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Creator / Paul Thomas Anderson

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P.T. Anderson will not take your shit. His eyes and mild smirk say so.

Paul Thomas Anderson (born June 26, 1970), also known as P.T. Anderson or PTA, is an American filmmaker regarded as one of the greatest of his time, with notable works of his including Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood.

Anderson has been said to belong to the "VCR Generation" of filmmakers, grouped with directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater, and Kevin Smith, and described as filmmakers whose careers were founded not upon film school training, but from an enthusiastic love of movies. He is the sole screenwriter for all of his films.

We will describe Anderson's directorial style thusly: if Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese had made sweet, passionate love and Jonathan Demme and Stanley Kubrick were the godfathers, P.T. Anderson would have been the fruit of their priapic loins.

Awful mental pictures aside, Anderson was Hollywood royalty well before he became a director, being the son of the late actor and announcer Ernie Anderson, whose most famous character Ghoulardi inspired the name of his production company. His life partner is Maya Rudolph, and they have four children together.

Not to be confused with Paul W.S. Anderson (although both have gone by merely Paul Anderson before) and science fiction author Poul Anderson.


P.T. Anderson and his works provide examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: A recurring trend in his work is emotionally abusive or distant parental figures.
  • Acclaimed Flop: Every film he directed was a critical success and a box office bomb except Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood, which were also successful at the box office; and Phantom Thread at least broke even.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Sexual voyeurism in Boogie Nights, a call to a phone sex line in Punch-Drunk Love, etc. But The Master, with its severely sex-addicted main character, takes the cake.
  • Angrish: Characters often get so flustered that they resort to inarticulate yelling.
  • Auteur License: Gained one after Boogie Nights and kept it ever since.
  • Author Appeal: He's got a real love for messed up characters unable to get their lives sorted out.
  • Being Evil Sucks: His characters tend to be their own worst enemies and victims of their worst flaws as much as everyone around them and Anderson tends to regard them with pity rather than scorn.
  • Be Yourself: A common theme in his characters is eventually accepting who they are, warts and all.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Apparently cancer jokes are this, as his father Ernie died of it. He has said that David Fincher should've gotten cancer simply for the jokes about it in Fight Club. It takes a dark turn once you realize Fincher's own father died of cancer a few years later.
    • He seems to really dislike film snobbery, as he dropped out of film school shortly after his first lecturer said that anyone who wants to make a film like Terminator 2: Judgment Day should leave, despite never making such kinds of films like that himself. He's also defended comic book films as being artistic.
  • Black Comedy: We're talking no-light-escaping, blacker-than-death comedy.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality / Grey-and-Gray Morality: His preferred approach to characters. Almost no one in his works is ever all good or bad and he tries to sympathize with and find humanity in even the worst people.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: A common trait among his protagonists is them being out of step with the times.
  • Byronic Hero: Deconstructed mercilessly throughout his work. His characters are extremely unfulfilled without human connection, while Daniel Plainview, the one protagonist of his who rejects companionship, is far and away his coldest, most vile character.
  • Central Theme: Themes in his films include dysfunctional family relationships, the power of forgiveness, alienation, regret, loneliness, and destiny.
  • Church of Happyology: His film The Master sounds suspiciously like a Happyology concept: A "charismatic intellectual" starts a religion in the 1950s.
  • Copiously Credited Creator: While his previous films are all written, directed, and produced by him, Phantom Thread and Licorice Pizza also had him credited as a cinematographer.note 
  • Creator Backlash:
    • In the commentary for it, he regards his first movie, Hard Eight with a mixture of dread and contempt, calling it by its original title, ''Sydney'' and talking about the Executive Meddling it faced.
    • He also felt that Magnolia was twenty minutes too long.
  • Creator Provincialism: Tends to set his movies in his childhood home of the San Fernando Valley.
  • Creator Thumbprint: Tends to reference the Book of Exodus with the Plague of Frogs in Magnolia and the origin of There Will Be Blood.
  • Dysfunctional Family: His films often explore the relationship between a family of very dysfunctional people.
    • Daniel and his relationship with his son H.W. in There Will Be Blood seems to be more about capitalistic interest and economic utility.
    • In Punch-Drunk Love, poor Barry Egan is such a mental mess because of the pressure put on him by his seven overbearing sisters.
    • Magnolia focuses on several failed parent-child relationships that are based on long-term hatred because of abandonment, assault, or abuse.
  • Dysfunction Junction: The majority of his characters aren't exactly emotionally stable.
  • Ensembles
  • Epic Movie: Most of his films are epics with some being more traditional (There Will Be Blood) and some more intimate while having a grandeur to it. (Magnolia) He even said in interviews that one of the reasons for Punch-Drunk Love 's origin was to make a more accessible film that didn't run over two hours.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: Shows up in a few of his works.
  • Family of Choice: One of the major themes in his movies is the need for a family (usually non-biological) and how denying/betraying it can lead to one's downfall.
  • Freudian Excuse: If his characters display awful or self-destructive behavior, it's usually for very sympathetic reasons.
  • He Also Did:
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Many of his films including Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Inherent Vice etc. usually have a hooker who is sweet, generous, or kind-hearted.
  • Humans Are Bastards / Humans Are Flawed: His films are known for exploring characters who have realistic flaws. However, his main protagonists are usually more like bastards (with the exceptions of Larry "Doc" Sportello and Barry Egan who are generally very sweet and caring people).
  • Kitschy Local Commercial: Magnolia, and Inherent Vice had these. Punch-Drunk Love has one in the DVD supplements.
    • The pornos in Boogie Nights get an honorable mention, for their inspired Stylistic Suck.
    • The main characters in Licorice Pizza make one, for Joel Wachs' mayoral campaign.
  • Lighter and Softer: Inherent Vice has a more comedic tone to it than his other movies, and Anderson said in interviews that he was inspired by Zucker Abrahams and Zucker movies.
    • Same could be said for Punch-Drunk Love, a ninety-minute Adam Sandler rom-com, when compared to the mammoth, depressing epic that was Magnolia.
    • And repeated with Phantom Thread, with much of the movie being a restrained chamber drama that also has one of his few unambiguous happy endings. Licorice Pizza has earned notice for being his jolliest film to date, being a straight example.
  • Magnum Opus Dissonance: Considers The Master to be the film he's most proud of, while many people cite either Boogie Nights or There Will Be Blood.
  • Mood Whiplash: It doesn't matter what the first half of the film was like; once you reach the midpoint of the film, all bets are off. P.T. Anderson is fond of what he describes as "gearshift movies."
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: A number of his films directly invoke real-life stories and people, like John Holmes inspiring Dirk Diggler, the Scientology-like cult in The Master or film producer/former child actor Gary Goetzman becoming Licorice Pizza’s Gary Valentine. He’ll often change names and add fictitious elements of his own to avoid direct comparisons.
  • No Ending / Gainax Ending: All his films from Magnolia onwards have had one or both endings.
  • One of Us: Not only has he defended comic book movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (especially in light of Martin Scorsese’s comments towards Marvel movies), but he’s also enjoyed the Men in Black films, stating that Men in Black 3 was beautiful and made him cry.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Aimee Mann, Jon Brion and from Blood onwards, Jonny Greenwood, have provided scores for his films.
  • Production Posse:
  • Reclusive Artist: Of a sort. Many specifics about his films are shrouded in secrecy until release, he doesn't do many interviews and refuses to be much of a participant on special features, believing his films should speak for themselves. However, starting with Inherent Vice, he started averting this, with the release of Phantom Thread getting him an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and well-received Q&As on Twitter and Reddit.
  • Scenery Porn: Especially There Will Be Blood and The Master. There's a reason that the former won Best Cinematography.
  • Signature Style: His movies are filmed using a dynamic camera. They are usually sneaky period film about a character who seems alienated from the rest of the world and has to learn about accepting themselves as they are. His films often show characters going through growing pains to reveal deeper insights about how culture has been formed.
    • They often have an expressive syncopated score.
    • He even tackles deep human connections whether it's through romance in Punch-Drunk Love or it's a surrogate family like Boogie Nights.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: His films go all over the place.
  • Smash to Black
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: A perfect example would be near the end of There Will Be Blood in which, after Daniel kills Eli and announces that he's "finished". What plays right before we get to the credits? This.
  • Stepford Smiler: He's very fond of characters whose outward happiness and charisma mask deep self-loathing and seriously troubled backstories.
  • Throw It In: His films feature a lot of improvised scenes.
  • Trolling Creator: While at the Cannes press conference for Magnolia, he announced that his next film would be an hour-and-a-half-long rom-com starring Adam Sandler to a room full of people who just watched a three-hour-long, emotionally draining epic.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • On a podcast promoting The Big Short, Adam McKay recounts how Anderson read a script he and Will Ferrell wrote (consisting of a musical number with sharks among other things) and when it couldn't get produced, he told them to write a script and whatever they made, he'd produce. And that script became Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Had Paul not gone on to make Punch-Drunk Love at that time, it would've been the only film he'd produce without directing.
    • There were also rumors about him writing Robert Downey Jr.'s adaptation of Pinocchio, with directing rumors not far behind. That fell through a few weeks later and Downey is looking for another writer. Such a collaboration would have been fitting as Downey's father, Robert Downey Sr, was one of PTA's biggest influences.
  • Working with the Ex: Despite breaking up with Fiona Apple, and along with her album Extraordinary Machine allegedly being about their relationship falling apart, Anderson later directed the video for "Hot Knife" off of The Idler Wheel...