Wednesday, February 06, 2008

There Will Be Blood

Everything in moderation.

In the Oscar-nominated There Will Be Blood, we follow two main characters, the nineteenth-century oil tycoon Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his nemesis, an Old West fire-and-brimstone preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), and their intertwined journey through life.

Plainview is the ultimate corrupt, yet powerful, businessman of his day. After discovering oil on a silver-prospecting venture in California, he builds an oil empire and thinks of nothing except grabbing more oil and more profits.

Sunday is a most fanatical, angst-driven, and judgemental evangelist. After his family strikes a less-than-fair deal with Plainview to sell their land, he uses the money to build a church for the community that works for the oil tycoon.

Plainview is annoyed by Sunday, and Sunday is equally angered by Plainview. Throughout the film, the two fuel each other's rage in their quest for temporal or spiritual victory. One might conclude that a blogger like myself - with an investment in faith and spirituality - would side with Eli Sunday in this battle, but this movie makes neither character worth a second thought.

What this film showed me was, no matter how successful a businessman might be or how inspired a clergyman might be, if they go to extremes, they betray their very cause.

Plainview was so focused on building himself up and defeating a simple country preacher that he lost all connection to those around him, especially his own son. Likewise, Sunday was so focused on building up his church and proclaiming victory over his secular rival that he, too, lost all connection with real people, including his own father. By caring more about their secular or spiritual ambitions, they lost sight of what really matters - their own families, friends, and anyone around them.

Extreme secularism (represented by Plainview) is no good. Extreme religiosity (represented by Sunday) is also no good. As in health, nutrition, and drinking habits, "everything in moderation."

If we are driven by success and career, sometimes we sacrifice what's truly valuable to us to achieve a promotion, a raise, or a pat on the back from our boss. As Christ said, "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?" (Matt. 16:26). What really matters in life - no matter how great our career might be - is our relationships with one another.

In the same respect, if we are driven to be the holiest person imaginable, sometimes we end up shutting out others because we're too busy praying, doing the "religion thing," or because we have passed judgement upon those around us. Once again, even if we are focused on God, but ignore all of those God gave us in the process, are we really getting anywhere?

The middle path - where we walk with one foot in the secular experience and one foot in the spiritual experience - is the best path. The middle path is the path that allows us to tend to and nurture our relationships with others instead of shutting them out of our lives in favor of our temporal or divine ambitions.

There Will Be Blood is a warning about life's excess. Let us pray that we will avoid the extremes on both sides, and instead, walk the middle path.

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