…okay, not really, I still love Tarantino.
Watching There Will Be Blood over the weekend, though, I needed someone to blame, and ol’ Quentin seemed like reliable fall guy. He was not the first to encourage his audience to laugh at the absurdity of violence, but his work was a perfect fit for the irony-driven “Generation X.” Unlike some of the masterworks of the 1970s, where madness and violence were meant to disturb (A Clockwork Orange, Apocalypse Now), Tarantino’s films gave viewers permission to laugh freely at the carnage on screen.
Now, I love irony – it’s my favourite coping mechanism for life’s little absurdities (and sometimes the big ones, too). But irony often serves as little more than a wall, a barrier separating one’s self from genuine emotional engagement, from truly offering the self to the experience at hand.
There Will Be Blood asks – nay, demands – such subservience to its artistry. It’s a film that cements Paul Thomas Anderson as among the best of the current generation of bold filmmakers. It provides Daniel Day-Lewis with another stunning, tour-de-force performance that invokes fear and awe in equal measure. It’s got the score of the year, a powerful, haunting, unworldly musical suite by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood. It’s an epic film that get surprisingly personal as it progresses. In short – it was pretty awesome.
My problem? Many members of the audience likely missed appreciating all of this because they refused to engage with the film sans ironic distance. Where I was awed, they were merely amused.
Now, I’ll admit, there are times when the film chooses to embrace absurdity – in particular, a darkly hilarious conversion scene at its midpoint. But there were countless moments where the audience laughed at things that just weren’t supposed to be funny. I wanted to believe the film’s moments of genuine madness and terror, to fear the mind-breaking insanity on screen, but the chuckles kept getting in the way. There’s one scene, where protagonist Daniel Plainview tells another character that he’s going to cut his throat, that elicited a roar of chuckles; I felt like yelling out to the crowd, “He wasn’t joking, idiots; he ACTUALLY wants to cut that man’s throat!”
The worst was the crowd’s reaction to the film’s conclusion, a scene of madness which, to be fair, has divided many reviewers over whether it goes to far towards absurdity (my verdict: no). But I won’t spoil it here, except to say that when it takes a dark turn at its conclusion, I felt rewarded when all the laughter ceased as the crowed realized that this was no laughing matter.
I just wish they had come to that conclusion two and a half hours earlier.
Watch: There Will Be Blood trailer