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This Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Oil Yard

written by: on August 24, 2011

It’s rare that a film’s soundtrack plays such an integral role in the film’s plot and the effectiveness of that device. Sure, it could be argued that when a film utilizes the perfect song, the two become synonymous. It’s near impossible to hear “Tequila” by The Champs and not think of “The Sandlot,” or “Singing In The Rain” and not get mortified by the ultra-violent Alex de Large of “A Clockwork Orange.” However, no film has ever relied as heavily on its score—and not felt like a copout—than Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece, “There Will Be Blood.”

Of course, the first thing that pops into one’s mind when “There Will Be Blood” is mentioned is Daniel Day-Lewis’ infamous—and oft parodied—“I drink your milkshake” scene that concludes the film. Despite the numerous parodies, when put in context of the film it is both a climactic and volatile ending. However, if it weren’t for the build up to that point it would merely be an awkward phrase that would quickly be forgotten—something that the score helped realize.

From the beginning of “There Will Be Blood,” the soundtrack, composed by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, shows that it is one of the film’s most important attributes. Day-Lewis’ acting in the film nabbed him an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance as Daniel Plainview, and Anderson’s writing and directing is better than the rest of his efforts—which is impressive considering both “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights” are on his résumé. One thing that is often forgotten is how much of the film’s first two acts are spent keeping its characters silent while a bombastic soundtrack ratchets up the tension.

Greenwood’s soundtrack is orchestrated, quite literally, in a manner that pulls from classical music and has little ties to the group that brought Greenwood to fame. Yet “There Will Be Blood” was not Greenwood’s first foray into a classical-based genre, as he created the Bodywork album four years prior for a film of the same name. Also of note is that Bodywork’s “Convergence” plays a pivotal role in the film when an oil derrick catches fire. While the scene is incredibly tense and characterizes much of the struggle of the cut-throat oil business that inspired the film—as well as Upton Sinclair’s novel, “Oil!,” upon which the film is based—it is Anderson’s conscious choices to allow the soundtrack to substitute as dialogue that make such a clip so powerful.

Throughout the film, the score does not take a backseat. Often times, Greenwood’s work will stand side-by-side with Day-Lewis’ guttural delivery. In doing so, Anderson finds a way to stimulate the audience by both progressing the story and subtly finding ways to increase “There Will be Blood”’s volatility without having to cut chunks from Greenwood’s slow moving, deliberate work.

This is what sets “There Will Be Blood” apart from other films. Anderson will often use full excerpts from Greenwood’s work, and find ways to use inventive camera angles to keep the audience on its toes. Even when the action in the film cuts away, the intensity that has built never trails off. Where many directors are sheepish to use lengthy musical passages, Anderson relishes it.

In many ways Greenwood’s soundtrack and Day-Lewis’ acting skills complement each other, creating an aura of tumult throughout the film. A powerful glare from Day-Lewis will sync up perfectly with a percussive explosion from Greenwood. While the actions of the film’s protagonist are unnerving—his despicable business practices being only a small facet of his less-than-ideal character—it wouldn’t maintain its power if it wasn’t matched with orchestration that mimicked Plainview’s dissent into madness.

Throughout the duration of the soundtrack, Greenwood is able to accomplish something that is rarely seen with cinema: The music can’t be separated from the film without diminishing its scope. In the aforementioned examples of “Tequila” and “Singing In The Rain,” those songs are linked to particular scenes—specific moments that call to mind a singular event. “There Will Be Blood” uses so much of Greenwood’s compositions that the two become interlocking pieces of the puzzle. Without one, there is gap that cannot be filled adequately. The ebb and flow of the music and film grow together, portraying emotion through the film’s characters as well as Greenwood’s movements.

At the end of “There Will Be Blood,” Plainview is a shell of what he was at the film’s onset. In a similar way, so is the music that sets the background. Both have become less enigmatic, and are much more world weary. They lack the charisma that helped them build to that point. When Day-Lewis speaks the film’s final words, it feels as if he is speaking as much for himself as he is for Greenwood. They’ve given all they’ve had, and it’s shown in the work that they’ve done. They’ve emptied out their arsenals, and the only thing utterance that would even seem truthful is when Plainview states, while gasping for air, “I’m finished.”