This visceral, poignant, haunting behemoth of a movie takes no prisoners. It is simultaneously an unrelenting portrait of an evil man and the documenting of a period of history in which the world changed forever.
Drilling for oil is an inherently violent business. Man build’s giant machines to invade the earth and draw out the fossilized remains of organisms that existed millennia ago. The violence of their resurrection is matched by the fearful depths the prospectors will sink to within themselves to reach the black gold. The dark, seemingly limitless wealth in the belly of the earth is like the limitless evil we can draw on should we be so motivated.
Our antihero, Plainview, is tormented and evil yet presents himself as an honest family man, an `oil man’. This draws an unbroken connection between the dark insanity of the early days of oil and the republican oil men today who also are steeped in blood whilst professing Christian family values. More than this, that these wild, violent times are the immediate foundation of our culture throws our `civilization’ into sharp relief.
Finding this cheap almost limitless source of energy under our feet propelled humanity on an expansive projection that would subjugate much of the living world. We have changed our planet using oil powered technologies. If we ever needed reminding that this happened without a master plan this film is it. It is in a frenzied state that we have transformed our society into raging fire, fuelled by fossil fuel that is consuming the rest of the biosphere.
Emerging from the misery of oil exploration, with the greed and avarice, danger and death, presented with the back drop of a changing planet, with oil wars raging, we have this starkly beautiful film. This honest work of art allows us to see not just our own story but the interior workings of the mind of the species that sits atop the apex of life on this planet. At worst, we are stupid, bald monkeys on a collision course with extinction. But there is beauty on the road to oblivion; the dark horror the film describes is juxtaposed with the creative genius of the making of the film. It is humanities creative abilities that make existence worthwhile. Maybe there is hope.