Is There Will Be Blood an Update on 2001?

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Slate's Culture Blog
April 4 2012 5:41 PM

Did You See This? How There Will Be Blood Draws on 2001

There Will Be Blood and 2001 A Space Odyssey
Left, a still from 2001 (MGM); right, a still of Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood(Miramax)

P.T. Anderson is one of a generation of filmmakers who are unusually candid about their influences.  While he may not stuff his movies with as many different homages as Quentin Tarantino, he does nod to his forebears in a manner that’s unusually overt. In Punchdrunk Love, for instance, he employed the song “He Needs Me” from Popeye (1980), which was directed by his idol Robert Altman; when Adam Sandler’s Barry Egan punches a wall, he finds “L-O-V-E” written across his knuckles, an allusion to a classic scene from Night of the Hunter (a scene that was also referenced in Do the Right Thing).

While Anderson’s most obvious influence is Altman, a new video essay from Indiewire’s Press Play blog makes a strong case that Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was a key inspiration for Anderson’s last film, 2007’s There Will Be Blood. Editor and essayist Nelson Carvajal crosscuts between parallel scenes from Blood and the opening 2001 chapter, “The Dawn of Man,” to reveal similarities in both theme and composition. Blood’s oil echoes 2001’s monolith: Each is a Pandora’s box that will advance man into a new era and at the same time corrupt him. Watching the essay, Blood seems less a Citizen Kane-like origin story about America (and Southern California—Hollywood in particular), and instead becomes a more universal fable.

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One reason the comparison works: the music. Indeed, one could easily confuse Jonny Greenwood’s score for Blood with the György Ligeti piece featured in 2001 (Carvajal uses both in his video). The two composers have had pieces featured together on contemporary classical programs, and Greenwood’s score is largely a response to the work of Krzysztof Penderecki—many of whose pieces were used in Kubrick’s The Shining.

This also isn’t the first time Anderson may have paid homage to 2001. In Magnolia, Frank T.J. Mackey takes the stage to the tune of Thus Spake Zarathustra, the piece most associated with 2001, which first appears during the Dawn of Man sequence:

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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