I’ve been thinking a lot about titles 071209_there_will_be_blood.jpgrecently, and part of me couldn’t help but wonder what might happen if Paul Thomas Anderson traded titles with Joel and Ethan Coen. Would “No Country for Old Men” capture the scope of Anderson’s vision? Joel and Ethan Coen’s “There Will Be Blood” would have more than met every viewers expectations of carnage, but I’m not sure if “No Country for Old Men” would have fit PTA’s movie (none of its old men have any country, but that that’s another story). There’s something both prophetic and alarming about the statement “There Will Be Blood.” The phrase is both a prediction and a demand. There will be blood. One way or another, there will be blood. This hesitancy is a quality that would have been lost in the Coen brother’s film, with its instant payout of violence, but perfectly elucidates Anderson’s genius. The movie is a slow build resisting all expectations, resisting all allegiances, yet mesmerizing in its beauty.

Midway through the movie, with the bodies not flying everywhere , I began to think about what the title might mean. Anderson has said that he changed the title from Oil! because there wasn’t enough of the novel in the movie for it to be a proper adaptation. The title was picked for the movie, for the story unfolding on screen, and not any other. There are no lost referents. One of the movie’s unquestioned themes is family, particularly male relationships. In the Times, Manohla Dargis emphasized the masculinity of this world, remarking that “Like most of the finest American directors working now, Mr. Anderson makes little on-screen time for women.” (This is true.) Dargis also seizes on the title, praising the movie for its historical sweep, “its raging fires, geysers of oil and inevitable blood. (Rarely has a film’s title seemed so ominous.)” Yet in her praise, she seems to miss the larger implication of the title. Blood certainly refers to violence, but also to family, to belonging. “There Will Be Blood” is the story not just of an oilman and the birth of the modern west, but a story about the need for family, for the need for everything family promises. Read the rest of this entry »