Blaming Quentin Tarantino for ruining violent cinema

there will be blood…and oil, too

…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

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2 responses to “Blaming Quentin Tarantino for ruining violent cinema

  1. Still not having seen this movie (frigging Fredericton) I can’t comment on the end of it, but I will say I found myself involuntarily laughing nervously at the climax of The Departed. Just a chuckle or two – I really wasn’t sure what the appropriate reaction is to having the breath knocked out of me cinematically.

  2. I sat in awe for 2 1/2 hours on Sunday watching this film. I love everything PTA has done, and Daniel Day Lewis gives a mesmerizing performance. I’m still not sold on Paul Dano’s performance, but that’s the only thing that is less than stellar in the whole film.

    The audience for my showing was similar. There were several people who up and left half way through – and they probably, ignorantly, asked for their money back… what were they expecting? Even the trailer is weird. Haha.

    I overheard a lot of “What a shitty ending,” “I want my 2 1/2 hours back,” “I don’t get it,” etc. It was a bit saddening. It seems if things aren’t spoonfed to people, as in “this is exactly what is happening right now, and here is the emotion you are supposed to feel, and a connects to b and this is the end that ties everything up and you don’t have to think for yourself, we’ve done it for you,” then they shut down and refuse to appreciate the film at hand.

    I gotta keep trying to go to movies on odd nights so I can avoid shitty crowds – the worst was Cloverfield on a Friday night – and hopefully enjoy the theatre experience with an audience who appreciates the film.

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