SilentDawn’s review published on Letterboxd:
Part Four of Preparing (As Much As Humanly Possible) For Inherent Vice
MASSIVE SPOILERS HERE!
There Will Be Blood.
How can one describe such a film? Vibrant, exceptional, terrifying, comic, potent, and layered beyond belief; Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece is both a mesmerizing character study as well as a commentary on the dying age of the ‘old west’. In my eyes, every scene, performance and shot is utter perfection on every level. However, in spite of all that brilliance, the most flourishing blast of thought and absurdity comes from the title itself. It brings immediate expectation to the viewer, letting them know what might come. It also brings a magical and obscenely ironic punch-line when the credits roll, as the audience realizes that the blood came, just in a slightly more subdued fashion.
The film begins, not in darkness, but in light. The first curve-ball that PTA throws (one of many) is just in this one shot. The audience is greeted, rather jarringly I might add, with a grainy image of a barren California landscape coupled with Jonny Greenwood’s immaculate and searing strings. Immediately, the film cuts as soon as your nerves are fried, and it reveals the first shot of the main character; Daniel Plainview. This contrast is beautifully done, as it showcases one of the film’s main visual themes; light vs. darkness. There Will Be Blood revels in this theme, especially as it touches upon different character motivations, internal struggles, and frightful emotion.
In that second shot, we see Daniel Plainview with a pickax, steadily chipping away at the underground rock in search of silver. It’s easily one of my most favorite images in the film, mainly because it’s so disgustingly primal. For me, Daniel is born in this image, fully formed out of the rock and the dusty darkness for one simple purpose; consumption. While many consider There Will Be Blood to be a tale involving the descent into madness, I’ve never felt this way. Daniel Plainview, from the first moment of his life, wanted to consume everything. Money, power, land, relationships, friendships; complete and utter control was his life’s goal, and nothing would ever stop him. Ever. In my eyes, There Will Be Blood is more of a story about validation, and how Daniel needed everything to validate and feed his demonic, heartless existence.
From this beginning scene, we learn everything that we ever need to know about Daniel Plainview. He’s determined, he’s unstoppable, and he has a strange glare in his eye; his core characteristics are brought to startling life in this opening moment. It’s also a scene of exceptional symbolism. Immediately evident is the lack of dialogue, which continues for more than 20 minutes into the film. All that’s coming out of the soundtrack is an assortment of grunts, heavy breathing, yelps and screams; all bleeding in and out of Greenwood’s score. PTA is bringing the audience his version of a birth. The disparate clinging to the rope (acting as an umbilical cord), the dark and claustrophobic mining area (acting as the womb), and the constant search for riches (acting as necessary nutrients); It adds up to a scene that perfectly jump-starts Plainview’s story. However, the final moment of the opening scene is the true kicker. After Daniel crawls away after his fall, the camera pans up to a shot of a barren California landscape, which is the exact same as the opening frames. While the audience may have thought that the film began with light, PTA reverses that. The film began in darkness, right where Daniel Plainview was born, and that ironic switch reveals that the film won’t be one focused on the light, but on the dark.
Thus begins the opening sequence of There Will Be Blood, which continues without dialogue and continues to visualize Daniel Plainview’s evolution. Daniel never went ‘mad’, and he was never ‘mad’ in the first place. Instead, Plainview is shown as a man who is in complete control of who he wants to be and how he achieves it. He enjoys, revels, and rolls around in the misery of others, all while taking their land and their money. No matter what you think of him, the guy has confidence. And this opening sequence showcases Plainview’s mastering of his skills, his mannerisms, and his outlook on the world. Going from mining to drilling for oil, this segment is one of the most fascinating and tragic in the film. Workers die, derricks improve in complexity, success is found; but the most important aspect involves a baby that is taken in by Daniel after the death of the father. Their relationship throughout the film is one of the more jagged elements within the story, and that becomes evident as soon as the baby stares at Daniel in a way that would suggest that he realizes the missing presence of his loving father. What does Daniel do? He puts some liquor on the tip of a bottle, hoping to stop the crying. In one of the most beautiful and stunning shots of all of cinema, PTA sets his camera down for a short stare at Daniel and “HW” as a baby. HW looks up, both in admiration and in love, and Daniel looks down, contemplating how well this child will boost his popularity within the business. Does that suggest that Daniel never loved HW? Not necessarily, but as the film continues, it is made clear that Daniel has more “important” aspects to ponder.
The film then begins with its first moment of pronounced dialogue, spoken no less than by the leader of the film, Daniel Plainview. He is speaking to many members of property and land, discussing prospects and details if he was the one to be allowed to drill for oil there. After a boisterous and amazingly confident “sermon”, the crowd erupts into a frenzy, yelling at both each other and Plainview. Without a moment of hesitation, Daniel gets up and leaves with HW, leaving the crowd behind confused and greedy about their newly-found oil under their feet. For a scene so small, it also says so much about the current state of America at that time as well as the extravagant way that Daniel presents himself.
Yet, it’s the first meeting between Paul Sunday (played by Paul Dano) and Daniel Plainview that sets the entirety of the story into motion. While their conversation only yields a new plot-point in the traditional sense, it also sows the seeds for the main theme of the film: Capitalism vs. Religion. Paul Sunday undergoes a tense scene with Plainview, with Sunday claiming to have massive amounts of oil on his property while Daniel silently judges. By the end, Sunday is given his money that he wanted, and Daniel is quietly optimistic regarding the new information. Soon after, Daniel is off to the Sunday ranch, with him and his son posing as quail hunters. It is here where Daniel meets Eli Sunday (also played by Paul Dano), Paul Sunday’s brother and a leader of his own Church. After some hunting, Daniel is invited for dinner. This scene is one of the most tense and potent scenes in a long time, mainly because the hatred between Daniel and Eli is immediately evident. Their relationship throughout the film becomes more fascinating and double-edged than anything that I could have ever imagined, and Daniel Day Lewis’ and Paul Dano’s respective performances are why. They both revel in the flaws and the triumphs of their respective characters, and as a result, the humanity is hard to shake.
Yet, their relationship is simpler than many think. Daniel Plainview immediately hates Eli because of how happy and confident he is with himself. Eli doesn't like Daniel because of his lack of faith. Simple as that. Yet, the complexity comes from how they go about their “war” with each other, and how that competition drives Daniel to consume even more. Daniel sees Eli as an obstacle, nothing more. In a more detailed way, Daniel sees Eli as an annoying obstacle, one that is slowing down his mission to buy and get everything that is within his clawing reach.
Eventually a settlement is reached, and the workers are sent in to bring up new derricks and get to work. When everything is finished, the dedication ceremony is about to place, and Eli Sunday asks to be mentioned in the speech. Here, if you haven’t noticed already, is another sign of Eli’s slimness and lack of true humility. A church doesn’t need to be mentioned in such a ceremony, even if the main pastor was involved in the selling of the land. All Eli wants is attention, attention to feed his desire to become a grand prophet in his quest for ultimate truth. Daniel isn’t going to give him that, and the look on Eli’s face as Daniel denies him of that privilege is both terrifying and darkly humorous. Daniel won’t be stopped, Eli will not get his way, and there will be blood.
The oil rigs are up and running, and after a few scenes, Daniel takes a visit to Eli’s church. This is both the first time Daniel and the audience witnesses Eli’s true nature, and Anderson shows it in all its glory, and coupled with Robert Elswit’s eerie cinematography, it makes for a terrifying glimpse of religion in the early 20th century. Paul Dano’s performance is incredible in this scene, and as he is throwing a demon out of the church, you really feel the disillusion and anguish inside him. Although Daniel is viewing the service, the camera continues to roll on Eli, watching every little detail and sly change of expression. It is only when the demon is cast out that Anderson’s eye returns to Daniel, with a face of searing annoyance and passion. It’s a fantastic shot, mainly because Anderson has the main character feel the same way as the audience. Yet, the audience is detached. Daniel is alive and well in the tapestry of the film, and evident from that shot, he intends to do something about it.
Now, it is time. Time to talk about one of cinema’s great sequences, the oil derrick fire. It’s my second favorite scene in any film ever, with only the sequence in Rahad Jackson’s house in Boogie Nights besting it. Full of immaculate beauty and full-fledged darkness, the sequence plunges both the viewer and the characters into a deeper state of blackness. First off, the scene is done to perfection. Anderson’s trademark tracking shots, Elswit’s incredible texture, the pacing, Greenwood’s score builds to a fever-pitch; it’s all here and in full-bloom in this scene. It also showcases one of the craziest examples of horrible and heartless behavior, which is the abandonment of his injured son to watch the oil flow out of his newly-discovered empire. It gives me goddamn shivers every time, especially in that moment where Plainview, covered in oil, stares manically at the fire, all while surrounded by darkness and gloom. It’s cinematic nirvana, plain and simple.
For me, this is the shift of the entire story. Everything goes down after that sequence. Not in terms of quality, the film improves on perfection as it goes along; the film goes down in terms of tone and in terms of relationships. The second half of There Will Be Blood is dark as hell. Dark as hell. Daniel sends his child away because he’s a pain to deal with, he kills a man who was posing as his half-brother, and his general attitude to both employees and individuals is more touchy and dangerous. Basically, the second-half of PTA’s film is all about the theme of validation, and Daniel’s quest to eliminate and crush every enemy; no matter how small.
Particularly, the relationship between Daniel and Henry (the fake-half brother) is mesmerizing and masterful to watch unfold. Daniel, from the very first encounter, is skeptical about him. He’s weak, softly spoken, and quietly deceiving. Right from the start, Daniel sees him as another distraction from his vision of himself. However, Daniel realizes Henry’s lies when they’re lying on the beach, discussing nostalgic memories long gone. In a scene reminiscent of PTA’s next work, The Master, Daniel Plainview jumps into the ocean and slowly swims, with ideas of Henry’s demise swirling around in his head. It’s a bold shot, especially when it seems like Plainview tries to conquer the flowing tide.
For such a film that relies on darkness and the endless deceiving of others for the main character to get his way, it sure does have a wonderful wealth of humor. Maybe I’m just a sick bastard, but every re-watch reveals a greater sense of comic absurdity that is hilariously executed. From Daniel dragging Eli into the messy mud to Daniel ripping apart Eli in the final showdown; the film has a darkly humorous aesthetic that is as toxic as it is sidesplittingly funny.
Let’s talk about that final showdown. After casting out his son, Daniel retreats further into his own rich and deeply misguided soul, which is visualized by Daniel’s grand and empty abode. It only makes sense that the final scene takes place in the basement, as it is the area of the home that is most feared. Dark, shadowy, desolate, and empty; the basement is the inner sanctum of any home that has one. Even better though is the lighting of Daniel’s basement. It’s bright, shiny, sleek, and beautiful. Just like at the beginning of the film, this setting perfectly evokes the theme of light vs. darkness. However, just as Daniel was born in darkness and set out to fulfill his vision of America, he will complete that very vision within his own soul in (metaphorical) darkness. As Eli walks in, he looks proud. Proud in a way that shows success and dreams brought to startling life. But, after all this time, Daniel finally decides not to just expose that façade, but to tear it to pieces.
Daniel Plainview’s tirade against Eli is iconic at this point. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve seen “I drink your milkshake!” t-shirts at a shopping mall or at the movie theater. I think many have seen the clip of the scene on YouTube without even watching the whole film, which is disheartening as much of the layered meaning spring from context. It is in this scene where Daniel gets to the finish line of his career. He deceived, fought, and pushed to the top of his respective business, and at the end, he has no one else to conquer. Daniel could’ve shoved Eli out of his home and completely ignored his request, but that isn’t how Plainview wanted things. No matter how small, no matter how insignificant; anyone who got in the way of Daniel Plainview was to be dealt with by Daniel himself. And Daniel didn’t just want him away from his life, he wanted to deprive him of life. And so began the rant, with Daniel making Eli something of a quivering toddler, forcing him to admit his lies and his deceptions all while soaking up every cry of passion from Eli. The comic absurdity reaches its peak when Daniel begins to throw bowling pins at Eli, all the while exclaiming “I AM THE THIRD REVELATION!” It is humor as black as the black gold that Daniel yearns for, but it abruptly stops when Eli is killed. The silence, the sound of the bowling pin hitting Eli’s head, Daniel’s heavy and distorted breathing; It’s a scene of unmistakable terror. Paul Thomas Anderson however, in another feat of genius, switches the tone right back to sly humor as the last line is spoken:
With Greenwood’s happily giddy score blasting from the soundtrack, the film joyfully states that Daniel Plainview has gotten everything that he ever wanted in life, and he is satisfied. The film cuts to black, and the title card is displayed. See, I told you there would be blood!