Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece There Will Be Blood is a deep look at capitalism in both religion and business. Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day Lewis, is a walking embodiment of the themes Paul Thomas Anderson presents throughout the film.
Daniel Plainview is a prospector turned oil mogul. When we are introduced to him, he speaks no dialogue for the first 15 minutes. In those first minutes Plainview is injured while prospecting and breaks his legs. Yet he still manages to take the silver he was mining for and crawl out safely. The film suggests heavily that Daniel crawled all the way on his broken legs through desert to the nearest town. As he is having his legs treated, he still keeps his eyes set onto his precious silver. This shows the viewer how strong willed and committed he is to his overall goal, regardless of any pain. Plainview gains further respect when he adopts an orphaned boy whose father is killed in an oil drilling accident.
From his actions in the first act, Daniel Plainview earns a lot of sympathy from the viewer; we start to have the highest respect for what he does and who he is. After the first act he is a very different character for the rest of the film: he presents himself smartly, is well spoken and promises jobs and flourish to the communities he visits for land to drill on. Even though these are all seemingly lies, he still manages to convince the townsfolk. Daniel Plainview gets increasingly powerful and is very much at the top of his game. He has reached the top undefeated yet still hungers for more.
As the movie progresses he meets his match with Eli Sunday, a small town preacher who is just as ambitious as Daniel. Eli brings out the worst in Daniel, some even say make him more who he actually is. As Daniel himself says “there is a Competition in me, I want no one to succeed”. This applies most to Eli Sunday.
From their first meeting it is clear Daniel abhors Eli and everything his faith represents. He sees the worst in religion and sees how similar Eli and he are. As he uses his business for power, Eli uses religion. They’re become embattled in a competition, constantly testing each other. Things reach a boiling point when Daniel’s son is injured and is left deaf. When Eli confronts Daniel about money he had promised, he proceeds to slap and beat Eli in the mud. All the qualities the viewers might have found admirable have slowly started to fade away. Daniel Plainview has completely been consumed by his ambition and greed.
Eli finally gets his revenge on Daniel in one of the key scenes of the movie. When Eli invites Daniel to the church to ask for God’s forgiveness, it is the only time we see Daniel kneel and swallow his own ego. As Daniel apologizes in front of the whole town, Eli keeps brings up the son whom Daniel abandoned. Eli uses his son as a weapon against Daniel to belittle him and make him believe that Eli has won. We see this clearly on Daniel’s face as he goes from angry, looking defeated to almost regretful and sadness for what he has done. In that scene we get a true glimpse of who Daniel might be underneath the facade he puts up in front of others, even as we question his sincerity.
From then on Daniel welcomes HW, his adoptive son, back into his life. It becomes clear from outbursts in public and becoming a recluse in a big mansion that Daniel only reconnected with his son to get back into the good graces of the community. We then see Plainview years later older, hunched and alone.
Daniel Plainview’s biggest trait was that he always had a goal: unimaginable riches. He would do anything from murder, lying, manipulating, or even abandoning his own son if anything ever threatened his goals and what stood between them. Daniel has achieved everything he ever wanted, but that is left inside him is bitterness.
As the film comes to close one of the last scenes is an adult HW leaving to make his own path away from his father. Daniel is bitter and denounces HW as his son, and cursing him as HW walks away. Soon after we see a drunken Daniel stumbling his way down to some stairs and the film shows us images of Daniel and HW’s relationship when he was still a child.
We are reminded of the side of Plainview we once admired. The last image shown of them is both going their separate ways. As HW stays back, Daniel makes his way over the oil drill. He chose the power that the oil gave him over his own son.
In the final scene of the film, Eli comes back into Daniel’s life with a desperate land acquisition proposition. Daniel makes Eli literally makes him beg for him to accept the offer. Later Daniel reveals that he already drained the land that Eli had begged him to purchase of oil, rendering it worthless. Daniel uses his last bit of anger and energy to finally end the feud between them. He humiliates Eli to the point of crying and begging him to stop, and then badly beats him to death. Business won over Religion.
Plainview as a character is an enigma; he goes from being a quiet prospector to a politician-like businessman using communities for his personal gain. He is almost like a chameleon who changes colours to best suit his gains. We never really know the “true “ Daniel Plainview even though we may get hints of it. He is very much a product of what capitalism at its worst creates: someone who only hungers for power and wealth, but by the time they get it they are left completely empty inside. Plainview is someone who chooses his lust for power over his family and even his own happiness. Daniel Day Lewis compared Plainview to pharaohs of the Egypt who spent their lives building the magnificent pyramids which only ended up acting us their tombs. No truer observation has been made about this character.
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