Monday, January 28, 2008

Drops of red tinged oil

Follow the trail. Where there is black oozing liquid, there will surely be blood. The blood may not be clearly visible on the surface but it will exist as a fusion of dried up blood molecules mixed and mated with the sands of time.

After all, in the last 90 years or so, oil has been the center of major battles and regime changes. The mad rush started just before World War I with the discovery of oil in the Middle East and the growing need of the Western World on oil to power their naval ships and war planes. Border lines were drawn and secret deals were made with nations to get their oil supplies. The need for oil started shifting certain political attitudes and even started influencing foreign policies.

In WWII, it was the need for oil that changed the fate of Japan and Germany. After Japan's oil supply was cut-off in the pacific, they attacked Pearl Harbor and as a result drew the Americans into the war, forever changing the course of the battle. Germany's downfall was partly fueled by Hitler's decision to break his pact with the Soviets and go after their oil fields. A wasted battle with the Soviets depleted the German troops and aided in the Allies marching towards victory.

After WWII, oil was once again center as the Cold War starting dividing the global map into strategic assets. The assets had to be protected at all costs, even if that meant regime changes. A moderate ruler would be replaced by a dictator or a dictator had to be thrown out in favour of Western friendly leaders. The political power of oil was truly exemplified when the oil supplies were turned off by OPEC in 1973. Anger and Panic surely led to some drastic plans drawn up to ensure that the World would never again be at the mercy of a few nations. We may be seeing the consequences of those decisions in current times.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, it was the panic of seeing the Soviets having access to oil supplies that led to a CIA backed campaign to drive the Soviets out. And it was oil that led to the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent Gulf war. In fact, if it were not for oil, then Kuwait might not have existed in the first place. But it is interesting that Iraq invaded Kuwait not only to annex the oil wells but also as a form of revenge against what a Northern Kuwaiti oil well was doing. Apparently, lateral drilling techniques at the Northern Kuwaiti well were leading to oil getting sucked from Iraqi wells and filling the coffers of Kuwaiti money. This technique of 'drainage' would be most familiar to Daniel Plainview, the main character in Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will be blood. In the movie, Daniel himself engages in sucking oil out of neighbouring lands, without their permission or knowledge ofcourse.

And in the year 2008, oil is once again a cause of debate regarding wars, invasions and even future national deals. Given that the world firmly depends on oil (unless one drives a car in Brazil), the timing of There Will be Blood could not be more appropriate.

There Will be Blood is about the greed that exists in man as he lusts after oil. But Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) did not start out going after oil. His initial object of desire was gold as that was the precious resource in 1898. Two years later, he moves onto oil.

Discover, Create, Produce & Consume:

How does a natural resource become valuable? When someone is able to create and mass produce a use for the resource. Otherwise, the resource would lie tucked away beneath the earth without anyone bothering to dig it up. If a resource has no value, then people like Daniel Plainview would not risk their life in order to get the precious resource.

Watching the action:

We hear no dialogue in probably the opening 15 minutes or so of There Will be Blood. We don't really need to. Just by observing Daniel, we know what kind of person he is. And when we do hear his first on-screen words, they are powerfully arresting. These are the kinds of words that can sway and lure people into a false sense of security. Daniel's measured words provide confident leadership and hide his evil intentions. Isn't that what all great leaders do? Mask away their real intentions with silky words? Well Daniel is a very good talker. When he talks, you can be sure people will listen. And if people do not want to listen to him, then he simply walks away as he does not have time to waste.

If the film had ended after 75-80 minutes, I would have applauded this as a masterpiece. But the film goes on for another 75 minutes. We are given enough information in the first 80 minutes to know everything about Daniel, his relationship with his son, the true nature of the religious man (Eli played by Paul Dano) and all the deals/handshakes/compromises that have to be made in order to be successful in the oil business. The final hour just spoon feeds examples for people who did not get that Daniel is pure evil or that Eli is not the true prophet that he is. The last hour shows that money is superior to religion and can truly bend people. But we already knew that very early on in the film.

Acting wise, Daniel Day-Lewis has given an amazing performance. Pure genius on his part! Then there is the haunting background score which alerts us of impending danger, which causes us to get restless and uneasy at the evil that lurks in men's hearts. The music and Daniel's voice still linger in my head, almost 4 days after seeing the movie. And I believe, they will stay with me for a very long time.

Rating: 8.5/10

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