“If I Say I’m an Oil Man, You Will Agree”

Well I finally got to witness PT Anderson’s latest, and holy shit was it good.

Watch out, this man WILL drink your milkshake. 

There Will Be Blood is many things. Far more than just a simple story of an oil tycoon’s rise to prominence, There Will Be Blood has many complex themes at work.  It can be construed as a commentary on capitalism.  Or perhaps a religious allegory?  How about an intricate familial drama?  Dark comedy?  There’s a whole ocean of possibilities under our feet!  No one can get at it except for me!

It just wouldn’t be right if someone wrote about this film without throwing in a lame play on the title. So with that in mind, be careful as you read ahead, because “There Will Be Spoilers.”

Much has been made about monstrous evil residing in Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), but really Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) is every bit as malicious. Both characters exhibit an extreme desire for power. Both men have the will to dominate and control those who surround them. Daniel deceives, makes shady deals, and shows little to no concern for the well-being of his workers– all in the name of greed.  He is a cold and callous reminder of the very foundation of capitalism.

Eli on the other hand, is a man of God. However, much like Daniel, he lusts for power. Although he doesn’t deal in pipelines and oil derricks, Eli preys upon others using one of the most powerful mind control tools of all– blind faith. The desperate era of early 1900s rural America saw many people with nowhere to turn. Eli’s conviction and flair for passionate theatrics allowed him to have total control over his small town. The Eli Sunday character is a colorful demonstration of the absurdity of faith and religion.

The only truly virtuous individual to be found in There Will Be Blood’s twisted tale of deceit and destruction was Daniel’s son, HW. While the film first suggested that young HW may in fact grow up to be just like his father, Daniel’s reckless ways eventually took their toll. Towards the end of the film, we see that HW has created his own life and is really nothing like his father at all. The moment where HW walks out on Daniel is a pivotal moment in the film.

The disintegration of Daniel once HW bids him farewell is harrowing. Daniel’s response to HW’s statements suggested he never did care for this “bastard in a basket,” when in reality HW was the last stabilizing force in Daniel’s life. Throughout the film, HW is among the only people that can crack the cruel exterior of Daniel.  Once HW has made it clear that he is leaving to start his own oil business, he becomes a competitor to Daniel– and we all know how much Daniel hates his competitors.  Afterwards, in one of my favorite scenes from the film, we see an inebriated Daniel passed out in the gutter of his indoor bowling alley.  A lovely visual metaphor telling us that even though Daniel is by all means a successful man, he truly has nothing.  The empty rewards of a capitalist society.

In any event, I believe this film to be more or less a study of capitalism and Christianity.  Observe the conflict between Daniel and Eli.  Both men are extremely proud men. Men that “have a competition” in them.  One worships the dollar, the other worships a god.  It’s the evils of capitalism versus the evils of religion.  We see Daniel slap Eli around early on in the film, tossing him into the oil and ridiculing his faith.  Eli later enacts a small measure of revenge by humiliating Daniel in the middle of his church.  But it would be Daniel who has the last laugh.

In There Will Be Blood, Daniel’s capitalistic ways are triumphant.  When Eli comes crawling back to the greedy, godless oilman asking for money, Daniel becomes more sure than ever before that there can be no salvation through faith in God.  A man must create his own destiny.  Daniel gets Eli to admit that he is a false prophet and that God does not exist.  Daniel then brutally murders Eli using one of his superfluous material possessions gained through his cut throat capitalistic means– a bowling pin.  Capitalism has triumphed over religion and has now established itself as the driving force behind American society.

Whew.  That was a lot– and this is but one interpretation.  There Will Be Blood is a richly layered film stacked with gorgeous shots, a haunting score, and knock-out performances. I think the vicious oil man can best sum up the experience of There Will Be Blood– as he nonchalantly states after witnessing Eli’s animated performance at the church, “That was one goddamn helluva show.” Indeed.


~ by theoberlander on February 15, 2008.

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