Paul Thomas Anderson’s youthful panache and exploratory bent has yielded a small but forceful filmography. Even his two shortest efforts, Hard Eight and Punch-Drunk Love, are imbued with a relentless, epic spirit. Anderson has always embraced the electric potential in themes such as faith, incest, scamming, family dynamics, and the American West.
If Magnolia was a work that could only be made by a cocky, precocious rogue, then There Will Be Blood was evidence of mature polish. Magnolia’s creative ecstasy was replaced by tight formal elegance in Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood, and they’re all variations on the common themes of fatherhood, power, and spirituality. However, There Will Be Blood’s scope was so enormous that it required a type of maturity that Anderson had yet to demonstrate. He succeeded by employing large-scale symmetry capable of sustaining his dangerous ambition. The film didn’t collapse under its own gravitas because of a careful system of visual and thematic rhymes. Of course, Daniel Day-Lewis delivered a performance of Streetcar-Brando level virtuosity, but accolades are due equally to Anderson, who constructed a final vision of the character from subtle visual cues that lead Plainview from rise to ruin.
Matt Zurcher is a senior at Carnegie Mellon University studying film and musicology. He is an arts critic for CMU’s newspaper and blogs at www.thefamilyberzurcher.com.