George Toles on Paul Thomas Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson is George Toles‘s long-awaited dive into the works of one of today’s most beguiling filmmakers. Below we offer a three-point sampler to tantalize fans of Toles’s acclaimed film studies chops and followers of Anderson’s wide-ranging, always astonishing works.

1. The animating myth and subterranean logic of Anderson’s films since Magnolia is a remaking of the mother out of new materials, and the piecemeal recovery of mother’s nurturing power, which is as much feared as it is sought after. I think the quest for an archetypal female form and voice—the restored mother, brought back from “death” and reintegrated, as in A Winter’s Tale—accounts for Anderson’s characteristic sabotage of traditional narrative form. Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, and The Master all focus on incapacitated, near-outcast men whose environments both mirror their mentalities and imprison them. Anderson, with ever-greater audacity, removes the lynchpin of traditional narrative logic, and in The Master he dispenses with laws of causation almost completely.

toles2. The narrative of There Will Be Blood mirrors Daniel’s tight-lipped refusal to make known or shed any light on the physical or psychic ordeals he has been through. The “burial” of all the particulars of his trek render this harrowing, near-supernatural experience akin to all the other secrets of his upbringing and background that Daniel is not disposed to go into. The fact that he made it to the assayer’s office in one piece and is now able to file his claim is, for him, the pertinent element in his exploits. There is nothing for him to gain by offering tales of crawling backward, parched and wretched—a creature barely distinguishable from a desert reptile. He would prefer to be regarded as someone who has pulled himself together and makes no fuss about it, who awaits the ore results with a semblance of composure, and who will sign his name to the legal document with an ornate flourish.

3. Dodd’s plan for Freddie is somewhat different from the one Peggy offers. He aspires to fix the “push-pull” mechanism that holds Freddie captive, but to an even greater degree he aspires to preserve Freddie’s obscure wildness and unreasoning insubordination. Freddie accuses Dodd in the subsequent prison cell scene of “making it all up as he goes along,” though this is hardly a personal accusation, since Freddie has randomly borrowed the words from Dodd’s disillusioned son, Val (Jesse Plemons). Dodd and Freddie are alike in their drive to “make it up as they go along,” though Dodd wants his improvisations to have the force of discoveries that endure, while Freddie hastily loses sight of his actions before he has time to “make” something of them. Freddie lives without the satisfaction of internal continuity. Dodd, in contrast, needs to build a new world from his beliefs in the act of imposing them on others. The imposing is what keeps them substantial and alive in his own mind. Freddie, immersed in chaos and free from any communicable conviction, strikes Dodd as a true improviser.