“I drink your milkshake!” – Daniel Plainview
Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007) is a grand, epic, strange, and mysterious film. It is just as curious as it is involving. What Anderson was able to accomplish was to present its story of a ruthless and greedy oil prospector at the turn of the 20th century, and provide him with deeper layers that make him more than what he may seem at first. There is something hidden, bubbling just beneath the surface of both the character and of the movie itself. It’s hard to pinpoint, but we know assuredly that Anderson is giving us more than what is simply on the screen. Ambition and capitalism is taken to the extreme, where no one, including family and loved ones, will stand in the way of a man driven to insanity by his success. So far does the character go, that we doubt he’ll ever be able to return from the abyss.
Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a character who is almost bigger than the film itself. His sole motivation is monetary success—it is the reason for his existence, and nothing else. This, fueled with a burning desire to see all of his competition fall at his feet, results in a person who will go to any lengths to get what he wants, even if it alienates him from nearly everyone else in his life. The opening scene of the movie has Daniel mining alone for silver, which he finds. Unfortunately, he suffers an accident leaving him with a bad leg injury. This does not hinder his expedition, though, and realizing that he needs to take advantage of this newly found discovery, he decides to drag himself on his back through the harsh wilderness to civilization. It’s an act of sheer will, but of sheer madness as well. And this is the opening scene of the movie. I liked the fact that Daniel does not say a word in this sequence, because words are not needed. His actions alone are enough to tell us what kind of person he is, and how far he is willing to go.
As the film progresses, we come to find that Daniel is a man of facades. He is an actor performing whatever role is required of him. This way, Daniel positions himself toward his goal, and when he is about to achieve it, lets no one stand in his way. When he speaks, he does so with a cadence and clarity of a public speaker. When he moves around a room, he does so confidently and with very little hesitation. He brings his adopted son H.W. (Dillon Freasier) by his side to give the impression that he is a family man—he uses him as a prop rather than an actual son. He is very knowledgeable about the oil business and how to properly drill, and uses this knowledge to con people into letting him work their land. Promises and agreements are made but are not often kept. Daniel will go to just about any lengths he needs to. When he makes a deal to run an oil line through a person’s property, part of that deal requires him to be baptized. I particularly enjoyed another scene where Daniel first debuts his oil rig in a small town in California, shaking hands and kissing little children on the cheek as if he were a politician running for office. Deep down, however, we know what his true motivations are, and we wait until his real personality bubbles to the surface.
I’m surprised by how easily Daniel is able to admit that he hates most other people. There is a rage inside of him, pushing him to succeed and to see everyone else fail. But for me, there is much more to this character than simply his hate. I think there is a hint of humanity in him, wanting to come out but trapped behind a wall of insecurity and blind determination. It’s easy to say that he is an evil character (which he is), yet he is an evil character who probably once was a good man. Take, for example, the fact that he even adopted a son. H.W.’s real father died in an oil rig accident, yet Daniel decided to keep and raise him as his own. Did he do it for the simple fact that he wanted to use him as a prop later on in life? I don’t think that was his sole reason. There a number of moments where we see Daniel taking care of the young H.W., holding him in his arms and treating him like a real father would. When H.W. suffers an accident of his own, which causes him to become deaf, Daniel runs to his side and takes him out of harm’s way. Watch as he does this; does he handle H.W. like a valuable tool that he needs to keep his family-man persona alive? I believe it is more of a sincere act, where Daniel truly shows that he does feel for this child. Now, Daniel is not made out to be a sympathetic character, but at these certain times we can see a good person inside of Daniel peeking through, regardless of how infrequent that may be.
And what of the mysterious stranger who goes by the name of “Henry” (Kevin J. O’Connor)? Henry appears at Daniel’s doorstep, claiming to be his half-brother, and possessing a diary that contains many details known only to Daniel and his family. For a person that seems so closed-off and unwilling to let anyone i to his close-knit circle of confidants, Daniel very easily allows Henry into his life. So much so that Henry becomes somewhat of Daniel’s right-hand man, accompanying him on business transactions and meetings. He never asks for money, never steals from him, and is very humble and unobtrusive. Perhaps the reason that Daniel lets Henry into his world is because, just like H.W., Henry represents a piece of Daniel that is slowly slipping away. The more wealth that Daniel gains the more his own humanity withers away. He keeps Henry by his side as a means to remind him of who he once was and where he came from, because his half-brother and adopted son are all the family he has left. The moment when Henry’s true identity is revealed is a real turning point for Daniel’s character. This betrayal is really the beginning of the end for him; from this moment to the end we find him becoming more and more paranoid, and mad to the point of no return. His thirst for money only heightens, and his hate for other people only intensifies.
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