Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Feature of the Month: P.T.A.

[Warning: This Article is Spoiler Heavy]

There are three excellent contributors to this blog, and we have vastly different bends on the films that we watch. One of the best ways we thought we could all form a more cohesive batch of content for this arena was to start a monthly feature where all three of us focus on one subject but get to approach it from any angle we wish. For our inaugural "Feature of the Month" we settled on one prolific writer/director, Paul Thomas Anderson.

Paul Thomas Anderson is a difficult filmmaker to try and pin down to a simple definition; he makes films that are epic in a whole different way than we are used to defining the word epic as it applies to cinema. He doesn’t make films like Lawrence of Arabia that are period pieces of a giant, sweeping nature; instead his epics focus on the average and seemingly mundane members of society, characters that are in extreme situations but when it boils down to it they are just like you or someone you know. Each and every one of Anderson’s films is completely different, new, original and never what you expect. However, there are some things that tie his films together; his films are defined by characters looking for family or a sense of belonging, and a life changing event.

Hard Eight is probably the most “typical” of all of Anderson’s films, but he establishes his theme very strongly from the opening of this movie. The relationship between John (John C. Reilly) and Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) is what defines this movie; though they are not blood related they have a father/son relationship that is just as strong as if they were biological family. John emulates Sydney in every way possible from drinking the alcohol he likes, to learning to gamble the way Sydney does – he has allowed Sydney to fashion him into the man he has become. What the audience doesn’t find out until the denouement of the film is that Sydney came into John’s life because of an event that changed both of them, an event that only Sydney knows the truth of: Sydney killed John’s father.

Anderson followed up this gambler drama with the story of Dirk Digger in Boogie Nights. This film follows Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) who is recruited into the porn industry to become Dirk Diggler, and he is folded into the make-shift family headed by Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and Amber Waves (Julianne Moore). Dirk has a purpose and place to belong finally, but slowly and surely this family falls apart through the years because of another life altering event (though this one is slower than some of the others) – the inclusion of video in the porn industry.

One of the most complex movies ever made would have to be Magnolia which is one of Anderson’s absolute masterpieces. To include all of the relationships or those seeking them in this post would take far too long, but I do not think that you can deny that this film is about those bonds and the events that shape the characters. This film has many kinds of relationships focusing primarily on lovers and parent-child relationships. Everyone is looking for some kind of attention, love or respect out of the people around them, and this time the life changing even is so varied that it is hard to pin down as there are different ones for each character, but it is symbolically shown through the rain of frogs at the end of the film – life will never be the same for these characters.

Punch-Drunk Love is possibly the most simple story Anderson has ever told. Barry (Adam Sandler) is part of a large family but feels isolated and seeks love so that he can belong, he finally finds this he believes in Lena (Emily Watson), but not before being blackmailed by the phone sex line he used to endorse to get his sense of belonging. His life changing event comes in a car crash the involves he and Lena that is caused by the “henchmen” of this hotline. This event makes Barry finally take charge of the life he has built and force it into the position he wants to be in.

Anderson’s latest epic is the awe inspiring There Will Be Blood which is the only film I can imagine that he could have made to top Magnolia in scope and beauty. This film focuses on oil baron Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis) and his son; Daniel has adopted his son after a tragic accident kills one of his workers. Daniel has his family and his success until his life changing event occurs – an accident on a oil rig harms his son and takes his hearing. Daniel then becomes incapable of dealing with his family and his business and this sends his life into a spiral that completely changes things for him; this lasts until the end of the film when his son tries to be independent with his father’s blessing and Daniel strikes out and cuts his son off from his life, unable to accept that his son does not want the life he has fashioned for him. However, the story does not end there. Daniel eventually gets his revenge by destroying the person who helped start his chain of events the charismatic preacher (Paul Dano) from the community most of the film takes place in.

While Anderson may have one theme that seems to define his work I greatly enjoy him as a director because I think that on some level his films are beyond definition. They simply hold something in them that defies convention.

I am extremely intrigued to see what Anderson does next because I have a theory about his catalog of films so far. I think that he’s emerging into something new for his films; I’m not sure what it looks like yet, but I think There Will Be Blood was the first step in the next phase of Anderson’s career. In a way similar to Baz Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet & Moulin Rouge!) I think that in all Anderson’s film’s leading up to There Will Be Blood he was using variations on the same style, and now he is emerging into something new; I think his theme is being refined, and his style evolved. His next film will be one to watch for.

Recommended Viewing: Magnolia & There Will Be Blood

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of the best director's working today, no question. He always brings out the best in his ensemble casts and a lot of actor's today owe him their careers.