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January 10, 2008

OGIC: Double feature

There Will Be Blood and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly each begin by taking us somewhere most moviegoers, and indeed the people who made these films, could otherwise only imagine: Blood to the depths of a nineteenth-century silver mine, Diving Bell behind the eyes of a paralyzed patient regaining consciousness after three weeks spent in a coma. In both cases I found myself conscious of and a little awed by the flights of imagination required to stage and film these scenes--the surmise that was necessarily involved to answer the question "What must it have been like?", not to mention the technical ingenuity (this piece in the Times last weekend on the production designer for Blood is illuminating on this point). And in both opening sequences space, vision, and movement are radically restricted so that we experience the passage into the rest of the movie as a widening of the given world--before it ultimately, inexorably narrows again.

I don't think there is a lot that connects these very different movies, but I was struck in each instance by a sense of sharing or seeing a foreign experience, one unavailable outside the movie house or the imagination. Seeing these movies in the same twenty-four hours was not necessarily my brightest idea ever: they both have powerful, distinctive visions that demand their own space in which to be absorbed and appreciated. In their own singular ways, they each have a hallucinatory quality and a series of indelible images. For me, the experience of Paul Thomas Anderson's booming, declamatory movie on Saturday overwhelmed the equally spectacular, but infinitely more delicate, sensual spectacle of Julian Schnabel's, which I saw at a Sunday matinee.

Still, it was better to have these two bump up against one another than to miss either one. They were among the very best 2007 releases I saw. I left Blood uncertain of what it was really about--greed? capitalism? capitalism and evangelism? obsessive ambition?--and I remain unmoved by any of the answers put forward in reviews I've read or conversations I've had, while remaining tremendously moved by the movie--especially any scene in which Daniel Day-Lewis's character, Daniel Plainview, wants something. The Diving Bell I might need to see again to fully grasp its beauty and its sharp irony: as seen, heard, and felt by a trapped and hungry mind, this world is an outrageously plenteous place.

Posted January 10, 2008 1:28 PM

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