Despite its ineligibility to win an Academy Award in 2007, the score for the film "There Will Be Blood", written by Radiohead lead guitarist/ondes-martenot player/lemon-shaped-shakey-thing-shaker Jonny Greenwood, is widely recognized as one of the best in recent memory. (The only thing that kept it from winning an Oscar is that, technically, it is not completely original... parts of it are derivative of Greenwood's earlier orchestral work, "Popcorn Superhet Receiver" and the score from the documentary "Bodysong"). Its sinister undercurrent swells and recedes, billows and tapers. At times discordant, at others calm, it complements the diegetic goings-on in a way uncommon for a film score. In many ways, the score acts as a narrator - telling us in a strangely understandable way the mood of the scene. In times of confusion, it is uncomfortably arrhythmic. In moments of mortal danger, it is menacingly stilted and slithery. Greenwood's score gives us as close an understanding as we could possibly have of a character as unsettlingly powerful and unfathomable as Daniel Plainview. Like the oil waiting to burst from the land beneath his feet, Greenwood's strings as well as Plainview's temper roil and and bake, trembling, waiting for their moment to explode forth in staccato fury. It is this dimension of the score - that it successfully reflects the theme of the film and attitude of the character - that make it so articulate despite its complexity and peculiarity.
The score progresses in a way that parallels the film's narrative. The film opens with a long, wavering note; buzzing strings over sweeping shots of the desolate dust plains of the American Southwest. This buzzing is as ominous as it is directionless - unformed, rooted to no real theme. Sinister in its simplicity. Correspondingly, Plainview's work at this time in the film is solitary and amateurish, as was the case for many argonaut prospectors of the late 19th century. The music becomes more structured as Plainview becomes more organized and prosperous, adding members to his team. It continues in this way, adding new elements and patterns as the characters (particularly Plainview) develop, and as thematic framework takes root. Perhaps one of the score's most striking features, though, is not its building complexity, but rather the power it has in absence. In its sharply sudden lapses, it tells more of impending danger than does any sustained theme. In its silence as well as in its seething presence, the music acts as both a portent and a shroud at the same time - it makes us feel an imprecise sense of doom and malaise, telling us something mortally terrible is about to happen; yet it obfuscates what we expect from the scene, heightening tensions in subtly unnerving increments to the point of extreme discomfort, in much the same way that the unreadability of Plainview's demeanor and expression causes extreme unease for those in his presence.
But the cleverness does not end here. After the film's final scene, an exchange more shockingly bizarre and violent than any up to that point (famous for the grotesque piece of dialogue "I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!"), the screen lingers on the image of a blood-crazed and exhausted Plainview (having brutally beaten his nemesis to death with a bowling pin), rendered as helpless and deranged as he once appeared staunch and dominant, sitting hunched and childlike on the floor, before abruptly cutting to credits. The music, despite the image, is heroic and lithe - Brahms's Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77. This European classical music does not whatsoever fit the mode of the film's score to that point, but in an absurd way is as expressive as the rest. It is now the incongruence that speaks volumes - a stately and composed string arrangement overlaying such a wretched image. And whether the choice to close with Brahms was made by Greenwood or director P.T. Anderson or somebody else, it was the genius of Greenwood's score that preceded this moment that lends it its power.