. I bet you cannot picture anything like he is in that movie. :-)

Doug said...

I didn't read the book but I saw the movie and have read a few others of McCarthy's. Healthy people will worry about him. I just wish I could write like that. Outer Dark is one of my favorite books ever and, while its funny at times, I remember sitting and reading it while a storm gathered outside so black and turbulent it made me nervous indoors. Then, when I finished the book and looked up I realized it was just a cloud.

Doug said...

On the other hand, when I got done with the first section of The Crossing, I decided "well, that's good enough for me," and put it away.

Ariel the Thief said...

The characters in the book are a little different to the ones in the movie, just enough to make clear some things the movie confused. Chigurg is a little different, too, but I was so amazed by the one in the movie, I didn't mind at all.

Ariel the Thief said...

Oh I don't know why it reminds me, my Muslim friend has a friend from Somalia, she lives in Budapest now and one of the things surprised her was that Hungarian people go to the ZOO to see lions. In Somalia, she says, nobody wants to see a lion, actually, they do their best to avoid to ever see one. She thought, we are not normal.

TLP said...

The movie was excellent. As Chigurh, Javier Bardem is as scary as scary can possibly be. But if you see him in other roles, he's as handsome as handsome can be. Pretty amazing.

Everyone in the movie is good. I do want to read the book. I guess the point of it is that EVIL IS. It just IS. Personally, I like for the good guys to win.

Sean P. Farley said...

Yikes. Now I'm definitely going to read it. I've heard so much about it. If there's time, my cinema class might view the film. Have you read McCarthy's "The Road"? WOW. Great book. The man knows how to pick words.