“There Will Be Blood: The Voice of Gods” a film analysis by Lorenzo Ferro.
The emotional feeling of being in control is one that is defined by the power, influence, and direction over people’s behavior or a series of events (“Control”). The struggle for control, or even better described as the struggle for power, is an immediate ignition for tension. The idea of a fight for control is one that can be expertly used to form tension in cinema. Pulling from real life, as is so common in art, directors use tension and power to create in-depth characterization; but, depicting dominance in a film can be a difficult task to perform subtly. In the movie, There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson uses parallelism between the two characters, Daniel and Eli, to form an intricate battle between two similar minds. Anderson does not use any single tool to form a fight for power, but he does use one tool in particular which is key to There Will Be Blood: aural composition. Being the catalyst for the entire movie’s plot, overlying vocal control—which is the strive for “power, influence, and direction over people or a series of events” by means of using the voice—between the two characters is a constantly changing scale that alters the way each scene plays out. In There Will Be Blood, the aural compositions, specifically the use of a god-like voice-over mixed with diegetic vocal performances, especially of characters Daniel and Eli, allows the audience to audibly—as well as visually—understand the mental power dynamic between characters on and off screen.
Before diving into the intricacies of Paul Thomas Anderson’s dialogue and directorial control over his individual scene composition, it should be noted the aura that Daniel Day Lewis (who plays Daniel Planview) and Paul Dano (who plays Eli Sunday) bring to their characters’ aural performances. There is no denying that Lewis and Dano are exceptional actors, but the role their voices play scratches deeper than just surface level. Their casting was hand-selected by Anderson for a specific purpose. Sarah Kozloff, in Overhearing Film Dialogue, states that each casted actor with their “different voices–with all their physical individuality and all their markers of age, gender, ethnicity, experience–will give dialogue different nuances” and that their “lines are improvised, cut, repeated, stammered, swallowed, paraphrased”. While the changes may be minor or major, “the results represent the unique alchemy of that script in the mouth, mind, and heart of that actor” (91-92). Anderson, with his script, had to specifically choose actors with the correct “mouth, mind, and heart.” He knew that the ability to use vocal control as a key tool in his movie needed to be translatable through his chosen actors. Lewis and Dano, chosen for their roles in There Will Be Blood, are clearly main proprietors to the aural composition of their characters. While Anderson is considered the ‘mastermind’ behind what it took to create the structure for this movie, the vocal parallelism would not be the same without the work from Lewis and Dano; for example, a “certain violin may naturally have a certain tone, but obviously it can be played with all different kinds of expression. Actors put on accents as needed; they deliberately use their voices to give lines special emphasis and meaning” (Kozloff 93). It is the “emphasis” given by Lewis and Dano that is brought out and asked for by Anderson, who has his own projected “meaning” in mind. Both actors and director work together to create the powerful aural composition that this movie so strongly relies on. Without Anderson, Lewis, and Dano’s visions, There Will Be Blood would be missing the “instruments” well needed for its success.
The fight-for-power theme is depicted by the motif of entering the scene as the narrator or narrator-like figure. A narrator-like character uses their voice to guide the spectator into a scene and is predominant throughout. A voice unseen, behind the camera, is something reminiscent of an omniscient presence: film analysts from Now You See It state that “there is a distinct power to talking without being seen. In the same way that a narrator of a story has a god-like quality to them. If they talk while not in view, that means they’re still controlling the scene even when they aren’t there” (00:03:38-00:03:49). Throughout the film, the two main characters establish scenes by claiming ownership of the special position as narrator. One of the most basic examples of talking without being seen is when the camera is only focused on a submissive character. In the final scene of the movie, Eli is the submissive character, and he is in main view of the camera. At the same time Eli is being focused on in a close-up, Daniel’s voice is heard from somewhere offscreen. While the camera does not actively shift to see Daniel speaking, Daniel is still in control of the scene because the audience hears Daniel’s voice commanding Eli while the viewer is left with Eli’s reaction. Daniel is the narrator-like figure here because of his commanding vocal presence that narrates the scene while not in view. Another example is preceding the scene Daniel gets baptized, where Eli’s voice is used as a cinematic transition that allows Eli to fulfill the role of narrator. The baptism scene, taking place in the town church, begins audibly before it is visually confirmed. Previous to seeing the church, the audience is shown Daniel crouching outside in the woods with Bandy. The audience then hears Eli Sunday’s voice, who is not in the current scene. The audience gets to hear Eli’s overlapping voice—which bleeds through from the next scene—offscreen before they see any change in setting. While the camera is still fixated on Daniel Planview in the preceding scene, Eli’s voice, in the proceeding scene, is heard giving his sermon. Given scene continuity, the audience is indicated, by the new narrator Eli, that they are about to be moved and manipulated into a new location. The narrative that is about to be presented is going to be laid out for the audience through Eli. Eli is the person now in control of the movie. He has taken the reigns from Daniel in the woods and is now beginning his own narrative in the church.
Cindy Milligan, in Sonic Vocality: A Theory on the Use of Voice in Character Portrayal, further concludes the theory in her research by stating that “voice has the power to carry narrative and, in fact, audiences can and do rely on it for information and insight into characters. By substantiating a solid connection between voice and character portrayal from the audience’s perspective, this work helps to rebalance the role of the aural with the visual elements in film” (124). Vocal support and control portrayed in There Will Be Blood accomplishes the task of “carrying the narrative” to its extremist ability. Eli and Daniel act as vocal leaders in a sense for every scene. When the vocal leader speaks, their voice reigns throughout; when the leader moves, the camera tracks their position. It is the movie’s diegetic narrative-based control that leads the plot along. The scale of power, as presented in each scene, is manipulated in some way, shape, or form through narration of voice. While Richard Barsam and Dave Monahan’s LOOKING AT MOVIES: An Introduction to Film, states that narration is “used in narrative films, where it may emanate from a third-person narrator (thus not one of the characters),” a narrator can still be in the form of “a character in the movie” (330). Parting from the conventional third person, and breaking the fourth wall of film, the dialogue in There Will Be Blood dictates power through its narrator-like presence. The same position, perhaps better described as “feeling”, that is granted to the ‘all-knowing’ characters in other works of film, is partially given to either Daniel or Eli. Paul Thomas Anderson allows either of their voices to provide direction for the narrative, thus creating tension between the two narrators.
The importance of narrative control is in its ability to link the entire narrative structure as a whole. The camera work for There Will Be Blood, while breathtaking, is not incredibly sporadic. The movie itself has mild cinematic violence and quick viewings of death. The main chain-link to each scene isn’t always an action, but instead a narrative direction put into place by either Daniel or Eli; and, from the audience’s perspective, some of these “speech acts are themselves pivotal links of the narrative chain… they are major events that would be mentioned in an accurate summary of the story. Some narrative acts are physical–searching a wine cellar, throwing water on a witch, firing a gun–but at times the key narrative event is a verbal act” (Kozloff 41). There Will Be Blood, while lacking some dynamics and actions that other Hollywood movies may rely on, uses its strength of verbal narrative composure. The pivotal links controlled by Anderson do not rely on anything other than the verbal clash of each individual character. Daniel and Eli’s immensely complex characters drive the narrative solely based on their confrontations with themselves and others. The aural compositions presented are a required tool for There Will Be Blood to maintain its steady drive.
In There Will Be Blood, the constant struggle of control is exemplified by Daniel and Eli’s directorial power. This is not to be confused with the role of the actual director, Paul Thomas Anderson; however, the characters Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday exhibit directorial power in the way they control what other characters say and do in the narrative. Much like previously stated, the protagonists in this film use their narrator-like podium to guide the narrative structure, but they also use their director-like podium to verbally control the actions of other characters. Daniel’s directorial power is even highlighted by him commanding when and where the narrative goes. One of the most notable instances is him saying “I’m finished,” concluding the movie and his story. Not only does Daniel and Eli’s dialogue guide the audience, but it also controls other characters, physically and verbally. In some scenes, mainly ones of great importance, both characters highlight their power by controlling what other characters say. In most instances, the audience “associate(s) what people say with what they’re thinking, what they believe in, and what they want. If (a character) controls what someone can say, (a character) control(s) everything about them” (Now You See It 00:05:08-00:05:12). In the events of the dynamic battle for power, Daniel or Eli control what their counterpart gets to say. In some of the monumental scenes throughout the movie—specifically the baptism and final scene— either Eli controls Daniel (baptism scene), or Daniel controls Eli (final scene). The controlling characters in each of these scenes take the greater, and more extreme measure, of verbally manipulating their counterpart. In both instances, the subjugated character, for example Daniel in the church, loses his aural control. When he speaks, it is commanded by Eli. In the final scene, Eli is the subordinate character, and Eli is manipulated vocally. In both instances, Daniel or Eli lose nearly all of their control in the scenes, resorting to uncontrolled vocal composition. The character that acts as the director of the scene, exacerbates the power dynamic because they are the ones now perpetuating vocal control superiority. It is the motif and theme of There Will Be Blood that states that the power of Daniel and Eli rests in their directorial nature, or more simply put, their voices.
Narrative and directorial power is a clear skill Daniel and Eli share. Writer and director, Paul Thomas Anderson, makes it clear through his use of dialogue and camera direction that Daniel and Eli’s voices are the tools they use to demonstrate their power. Anderson does not stop at the bare surface for exemplifying their cinematic control; he hides many key details under the text that may be worth noting. In simplest terms, Daniel is a businessman that uses his silver tongue to convince families to sell their land, even though Daniel says he “believes in ‘plain speaking’, backed up by his last name” he in fact “sees his words as gospel, using his words and ability to speak as means of manipulating and securing land for drilling. Daniel instantly sees through and despises Eli because Daniel’s voice is his source of power. He sees in Eli the same power of words” (Zambon). Anderson skillfully chooses Daniel’s last name for its double-meaning. It is ironic to state that a man as “back-sliding” as Daniel, is in Plainview. This contextual ‘cherry-on-top’ is another cinematic boast representing the power behind the vocal composition. Anderson does not stop with just Daniel’s name. Anderson even provides the audience a clear example of the range of vocal power. To know for sure that the element of vocal superiority is key to Daniel Plainview’s character, Anderson provides contextual evidence to question its limitations. The character H.W., Daniel’s adopted son, is the answer to that question. In the series of events throughout the movie, H.W. loses his hearing. Fast forward to the second to last scene of the movie, and the audience is shown a dramatic scene of disapproval and liberation. In the context of the scene, H.W. leaves his father, separating from the madness and manipulation he has felt his whole life. H.W. is the only character to ever successfully leave Daniel Plainview’s control because of his inability to hear. Anderson crafts a character in the timeframe of the film with the ability to resist the vocal control every other secondary character in the film feels. H.W. acts, in a sense, as a foil to accentuate the aural power of his father. H.W. is Anderson’s giant pointer finger that is clearly stating that the power of Daniel and Eli rests primarily in their voices. Their vocal composition controls characters and the movie’s direction but is useless when unheard. Anderson, through subtext and underlying plot meaning, highlights his own use of the cinematic element of aural composition by supporting it with evidence from characterization in his own film.
In Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece, There Will Be Blood, systematic elements of aural composition in actor contributions, narration of voice, narrative structure, verbal direction, and contextual evidence highlight the mental power dynamic between characters Daniel and Eli. Their diegetic-based vocal performances allow the spectator to feel immersed in the slow turning and evolving plot. The camera work and action presented offers the audience a blank slate for vocal authority to reign, emphasizing tension based purely on aural composition. The dominant struggle for control is the stimulant that spurs the narrative direction along. Anderson’s use of voice as the predominant driving force of the narrative is uncommon in cinema. While dialogue and volume are repeated elements in cinema which bash the audience over the head, more complex aural composition is almost unseen, or better said, unheard in Hollywood productions. Hopefully Anderson, Lewis, and Dano have sparked an upward trend of evolving complexity in diegetic vocal performance composition.
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Guitars, heights, and a looming chance of a fiery plane crash sounded fun enough in his life this year, but when he heard there was an Introduction to Film class, taught by Dr. Simone Muench, and offered within his curriculum, he immediately felt obligated to enroll.
Lorenzo Ferro is a junior at Lewis University. Training to be a commercial pilot, he makes sure to leave time for his other passions: music, rock climbing, and movies.
The movie There Will Be Blood has been impactful to him from the moment he laid eyes on it, and he’s excited to have the opportunity to blog about it. He hopes to gain more time with Jet Fuel in the air and on the computer.