Some titles I love:
- There Will Be Blood
- House of Leaves
- A Sport and a Pastime
- Prometheus Rising
- Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
- Thus Spoke Zarathustra
What do these titles have in common? They tell you absolutely nothing about the work. Some of them are even a little misleading. There Will Be Blood? I mean, okay, there does end up being some blood in the movie. But it’s hardly a bloody film.
Nonetheless, it’s an awesome title. A few reasons:
1. There is a thick, dark liquid that is essential to (modern) life present throughout the film: oil. The title creatively associates the substance circulating through human veins with that underneath the Earth’s surface. As with humans and blood, the Earth spills oil when punctured. In both cases, it is usually a tragedy and often mixed up with violence.
I could make more oil/blood associations – the point is that it only occurs to me to do so because of the film’s title.
2. Exodus 7:19:
Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, over their streams, and over their pools, and over all their reservoirs of water, that they may become blood; and there will be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.”
This is the first of the ten plagues, sent upon the Egyptians for worshipping a false idol. The implication is that the tragedies that befall the characters and the town in the film are caused by their sin of worshipping a false idol: money. Visually, the quote calls to mind the pools of oil spilling throughout the town of Little Boston. The fact that it is water that turns to blood associates both blood and oil with water, particularly the water of baptism. Thus, the title’s Biblical allusion ties together the film’s main themes: capitalism and religion.
3. Unlike most titles, “There Will Be Blood” isn’t just a noun phrase. This is perhaps what is most striking about it: it’s a prediction. It lends the film’s themes a sense of necessity. The tragedies of the film are not accidental. They inevitably follow from the combination of greed and religiosity.
They Just Don’t Write ‘Em Like That Anymore
If you somehow missed it, I’ve got good news: media and content are being democratized. We no longer need gatekeepers to create and distribute content for us. Everyday people can create and distribute content themselves. Yay!
As we know, this means there’s a tremendous excess of material out there. How do you distinguish yourself from all the noise? Well, one way not to do it is with subtle, insightful titles that only make sense after you’ve seen/heard/read the content. Quite the opposite, in a world where everyone is constantly bombarded by content, anything without a transparent and immediately grabbing title will be ignored.
So now the norm is embarrassingly on-the-nose titles, not unlike the title of this post. Titles are becoming a marketing tool where they were once a creative part of the work.
Alas. Technological progress transforms the way we create and distribute content, usually in a good way. However, some kinds of art are always left behind. People care a lot less about calligraphy today than they once did. Does this mean we should regret the creation of typewriters? Of course not, The overall phenomenon is a net good. Even so, we may still nostalgically lament what had to be lost in the name of progress.
So consider this a (perhaps rather early) eulogy for the art of subtle and insightful titles.
On the other hand, titles like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance are evidence that hilariously unsubtle titles can also be awesome. Let’s call that a silver lining.
PS: Every work I’ve mentioned in this post is amazing, and not just because of its title. They all come with my highest recommendation.