27 August 2008

There Will Be Blood!

I was really ready to be impressed, I swear. I settled in for an epic sprawling gut-wrenching adventure but... I was left cold, and slightly puzzled. As the final credits rolled, I looked at my friends and was like, "Guys? What was the point?" Curiously enough, while both of them thought the movie was mindblowingly fantastic and were watching it for the second time, their answers were pretty bland. "It's about, you know, greed." "No it's not. No, it's about pride." "Well, no, but..." Now, I'm not saying that good movies are those that one can summarize succinctly, but I think in this case, part of the reason why it's so hard to say is because the movie isn't really saying anything effectively. 

To dispense with the good, the cinematography is gorgeous. Absolutely stunning. I couldn't really make up my mind as to how I felt about the camera lens getting splattered with stuff all the time, whether it was artistic or just clumsy - in any case, it was definitely distracting. And I don't think it was meant to draw attention to the mediated nature of the perspective. So I dunno. But anyhow, yeah, the shots were gorgeous, and I recall thinking a few times that they were really brilliantly framed. At other times I recall thinking gawd why are you filming this from an angle where part of the shot is obscured by trivial crap and fighting the urge to attempt to swat things out of my field of vision, but um, ok, so maybe it was a mixed bag on that front too. Hmmm.

No, but what I didn't like about the movie was the way the story was told. My primary objection was to all the gaps in the story. 10 years elapse, and then a character makes ominous reference to the occurrences of the interim but you never find out what they were. Annoying. "So you're going to tell me where you've been? As if I didn't already know?!?" Um, excuse me, but I don't know, so perhaps you'd like to fill us in? No such luck. There were plenty of moments where I was like, wait, what? Where is he going? Huh? What's going on? My companions, however, didn't have any such problems, so I'm left to conclude that this is some peculiarity of mine - the sequencing of the narrative just didn't make sense to me. So I'd be trying to figure it out, and then when I came to a conclusion it seemed awfully paltry, especially in relation to all the intellectual effort I'd put into it. 

This had the unfortunate side effect of making the emotional valences of the film entirely incomprehensible to me. I had this sense that a lot of the drama in the film was invested in understanding the inner states of the characters and their motivations and desires, and they were completely opaque to me. Therefore, I couldn't make sense of their conflicts or get all that worked up or engaged by them. I think that part of the movie centered around understanding whether or not various people were being sincere or not - whether, for instance, the preacher really believes in his sermons or not. Except that it seemed to me like this issue wasn't really raised until towards the end, so the effect was more along the lines of, oh? So he never really believed that anyways? Wait, what? So why ...? Nevermind. 

Was the acting amazing? I dunno. I guess part of me wants to blame my incomprehension on their poker faces and carefully measured diction. But again, it's entirely possible that the problem is me, not the movie.

So I suppose, ultimately, I just didn't get it. 

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