BIS161 Introduction to Film Narrative/ESSAY QUESTIONS
For your formal analysis choose one question from any three categories listed below. (Some questions
have multiple parts.) Devote at least one, double-spaced page to each category.
Remember to cite evidence for your responses, and to make use of terms and concepts from your text,
Looking At Movies. Staple your analysis and plot segmentation together, with the segmentation on top.
Your work will not be accepted if it is not stapled.
Note: Some categories will be covered in class after your draft is due. Be sure to read ahead if you chose
any of those categories.
a) Do you see any narrative or visual patterns recurring? If so what are these patterns, and why
is the director repeating them?
b) Are the plot events presented in chronological order? If not, how are the events ordered?
Why were they ordered this way?
c) What is the film’s narrative structure? What is the inciting incident? What goal does the
protagonist pursue? What obstacles are encountered? If they are overcome, how? If not,
d) What is the relationship between story duration, plot duration, and screen duration?
e) What can I learn from the film’s subplot? What does it add to the film? Why is it there?
f) Is the camera the only narrator of the film? Or is there another narrator provided by voice
over or direct address?
g) What might I learn from categorizing the film’s characters according to their depth (round
characters versus flat characters) and motivation?
a) How are individual shots framed? What is the composition within the frame? Where are the
figures placed? What is the relationship among the figures or objects in the foreground,
middle ground, and background?
b) Does the film employ an open frame or a closed frame? Cite the visual clues that support
your answer. What is the effect of this framing on the viewer’s understanding?
c) Does the use of light call attention to itself? What effect does the lighting have on the
overall meaning of a scene? On the overall meaning of the film?
d) Does the shot or scene employ lots of movement? How does this movement complement
e) Are there elements of the film’s design (settings, props, costumes, makeup, hairstyles) that
play a significant role in the film’s narrative?
f) Is there significant use of off-screen space?
a) What kinds of shots are you noticing? Does the film employ shots other than medium shots,
e.g., extreme close ups or extreme long shots?
b) Does the film deviate from eye-level shots? If high or low-angle shots are used, are they
meant to represent a character’s point of view? If yes, what does the angle convey about
the character’s state of mind? If no, what does it convey about the character or thing in the
c) Does the cinematography ever call attention to itself? If yes, what purpose is served by
a) What elements are most distinctive in how the actor conveys the thoughts and internal
complexities: physical appearance, movement, gestures, facial expressions, speech?
b) Does the actor’s performance create a coherent, unified character? If so, how?
a) Does the film’s editing manipulate the viewer’s experience of time? If the editing is
condensing, slowing, speeding, repeating, or reordering time, is this being done for
expressive or narrative purposes?
b) Do you see moments in the film when the traditional conventions of continuity editing
(master shot, 180 Degree Line, shot/reverse shot, match cuts, parallel editing) are
violated? Significance of these moments?
c) How would you describe the rhythm of the film? Does it stay constant, or does it speed up
or slow down? How does the rhythm affect your emotional response to the film?
d) Are transitions between shots or scenes seamless or nearly unnoticeable, or do they draw
attention to themselves?
a) What types of sound (vocal, ambient, sound effects, music, silence) are used in a shot or
scene? To what effect? (If you’re discussing voice-over narration or music, specify whether
the source is diegetic or non-diegetic.)
b) How does the sound develop characterization?
c) Does the film use silence expressively? How so?
d) Do image and sound complement one another, or does one dominate the other?
There Will Be Blood: Plot segmentation
1. Exposition (15 min)
a. Desert, Daniel Plainview, alone in mine. breaks leg, but finds and sells precious metal
b. Daniel has more equipment, several hired helpers. Builds a derrick
c. worker killed in accident, Daniel adopts his orphan
2. Finding Oil (21 min)
a. Daniel, with adopted son H.W., offers deal to community of landowners
b. landowners argue, Daniel leaves
c. Daniel negotiates with a couple
d. At Daniel’s oil well, Paul Sunday sells location of family’s land, which has lots of oil
e. Daniel and H.W. “hunt quail” on Sunday land, find oil
f. Daniel negotiates with Eli Sunday (son), buys land for 5k to their church
3. Setting Up (8 min)
a. At real estate, Daniel buys surrounding land except one holdout (Bandy)
b. H.W. speaks with Mary Sunday (young child his age)
c. Daniel sets up drill and home, tells plans and makes promises to the community
4. No Blessing (16 min)
a. Choir sings on way to the oil well, invites workers to church
b. Eli asks Daniel to have him bless the well tomorrow, Daniel agrees
c. Next day, Daniel names well after Mary, no blessing
d. At night, man was killed in accident at the well
e. Daniel reports death to Eli after church service, argues
5. God’s Disaster (12 min)
a. Gas eruption at well, H.W. deaf, oil erupting, catches fire
b. Daniel fixing situation, celebrates “ocean of oil”
c. Next day, Daniel lies with H.W., comforting him
d. Cut to LS of desert: 3 oil wells up now
e. H.W. still deaf, Daniel decides to hire sign language teacher
6. Beating (5 min)
a. Eli approaches Daniel by well, demands the 5k for church. Daniel beats him
b. Dinner at Sunday house, Eli berates father, knocks him to the ground
7. Brother from Another Mother (18 min)
a. Henry Plainview, “stepbrother,” shows up
b. H.W. tries to kill Henry at night with fire to his bed
c. Daniel sends H.W. to boarding school
d. Daniel offered a buyout
e. Daniel threatens to kill the man for telling him how to run family
8. Baptism (32 min)
a. Daniel goes to speak with Bandy, the holdout, speaks with grandson
b. Daniel suspects and confronts Henry, and impostor, and kills him
c. Next morning, Bandy agrees to give land in exchange for baptism
d. At Eli’s service, Daniel is humiliated and baptized
e. Pipeline being built, H.W. returns
f. H.W. is taught how to sign, Mary watches and learns
9. Marriage, Mexico, Basket, Blood (24 min)
a. H.W. marries Mary
b. H.W. goes to see Daniel to tell him he’s leaving, learns that Daniel not his father
c. Eli visits Daniel, desperate for money. Daniel kills Eli.
1. Narrative - a: Do you see any narrative or visual patterns recurring? If so what are these
patterns, and why is the director repeating them?
One of the most noticeable narrative patterns in There Will Be Blood is the recurrence of
disaster associated with triumph. This shows the incredible determination of Daniel Plainview,
how far he is willing to go to succeed in his ambitions, as he is completely undeterred by the
disasters which plague his every strike. From the first scene of the film, Daniel pays for the silver
he finds with a badly injured leg. Nevertheless, he drags himself alone across an endless desert to
the estate agency instead of a hospital; the payout is much more important to Daniel than his
health. Several years later Daniel builds a small derrick to extract oil. This time he hires some
helpers, but Daniel is not one to let his workers risk their lives while he sits in safety. He is down
in the well when the derrick breaks and kills the man right by him. Daniel is horrified, but still
undeterred. A decade later, Daniel strikes big with the Sunday land. However, his adopted son
H.W. is injured in an accident on the derrick, losing his hearing. H.W. is the closest person
Daniel has to family in the film, and he loses the ability to mold H.W. with his voice. But during
the accident Daniel does not seem to greatly care about his son’s condition. Instead, as the sky is
lit by fire and oil erupts from the ground, Daniel is overcome with visions of future wealth. Here,
we begin to see Daniel’s determination differently, as the strength of his ambition overrides
concern for HW, his only family. While before we may have admired his doggedness, now it
seems like a wholesale gluttony.
Some other less obvious patterns hint to Daniel’s condition. For example, after he kills
the man who claims to be Henry Plainview, Daniel digs his grave with a pickaxe. It is the same
Daniel who was chiseling away with a pickaxe underground in the opening scene, and the same
shrill, unsettling sound of a string section that opened the first scene plays for the audience. This
suggests that Daniel has not evolved or grown since the first scene 13 years ago, despite the fact
that now he is established and considerably richer. He is still the same man as before, digging
alone into the soil. Now that we know more about Daniel, we can assign his characteristics and
drives to the same Daniel we saw at the start of the movie, who we did not know anything about
beyond his heavy, silent, lonesome endeavors.
2. Mise-en-scène - e: Are there elements of the film’s design (settings, props, costumes, makeup,
hairstyles) that play a significant role in the film’s narrative.
The strongest visual motif in the film is oil, which is often part of the setting and also
serves as makeup. It is fitting that Daniel’s wealth is oil, more so than something else like stocks.
Daniel is like a demon, originating out of the ground and viciously extracting a thick blackness
from the earth that sticks, splatters, erupts, and burns, just like Daniel. People who die working
for Daniel are thoroughly smeared with oil and blood, to the point where you cannot distinguish
the two. Daniel is intimate with it, and it represents him. H.W. is “baptized” with oil as a baby,
intertwining his fate with Daniel. When Daniel beats and humiliates Eli, he drags him into the oil
puddle; “you splash around in here!” and feeds him the oily mud, telling him, “I’m gonna bury
you underground.” Indeed, Daniel’s words are gospel, as he later says “I told you I would eat
you!” when he murders Eli. A simple beating would not be as strong a message as bringing Eli
down into the oil earth, which gives a darker and forceful intensity to the beating.
The oil in this scene also represents how Eli is brought down to the same level of greed as
Daniel. At first, Eli is resistant to the idea of drilling, but as Daniel makes his promises to the
town and starts extracting wealth, Eli is seduced by it, and wants his cut. When he comes to
Daniel demanding money, Daniel and Eli are both smothered in oil as they struggle in the mud
against each other. As Eli becomes intimate with the oil, it appears as if it infects him; he is
consumed by the same greed as Daniel. The next thing he does is beat his father just like Daniel
beat him, and he goes down the same pursuit of wealth, except he does not acquire it. His
desperation for it brings him back to Daniel in the end, and into the ground to his death by
Daniel’s hand, who is also totally consumed by the oil. All in all, the physical qualities of oil
make it the perfect vehicle to represent Daniel’s and Eli’s all-consuming spiral into greed.
4. Acting – a: What elements are most distinctive in how the actor conveys the thoughts and
internal complexities: physical appearance, movement, gestures, facial expressions, speech?
Daniel Plainview’s power over others resides in his speech, and Daniel Day-Lewis
performs this aspect of the role very appropriately. He speaks with an authoritative drawl, and
Vocal coach Erik Singer describes Daniel’s voice in the film as “vintage Californian.” At the
start, Daniel is silent, but as his business grows he must find a voice to sell himself to others so
he can profit from them. The first time we really hear him speak, he speaks in a soft tone, as if
only a few people, even though the room is full. His words are carefully chosen, and are
authoritative as commandments: “if I say I’m an oilman, you will agree.” The authority of his
speech takes on a broad range of tones. He promises the people of little Boston bread in a soft,
patriarchal way, while on the other spectrum, as Daniel murders Eli, he remains brutally poetic:
“every day, I drink the blood of lamb from Bandy’s tract.” The hate in his voice is still focused
and controlling when he booms, “I TOOOLD YOU I WOULD EEAAT YOU!” His voice is like
the God of the Old Testament: nurturing as he promises bread to the Israelites of Little Boston,
and unbridled in rage as he delivers on his promise to annihilate Eli.
Eli too sells himself to his congregation with his voice, and Paul Dano has no problem
keeping up with Day-Lewis’s powerful performance. In this way Eli and Daniel are cut from the
same cloth, and it is why they clash so hard. Yet Eli’s voice is very different from Daniel’s.
While Daniel is claiming what is his, Eli is a snake in the desert. Even though Daniel deceives,
Eli is spiritually fraudulent. He gives “one goddamn hell of a show,” when he casts out arthritis
from one of his followers. The saccharine sweetness in his voice, turning into the frenzied, shrill
rage contrast with Daniel’s commanding presence, and we decry Eli as a false prophet just as
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