Thursday, June 23, 2011
There Will be Blood
(for a summary of the film, click on "What Happens?" at the bottom of this post.)
There Will Be Blood is an extraordinarily single minded film, mainly due to Daniel Plainview, the central character. Although there are many characters, with their own developments, there is nothing that happens here, unless it is of concern to Plainview. He isn't a character who pops up often, strong, unyielding, smart and seething with rage and hatred for humanity. Even when he's being polite, the menace remains, not far at all from the surface. he's a forceful man, so much so that he is never required to use force and only does so because it somehow pleases him. The interesting thing about him is, he is for the most part, simply a businessman. Financial success is the only thing he really cares about and he's certainly a very capable force in it's pursuit, not willing to be stopped by even a broken leg with a long walk ahead, or even the most fundamental human attachments. Yet for all that determination, Daniel Plainview is not inhuman, while far away from being a warm and doting father figure, he does, in his own way, form an attachment to H.W. When H.W. confronts him about going out on his own, Daniel tries to dissuade him, although his acerbic manner is not at all what H.W. will listen to. Plainview's revelation seems very much a response to being stung. In his coming to grip with this, Plainview seems not unemotional, but someone who would control his emotions, just as he does his oil crews.
He does seem to have some need for "family" which he as not examined in himself. His humoring and acceptance of Henry, the fake brother, also shows this. He includes Henry in everything despite the fact that his presence has little value. H.W. was present in a similar manner earlier, but the boy's "sweet face" was at least an undeniably useful tool. Plainview understands the power of family, although he feels no such bond. His constant representation of himself as a "family business" attests to this. We know little of Plainviews's early family life, except that he left it as soon as possible and has no interest in talking about it. When Henry mentions his sister Annabelle, Plainview seems to respond warmly, yet his own father's death doesn't elicit a change in tone. Just before he kills Henry, he asks "Do I really have a brother?" with what appears to be deep interest, enough to put off killing Henry for a few moments.
Daniel despises falsehood, although it is a big part of his own image. His instant hatred of Eli, is the most direct example. Every liar in the world, is in a sense his "competitor" and Plainview's proudest accomplishment is that he is the smartest about it. "Inferior" falsehood angers him more than anything else. He doesn't flinch when killing Henry, or at the end when battering Eli. For him, this destruction is a need and compulsion, to crush his competition. This also comes up in his meeting with Standard Oil. His threat to cut Tilford's throat could be seen as a direct response to Tilford's feigned concern over Plainview's family. The idea of God, to Plainview is a tremendous falsehood, which makes hatred of Eli, especially intense.
While Daniel is certainly a capitalist, his capitalism serves his anarchist philosophy. He sees "nothing to like" in people and will only allow weakness in the interest of serving his ends. His main desire is to have enough money that he can isolate himself completely from the world. His distancing from H.W. shows his intolerance for weakness or defect. Although because being a human being, he cannot completely embrace this position, he does seem to have concern for H.W.'s welfare. His coldness stems as much from his not knowing how to deal with H.W.'s condition, as from the weakness, however. He attempts to speak to the boy, as if one of them is just not trying hard enough to speak/hear. Like family the concept is one he doesn't fully understand and doesn't have the patience to explore, as it keeps him away from his focus, the pursuit of more money, his means of isolation. Plainview is strong, smart and relentless. His main failing is that he isn't capable of a broad understanding of people or concepts that do not serve him. To him, they are obstacles which can't be crushed, and so can only be abandoned. Daniel Plainview sees himself as the ultimate authority on the world, and as such feels no need to check his anger. He accepts it and is very aware of the "building hatred" that comes with his approach.
The cumulative effect of it is finally unleashed on Eli, the living person he appears to hate most in the world. Eli acts as if they are peers, and this is not acceptable. The two have a long history of each man understanding the other's deceptive nature. Yet, they are not peers because while Daniel would claim to be his own authority, Eli credits God. Plainview's response when Eli asks a bonus "for his church" is telling. "Good one." he says. It's easy to imagine Plainview as an Evangelist, if he hadn't found silver one day. Eli breaking his role, and then his grovelling, is what assures his doom. As Plainview demonstrates when he claims that he himself is "The Third Revelation." and that he is "the chosen one." because he was the smartest. Eli comes to represent everything that Daniel despises in humanity and existence. He doesn't however, realize how much his hatred is part of his reason for being. Plainview enjoys his cruelty. His smirk while playing along with Eli, just waiting to reveal that he has beaten him as well as his amazingly contemptuous remarks, all come without much effort. He savors this destruction, and when it's finished, he realizes that he himself is finished as well, as he tells the butler. With H.W. gone, and Eli destroyed, and no "family" left, he is left with the problem of "what would I do then?" as he asked the reps from Standard Oil at one time. He has no more appearance to maintain as he has earned his isolation. He exists to make money, and to destroy his competition and both of these pursuits have come to their conclusions. So at that point, Plainview is lost, destroyed himself, although he may continue to live.
The film itself is a work of art. Although it's a period piece, it still feels relevant, mainly because of the great attention to detail and Plainview's impossibly large figure. P.T. Anderson, as usual uses the soundtrack to interesting affect, not relying on traditional background music, but using the background to drive the mood to a fever pitch. The environment feels authentic, the oil operation incredibly large, while the houses and spaces people otherwise inhabit are typically very small, until Plainview's house at the end. The movie Plainview's dialogue is incredibly sharp, showing us that as well as being physically imposing, this man can flay you with his tongue. Daniel Day-Lewis' performance here is truly one of a kind. He fills in the skin of this flawed monster, showing unimaginable menace with his inflections and his offhanded glares. He realizes that slapping Eli in public is far more humiliating than a regular beating. Even his choice of abuse shows the man's contempt. Every step the character takes is a reflection of the man. Despite it's vast settings the film is very much the tightest of character studies. Although the other actors involved all do their jobs impeccably, Plainview absorbs everything. Paul Dano as Paul/Eli is also quite good here, although like everyone else, he is diminished by the film's centerpiece, coming across as a weak contrast to Plainview. Where Plainview is large and effortlessly loud, Eli is slight and has to work for any volume, resorting to cheap theatrics to convince. Eli's deception is not convincing and he is so much weaker than Plainview, there is no doubt that he'll be destroyed.
There Will be Blood is certainly about Greed, deception, capitalism and false prophets, but not entirely. It's also about the difficulty of sustaining those absolutes. While it would be easy to believe that Plainview's character is unstoppable, he is not. It's his own force that destroys him. He enjoys "building the hatred" but there is nothing in the world that he loves. Isolation only gives him more space to drink and pass out wherever he likes, his money assuring that this will not be questioned. He spends much effort to be larger than life and can't possibly cope with the person he's built being contained when there is no destruction left to savor. Plainview can only hate humanity through its representatives. As such, he doesn't hate the church or God, he hates Eli, because he can be destroyed.
He can't destroy "family" or his need for it, so he settles for Frank and H.W. In the end the only thing that can bring him down is his own impossible weight, and it's in a sense, his amazing greed which consumes him. Whether the final scene is reality, or fantasy entirely produced by Plainview's own mind could be debated. I chose to view it literally, as the entire film is Plainview's experience. And the confrontation is very much his reality in any event. It's a fitting ending, as a hatred as great as his could only come from having himself as it's object. In some strange way, it's his own doom that he savors, satisfied in some small part that he himself performed it. He has exactly what he wanted, isolation from the world, muttering on the floor of his private alley having destroyed everything that was false within his reach.
In 1898, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) works his mine alone, and finds silver. Before he can bring it to town, he's injured falling down a mine shaft and breaks his leg. He forces himself up the ladder anyway and pushes himself into town on his back, with his good leg, in order to get paid.
In 1902, working with a crew now, he discovers oil in the same mine and changes the operation to bring up oil instead of silver. On of his crew members, a man with a young son, is killed in a mine accident. Plainview takes the man's son as his own, naming him H.W.
By 1911, he has turned his one well into a bigger operation with many other wells drilling. He travels the state as an oilman, acquiring jobs drilling others properties for a percentage of profits. He presents himself as a "family man" using H.W. to bolster his image, and distinguish himself from speculators and contractors, even adding that his "wife" died in childbirth, when his "family man" stature is questioned.
One night a young man name Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) tracks Plainview down and promises to tell him of a place where land with oil can be bought cheaply in exchange for compensation to himself of $500.00. Plainview and his associate, Fletcher Hamilton (Ciaran Hinds) discuss this offer, trying to get enough information from Paul to figure it out without having to pay him. Paul recognizes their efforts and won't fall for it. Daniel finally agrees to pay and Paul gives them directions to his family's property, the Sunday Ranch. Plainview journeys to the ranch with H.W. and they pretend to be quail hunting. He asks Mr. Abel Sunday (David Willis) for permission to camp on the property, which Sunday kindly agrees to, even offering them food and water and help setting up the tent (which Plainview declines) Plainview and H.W. meet Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) surprised to find he looks identical to Paul who sold them the information. While they pretend to hunt, they discover there is oil on the property. Plainview takes a moment to discuss his plans for the property and the business. H.W. asks what they'll pay the Sundays. Plainview tells him "not oil prices, quail prices." After dinner at the Sunday table, Plainview starts a conversation with Abel Sunday about buying the property. Eli sits in on the conversation and takes over the Sunday side, refusing his offer of $3,700.00. Eli questions Plainview's real motives, and mentions that they have oil. Eli asks for $10,000.00 "for his church" Plainview responds "That's a good one." and offers a "5,000.00 payment, with another $5,000.00 if they decide to drill for oil and a well produces." Abel agrees readily with Eli, and Plainview buys the ranch. Eli attempts to pray with him, but Plainview yanks his hand away.
After the purchase, Plainview gets information on the owners of neighboring properties and calls for his crew. H.W. starts getting acquainted with Mary Sunday, a girl about his age. He informs Plainview that night that Mary's father beats her if she doesn't pray. Plainview asks "Mary, she's the smaller one?" He manages to acquire rights to all of the properties surrounding, except "the Bandy tract" as the owner wants to speak with whoever is buying. Plainview has a meeting and explains to the town that there are many benefits to the process, such as resulting irrigation, so they can grow grain and have bread, and other agriculture, as well as new roads, jobs and education. Eli makes a point of asking if the new roads will lead to his church.
The evening before a new well is to be drilled, Eli catches Plainview in his office. He's aware that everyone is gathering at the well to watch it get put into operation. Eli asks permission to bless the well, even giving Plainview instructions on how to introduce him "The proud son of these hills, who tended his father's flock...and then you could say my name." Plainview says "That's fine." and even agrees to do it at 4:00 as Eli suggests. At the event, Plainview has H.W. and Mary Sunday stand with him and makes a speech. He refers to Mary as "a proud daughter of these hills." while Eli watches on, and says "God bless the well" himself.
Later Plainview takes a moment to talk with Mary Sunday. He asks her if she likes the new dress she's wearing and also if her father still hits her. When she is hesitant to answer, he says "I'll take care of you. No more hitting right? No more hitting. Now go." We see that Mr. Sunday is right across the table and heard their conversation, as Plainview looks directly at him afterwards.
Late that night, Daniel is alerted that a man was killed in a well accident. Plainview stops in on Eli's church and sees Eli doing a "faith healing" appearing to take arthritis from an elderly woman by calling it a "ghost" and threatening it before tossing it (the imaginary ghost) out of the church. Plainview eyes the proceedings skeptically, but tells Eli he can say a few words at the dead man's funeral if he would like. Plainview remarks, "Well, that was one goddamn helluva show." Eli tells him the accident could have been avoided.
The next day a building gas explosion in one of the rigs, knocks H.W. down. PlainviewPlainview turns to Fletcher and says "What are you looking so miserable about, there's a whole ocean of oil under our feet and no one can get at it except for me!" Fletcher brings himself to ask "H.W. Ok?"
Plainview: No he isn't
Fletcher: Where is he?
Plainview: Mess room.
Fletcher goes to check on H.W. while Plainview watches the oil go up and burn. They stop the fire with an explosion and he returns to H.W. who is still without hearing. Plainview calls in a doctor to examine H.W. who is very angry now and needs to be held back to be examined. H.W. stays in his room and can't hear Plainview's attempts to talk to him. Plainview asks Fletcher to get a teacher from San Francisco to come in for H.W.
Eli confronts Plainview outside with his crew, and asks commandingly "When do we get our money, Daniel?" Plainview answers by slapping him in the face and knocking him down. He keeps slapping him after that and asks "Aren't you a healer, and a vessel for the Holy Spirit? When are you coming over and make my son hear again?" Can't you do that?" Plainview keeps slapping him. Eli says "If you'd let me bless the well, this wouldn't have happened." Daniel says "You shouldn't have done that." He then drags Eli by his hair into a puddle, with Eli protesting about the money. Plainview slaps mud on him and says "I'm gonna bury you underground Eli." He then leaves Eli in the puddle and goes back to business. That night at dinner, Eli attacks his father for letting Plainview in to take advantage of them. He calls Abel a "Stupid man" and says "You're lazy, and you're stupid. Do you think God is going to save you for being stupid? He doesn't save stupid people, Abel." Eli also blames Paul.
Plainview is greeted by a man named Henry (Kevin O'Connor) who arrives claiming to be his brother, by mutual father. Henry tells him their father has died and presents a letter from Plainview's sister. Plainview is skeptical, asking for identification and quizzing him on his past. Henry reveals that he had been in prison. H.W. eyes Henry suspiciously. Putting H.W. to bed after dinner. Plainview asks "So, what do you want Henry?" Henry offers to work for him in any way and doesn't need any favors as he's a good worker. H.W. goes through Henry's things reading his journal, while Henry and Plainview talk in the woods. He refuses to explain much to Henry, and tells him "I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people."
Henry: That part of me is gone. Working and not succeeding, all my failures have left me...I just don't care.
Plainview: Well, if it's in me, it's in you. There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money I can get away from everyone.
Henry: What will you do about your boy?
Plainview: I don't know. Maybe it'll change.
Plainview tells Henry he doesn't want to talk about H.W.'s mother and adds "I see the worst in people Henry. I don't need to look past seeing them to get all I need. I've built up my hatreds over the years, little by little. Having you here gives me a second breath of life. I can't keep doing this on my own, with these, people."
That night H.W. lights a fire in the quarters while Plainview and Henry are sleeping. Henry wakes Plainview, who chases after H.W. who runs away. Plainview catches him and carries him inside. We then see them together on a train. He tells H.W. to stay in his seat and he'll be right back, but then leaves, sending Fletcher in to accompany H.W., who realizes what has happened and screams after Plainview who is walking by the train, before Fletcher restrains him. He then takes Henry to meet with representatives of Standard Oil, who want to buy his land. One of them makes a point of asking about his boy, but Plainview isn't interested in discussing it. They offer to make him a millionaire, but Plainview asks "What else would I do with myself?" The representative offers "Take care of your son." They remind him that he has nowhere to put all the oil unless he makes a deal with Union Oil to put in a pipeline. One the reps, H.M. Tilford (David Warshofsky) mentions his boy again.
Plainview: Did you just tell me how to run my family?
Tilford: It might be more important now that you've proven the field and we're offering to buy you out.
Plainview: One night I'm going to come to you, inside of your house, or wherever you're sleeping, and I'm going to cut your throat.
Tilford doesn't know how to handle this and apologizes, but Plainview leaves. He starts talking with his men about building a pipeline, and is reminded that he still doesn't own the Bandy tract. He decides to go talk to Bandy. He asks Fletcher about the size of H.W.'s room and is satisfied that it's big enough. Bandy isn't home when he visits. Plainview and Henry check around the property. He and Henry then meet with Union Oil, and arrange a contract for 100 miles of pipeline.
Plainview and Henry go out swimming afterwards. Plainview starts asking Henry some details about Fond du Lac, which Henry obviously doesn't know. Henry tries to act agreeable, but the information Plainview provides and Henry's reaction confirm that he doesn't know anything about Fond du Lac. Later that night, Plainview puts a gun in Henry's face and asks him for another detail about Fond du Lac, which of course Henry doesn't remember. Plainview asks "Who are you." Henry answers "I'm no one." He then asks "Do I really have a brother?" and Henry explains that he met Plainviews's actual unknown brother who told him the story and planned to find him, but had no money and died of tuberculosis, and Henry had taken his story. He pleads, "Daniel, I'm your friend. I'm not trying to hurt you. Never. Just survive." Plainview gets irate at this and shoots Henry in the head. He then buries him and falls asleep nearby, being awakened by Mr. Bandy. (Hans Howes) who tells him that in order to get his land, it would help him to attend Eli Sunday's Church of the Third Revelation and be forgiven for his sins. When Plainview asks "What sin are you referring to, Mr. Bandy? My sin of drilling?"Bandy suggests that he knows about Henry's murder, producing the pistol Daniel had used.
Plainview attends the Church and Eli takes the opportunity to humiliate Plainview, forcing him to admit he abandoned his child, and to say it louder several times. He then requires him to "Beg for the Blood" and takes the opportunity to slap Plainview a few times acting as if he's chasing off a "ghost." Work on the pipeline is started and H.W. returns home. Plainview shows off the pipeline to him. He tells H.W. he loves him and gives him a hug, but H.W. starts hitting him. They go out to a nice restaurant but H.M. Tilford and associates from Standard Oil, also happen to be there. Plainview approaches Tilford and reminds him of what he said he'd do (cut his throat while he's sleeping) and he also tells Tilford that he "Looks like a fool." forcing Tilford to agree.
Eli decides to leave the Church of the Third Revelation to "go on a mission." H.W. gets reacquainted with the work and spends a lot of time with Mary Sunday. We flash forward to see H.W. and Mary getting married and using sign language. Daniel Plainview now has an enormous house with its own bowling alley. He also has a gun which he uses to shoot things in the house. H.W. comes to visit him along with an assistant who translates the sign language. Plainview makes light of the fact that H.W. can't speak. H.W. announces that he's leaving to go to Mexico, to do his own drilling and start his own company. Plainview is unimpressed and says "This makes you my competitor." H.W. assures him that it isn't so, but Plainview disagrees. He sees "You're killing us with you're doing. You're killing my image of you as my son." H.W. protests and Plainview reveals that he isn't his son at all. He tells him he's an orphan and says "I don't even know who you are because you have none of me in you." continuing to say "You're an orphan from a basket in the middle of the desert. And I took you for no other reason, than I needed a sweet face to buy land...Look at me! You're lower than a bastard" H.W. says "I thank God I have none of you in me." and leaves with Plainview yelling after him "Bastard from a basket." We see Plainview remembering H.W. as a boy. He gets himself really drink and falls asleep on his bowling alley, waking to his butler announcing a visitor, who turns out to be Eli Sunday back from his mission.
Eli makes light of Plainview, yelling that the house is on fire to get him up, although Daniel doesn't seem to notice him. Eli compliments the house and brags about "spreading his word, far and wide." Eli calls Plainview his brother by marriage and remarks on their long history. Plainview mockingly asks "Are things down for you now, Eli?" Eli insists that they are not, but tells Plainview that Mr. Bandy has passed away and gloats that his grandson who owns the property now is the Church of the Third Revelation's most loyal members. Eli asks "Would you like me to speak with him?" Plainview doesn't bother answering. Eli doesn't drop it though, saying "Daniel, I'm asking if you'd like to have business with the Curch of the Third Revelation in developing this lease on young Bandy's 1,000 acre tract. I offering you to drill on one of the great undeveloped fields of Little Boston."
Plainview: I'd be happy to work with you.
Eli: You would? Yes. Yes of course. That's wonderful.
Plainview: But there is one condition for this work.
Eli: All right.
Plainview: I'd like you to tell me that you are a false prophet.
Eli doesn't answer and Plainview restates:
Plainview: I'd like you to tell me that you are and have been a false prophet. And that God is a superstition.
Eli: But, that's a lie. It's a lie. I cannot say it.
Plainview just glares at him and ELi takes a drink.
Eli: When can we begin to drill?
Plainview: Very soon.
Eli: How long will it take to bring in the well?
Plainview: It shouldn't take long.
Eli: I would like a $100,000.00 signing bonus, plus the five that is owed me, with interest.
Plainview: That's only fair.
Eli: [mumbling] I am a false prophet. God is a superstition.If that's what you believe, the I will say it.
Plainview: Say it like you mean it.
Plainview: Say it, like it's your sermon. Don't smile.
Eli makes a slightly better effort but Plainview isn't satisfied, telling him to stand up, and imagine he's speaking to his church. After many enthusiastic attempts, Plainview tells him "Those areas have been drilled."
Plainview: Those areas have been drilled.
Eli: No, they haven't.
Plainview: Yes, it's called drainage Eli. See, I own everything around it, so of course, I get what's underneath it.
Eli: But there are no derricks there. This is the Bandy tract. Do you understand?
Plainview: Do you understand, Eli? That's more to the point. Do you understand? I drink your water. I drink it up every day. I drink the Blood of the Lamb from Bandy's tract.
Eli is visibly shaken. He says, "Daniel, please. I am in desperate times.
Plainview: I know.
Eli: I need a friend.
Plainview: Yes, of course you do.
Eli: I've sinned. I need help. I'm a sinner. I've let the devil grab hold of me in ways I never imagined. I'm so full of sin.
Plainview: The lord sometimes challenges us, doesn't he, Eli?
Eli: Yes he does Daniel. Yes he does.
Plainview: Yes he does.
Eli: He completely failed to alert me to the recent panic in the economy. And this.. I must have this Daniel...
Plainview gets up and approaches Eli, who continue sobbing and complaining He tells him "Because you're not the chosen brother Eli. Twas Paul who was chosen. He found me and told me about your land. You're just a fool.
Eli: Why are you talking about Paul?
Plainview: I did what your brother couldn't.
ELi: Don't say this to me.
Plainview: I broke you and I beat you. It was Paul who told me about you. He's the prophet. He's the smart one. He knew what was there and he found me to take it out of the ground. Know what the funny thing is? Listen. Listen. I paid him $10,000.00 cash in hand. Just like that. He has his own company now. Prosperous little business. Three wells producing $5,000.00 a week. Stop crying you sniveling ass! Stop your nonsense. You're just the afterbirth Eli.
Plainview: That slithered out of your mother's filth.
Plainview: They should have put you in a glass jar on the mantelpiece.Where were you when Paul was sucking at his mother's teat? Who was nursing you, poor Eli? One of Bandy's sows? That land has been had. Nothing you can do about it. It's gone.
Eli: If you would just take this lease.
Plainview: You lose. Drainage! Drainage Eli, you boy. Drained dry. I'm so sorry. If you have a milkshake and I have a milkshake, and I have a straw, there it is [holds up his finger] you see? Watch it [walks across the room] Now my straw reaches across the room [heads back to Eli] and starts to drink your milkshake...I drink your milkshake. I drink it up!
ELi: Don't bully me Daniel.
Plainview grabs Eli by his jacket and throws him across the room into a bowling alley lane. He says "Did you think your song and dance and your superstition would help you, Eli? I am the Third Revelation! I am who the Lord has chosen! [starts throwing bowling balls at Eli] Because I am smarter than you!
I'm not a false prophet, you sniveling boy.
Eli pleads "I'm your old friend Daniel. Help me...help me..."
Plainview abandons the bowling balls and approaches Eli, saying "I am the Third Revelation! I am the Third Revelation! I told you I would eat you!
Eli: [trying to scramble away} We're family!
Plainview: I told you I would eat you up!
Eli: We're brothers! We're brothers!
Plainview now starts throwing bowling pins while chasing Eli. Eli pleads for forgiveness. and tries to crawl away. Plainview says "That's it" and knocks Eli out with a bowling pin. He hits him in the head with it a couple times and kills him, then sits down next to the body. The butler comes down to the bowling alley and says "Mr. Daniel?"
Plainview says "I'm finished."