Sunday, March 30, 2008

Thoughts on There Will Be Blood

I had been disappointed at being unable to go watch There Will Be Blood with the class earlier this semester, as I thought it might be interesting to watch the movie with other people with vested interest and background knowledge on oil and energy. When I watched it earlier this week, I went a completely different route and watched it with a couple of buddies who had neither, and it made for a different, but still interesting experience. They'd both already watched the movie before, and as the movie is fairly slow paced, we had plenty of chances to discuss what we were watching.

I thought that the first 20 minutes or so of the movie were really, really fantastic in how it depicted miners and oil prospectors and how hard a life it was. Daniel Day Lewis plays a silver miner who very nearly kills himself working in ridiculously hazardous self constructed mines before he fortuitously strikes a seeping oil reservoir. Something my friends commented on was how surprising they found the crude drilling tools when Day-Lewis's character first starts drilling for oil. I remembered seeing the pre-Hughes tools at the Bullock museum, and I thought the movie did a great job of portraying how early oil drilling meant almost literally using clawing the oil out with your bare hands.

The movie does a good job of showing that drilling becomes a more refined and expensive process later on, using large oil derricks that symbolize Lewis's developed business, but gives a very Hollywood spin on it. The guys I was watching with were surprised to learn that despite how Paul Thomas Anderson shows a successful drilling job, not every production well gushes oil through the derrick like Spindletop. Also, derricks and reciprocating pump jacks are visually synonymous, used interchangeably to represent a drilling job through the movie. Despite these inaccuracies, the movie illustrates how expensive, risky, and unpredictable drilling for oil can be.

I loved the final scene of the movie that describes drainage in the now famous milkshake analogy. I was unable to find the transcript of the court case, but the line apparently was almost directly transcribed from former senator Albert Fall when prompted to explain drainage before Congress during the Teapot Dome scandal (Ref USA Today). Without going into mineral rights for moviegoers, the quote offers a simple enough explanation even legislators could understand.

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