Monday, April 7, 2008

Monday Movie Day Reviews: Integrity vs. Despair

There Will Be Blood (2007): Yes, I finally saw it. And I am still processing this film. It is likely one of, if not the, best-made films from 2007. It is also one of the darkest and least-accessible films nominated for Best Picture. The film feels like a twisted version of Citizen Kane, Daniel Plainview playing the part of Kane, with his son H.W. as a human-Rosebud. There are so many themes and symbols in the film--greed, father-son relationships, corruption, moral integrity, despair, hatred--that it is difficult to summarize the entire film--it is rich with symbolism.  The soundtrack is unnerving and creepy, leaving me squirming in my seat at times. Daniel Day-Lewis' performance will likely go down in history; he fully incarnates the character of Daniel Plainview. Perhaps the best way I can describe the film is that I appreciate it--it has incredible creativity and value as a film--but I did not enjoy it--it was somewhat disturbing and morally bankrupt. I will have to see it again soon on DVD. Perhaps new insights will emerge. (9.5 out of 10)

The Barbarian Invasions (2003): On a lighter note, this Canadian Best Foreign Film winner is about a man dying of cancer and his last days with his friends and family. Oh wait...that's depressing too. Yet the film does an excellent job of balancing out celebration of life with the painful despair of death in a way that was not overly dramatic or cheesy. It respected the audience enough to allow us to feel for the characters in ways that aren't coerced or forced by overly-dramatic music or dialogue. The relational progress between the main character and his estranged son is very well done. There are a few significant downsides: it does have a lot of awkward sexual dialogue--the main character had quite a few escapades in his day, which he recalls with glee--and it has a less-than-redemptive finale (which I won't spoil, suffice to say, it leaves the audience with a false sense of hope). It actually made me cry at one point, which shows that it's an emotionally-moving and well-acted film. But while its message feels warm and fuzzy, it ultimately lacks truth and redemption: life is whatever you make it; your legacy is found in how much you enjoyed doing whatever you wanted to do. (6.5 out of 10)

Wild Strawberries (1957): Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, this contemplative film also centers around an elderly man in the final days of his life. Professor Isak Borg travels to Lund, Sweden for an honorary award. Along the way, he experiences dreams and flashbacks to his youthful years, confronting him with the lonely emptiness of his existence. Various characters surround Isak throughout the film, including his beautiful but heartbroken daughter-in-law, three young travelers, and an embittered middle-aged couple. Each character brings out a different memory and response from Isak, forcing him to ask some deep questions about God, meaning, and the purpose of his life. (8 out of 10)

Both Wild Strawberries and The Barbarian Invasions reminded me of psychologist Erik Erikson's final stage of development: integrity vs. despair. This final stage of life focuses on coming to terms with death and the legacy a person leaves behind. Was their life full of accomplishments or regrets, fond memories or dark ones, a legacy or loneliness? What was really important in life after all? In fact, There Will Be Blood wrestles with similar questions--does Daniel Plainview's pursuit of oil bring him hope and integrity, or despair and loneliness? Are any of these characters ultimately satisfied in what they put their hope in? These are some thought-provoking films that seek the source of truth, meaning, and purpose.


  1. Glad to hear that you liked There Will Be Blood. More or less than the other Best Picture nominees?

  2. Cam-
    If I had to rank the Best Pic nominees in order of what I feel to be the best-made film, here is my list:

    1. There Will Be Blood
    2. No Country for Old Men
    3. Juno
    4. Atonement
    5. Michael Clayton

    If I had to rank them in order of film-I-enjoyed-and-appreciated-the-most:

    1. Juno
    2. No Country for Old Men
    3. Atonement
    4. There Will Be Blood
    5. Michael Clayton

    I still think There Will Be Blood was hard for me to enjoy as a film experience compared to the others, though I see its value and merits. Overall, they are some of the best Best Picture nominees I've seen in years. 2007 was a great year for film.

  3. I just watched There Will Be Blood for a second time on DVD, and I now can say that I both appreciate and enjoy it. It is still a dark and haunting film, but I liked it much better the second time around.

  4. hey joel, mark just watched there will be blood (i wasn't interested in watching something so dark at this point in my life)- and he did NOT like. it sort of reminded him of that clint eastwood film "unforgiven" which he did like. anyway, i can tell he is processing it which is good. will be fun to see his opinion as he digests it.