(This is just a comment – I entered it as a post so I could supply links to references.)
Only my wife, Christine, really understands how badly I miss the point of some movies. Sometimes I am clueless to what is apparently obvious to everyone else.
So I was surprised when I read David’s Blog on “There Will Be Blood” and found out that it was a commentary on capitalism and capitalists. Honestly, all through the movie and even in and after our Wednesday night film discussion, the thought that it was depicting capitalism in the US never occurred to me.
Now the most reasonable explanation is that I am dense about movies, but as I thought it over another explanation came to me.
I thought, as David so well described, that it was a character study on a particularly evil person. I didn’t like it very much because it was devoid of any character development. H. W. Plainview started out evil and only got more so. As far as I can tell the movie gave no plausible explanation as to how he got that way or why he was so totally unable to change.
Why did I not connect this to capitalism? I think it is because at best “There Will Be Blood” presented a simplistic caricature of capitalists and capitalism, like one might see as a propaganda film in some anti-capitalistic state. In my opinion, the challenge of capitalism is not that it is all evil and incapable of changing. The challenge of evaluating capitalism is that, unlike H. W., it is complex. Capitalists can, and do, develop and change.
I’m not going to get into a big economic-political thing here. As far as I am concerned I am writing about the movie “There Will Be Blood.” If someone wants to discuss capitalism per se let’s do it over a beer.
So in evaluating this movie as a critique of capitalism lets just consider, for example, Microsoft and Bill Gates. Microsoft would seem to be a good example of the ills of capitalism. After all “The European Union has found Microsoft guilty of abusing the ‘near-monopoly’ of its Windows PC operating system and fined it a record 497 million euros ($613 million).” The company has been forced to change its practices in other countries as well. In addition, in my personal opinion, their monopolistic position enabled them to make and sell crummy software and get ridiculously rich in the process. The first thing I did when I retired was to rid my house of all Microsoft software. (But don’t get me started on Apple – they may make better software but they seem to have a nearly Captain Ahab like obsession to control the people who buy their products. For example, if you are on an Apple go to Netflix and try “instant viewing.” You will see an example of their obsessive need to control.)
But Gates and Microsoft are not at all like H. W. Plainview. In particular the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working to rid the world of diseases (malaria in Africa for example) and is literally tackling World Hunger. While their efforts are not without controversy, their approaches were developed by consulting some of the best scientific minds available. I find it interesting that I refuse to buy Microsoft software, but I know many (not an exaggeration) idealistic, intelligent, and well-trained late 20ish and early 30ish young men and women, who think that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the best place to work if you want to make the world a better place.
Perhaps you will say that Gates is a modern anomaly in capitalism. Perhaps you’d prefer to choose U.S. Steel as the real icon of American capitalism. At one time it controlled 2/3rds of the steel production in the U. S. and its workers suffered from less than adequate safety practices. Yet Andrew Carnegie not only founded U. S. Steel but also established over 3000 public libraries in 47 US States. As I child I was able to use several of these libraries, which were always open on Sundays, so they would be available to us common people.
And it goes on. John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil (some of whose employees found bit parts in “There Will Be Blood”.) The company was broken up in 1911 because it was an “’unreasonable’ monopoly under the Sherman Antitrust Act”. Yet Rockefeller also founded the Rockefeller Foundation. Henry Ford may have developed the dehumanizing assembly line but he also founded the Ford Foundation.
So now I have another reason to dislike “There Will Be Blood.” If it was intended to be about capitalists and capitalism then it missed the mark as much as it missed the mark if it were intended to be about character development. If “There Will Be Blood” had shown us H. W. performing apparently unselfish acts of goodness, and contributing to the development of the communities while he was also exploiting them; and if it had given us a glimpse into the psychology of someone who could do outstanding good along with his astounding evil, then it would have forced us to wrestle with a more realistic picture of capitalism. If “There Will Be Blood” had helped us understand H. W. Plainview and in doing so helped us better to understand and evaluate Gates, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford, then it would have been a remarkably good movie.