There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

In There Will Be Blood (2007), Paul Thomas Anderson juxtaposes beautiful, naturally lit long shots with disquieting, dimly lit close-ups to form an impressive contrast. Since the film depicts disturbing aspects of human nature, such as greed, selfishness, and loathing, it is reasonable that Anderson produced this cinematographic contrast so as to imbue the film with the same kind of darkness that it depicts of human nature.

There are plenty of beautiful, naturally lit landscape shots in the first act of the film; the scene of Daniel and HW searching for oil at the Sunday Ranch is especially stunning. Bright blue skies, and wide open fields are illuminated by the splendid shine of the undisturbed sun. The camera movement is slow and easy; slow panning shots, such as that of moving trains, and slow zooming in shots, such as that of the developing oil-well construction site at Little Boston create a cinematic spectacle.

As the film progresses, however, and Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) becomes increasingly greedy, selfish, and loathsome, the shots become progressively harsher, closer, and darker. For example, the scene of Daniel murdering Henry and of the grown-up HW confronting Daniel are especially harsh, close, and dark. Other scenes, such as that of the great fire immediately following HW’s accident, show a sharp contrast of brightness and darkness; the vibrant fire is surrounded by extreme blackness. The mood of these scenes, among others, are appropriately sinister, for they depict the dark side of human nature. Moreover, dim lighting is often used to produce shadows, illustrating man’s attempt to conceal this darkness within them – both Daniel and Eli act like noble men; their true malevolence is kept hidden.

The transition of light to dark in the film’s mise-en-scène illustrates man’s tendency towards darkness; particularly when exposed to power driven businesses such as the oil industry. The contrast of light and dark is utilized to emphasize this theme and imbue the film with the kind of darkness it depicts of human nature – a concealed darkness  that inevitably surfaces once influenced by the evils of greed, selfishness, and loathing.


About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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