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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What If There Is No Blood? 

I just finished watching – again – There Will Be Blood. Spoiler alert, don't read more if you haven't seen it. Many questions, many things I had forgotten from the first time.

James Baldwin said: "People pay for what they do, and for what they allow themselves to become. And they pay for it simply through the lives they lead." Like many people, I've worried the last scene to death (sorry), and I'm still tangling with its many implications – along with those of the title. Obviously "the blood" resists single meanings; Plainview is washed in it, but it's from a false prophet. But let's take the only blood we see. (Broken leg, no blood. Man killed in well, no blood. Plainview shoots his brother, no blood.) There's no question he's miserable when he's finished. No son, if he ever had one. Is the blood Eli Sunday's, or Plainview's? Suppose it's the latter – Plainview drinks the Sunday milkshake, but surely he can't taste it. It's fair to say then that (in this case at least) Baldwin was right.

But suppose there is no blood. Suppose Hitler doesn't shoot himself. Suppose Judas doesn't hang himself or his body doesn't split open. Suppose V loses and Parliament doesn't blow up. Suppose The Emperor wins.

It happens, right? Idi Amin lived to be 80. Same with Suharto. Maybe Balzac had it right – the spoiled daughters go off to live their happy little lives after sucking Dad's blood, and Père Goriot dies alone in lots of pain. I don't know if I can face a world so existentially bleak, nor can I abide the quantum uncertainty of the agnostic option. But do I, as a rational thinking human, have a choice? I want to believe in a universal law, but I must admit that I'm not convinced. People do get away with murder.

This train of thought brings us back to the other definition of "blood"; suppose there is no blood for us to be washed in. Suppose sin itself is an invention of the false prophet, eliminating the need for blood. If there will be blood, must there also be sin? And conversely, without the former, does the latter exist – or just its conception? More to the point here, can we have sin without blood with which to wash it? And can we wash blood with blood?

I'm curious to know what other folks think.


The trailer.

Today I'm listening to: The soundtrack.