Regent Film Library Spotlight: There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood is a film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and is loosely based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair. A creative writing teacher of mine once remarked that this film is a study of evil; that is, instead of a protagonist being defined by positive character growth as in most stories, the protagonist in There Will Be Blood grows more wicked and less empathetic as the film progresses. 

The film begins with Daniel mining for silver. A dynamite explosion knocks him down his own mining shaft, breaking his leg. He crawls back to town, and, despite his injuries, he manages to carry back valuable ore. He is permanently crippled, but suddenly well-funded. He and a partner set up a machine with a large stake, a strike from which causes oil to rise from a deep shaft. Daniel hires men to help him extract the oil with pulleys and buckets. An accident sends a loaded bucket tumbling down to Daniel and his partner, killing his partner. Daniel adopts the dead man’s infant son. What seemed an act of charity quickly becomes known as an exploitative business move when Daniel begins pitching his oil business to small towns and using the orphaned boy, H.W., to give him a family image. 

After years of moving from town to town, Daniel is approached by a young man who identifies himself as Paul Sunday. He trades information about his family farm for money, claiming that there is oil on their property. Daniel pays Paul, and then investigates the family farm with H.W. under the guise of quail hunters. A missed bullet from H. W.’s gun brings oil from the ground. When he sees the evidence of oil, Daniel decides to buy the entire plot. He nearly tricks the patriarch of the Sunday family, Abel, into selling his property for much less than its actual value, but Abel’s preacher son, Eli Sunday, suspects that his family is being taken advantage of and demands a 10,000 dollar donation for his church in order to buy the land. Daniel acquiesces to Eli’s offer. Their deal sets off the rest of the film’s events; workers flock to the town and Daniel sheds his guise of quail hunter and takes on the mantle of an aggressive oil man. 

The film There Will Be Blood takes an indepth look at the motivations behind greed. As Daniel Plainview’s lust for money grows, he becomes more complicatedly driven than the typical miser. In his more intimate moments, Daniel confesses to misanthropy and a competitiveness created by his greed. He is compelled to dominate and manipulate, but also to isolate. His goal is to live alone in complete independence from the people he is forced to rely on or to exploit.

Much like Plainview himself, the setting of the film is bleak. The camera tracks an expansive desert only broken up by stygian pools of oil and the derricks which summon them. The film’s score, mostly written by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, develops an unsettling atmosphere for the desert setting. Its strange tonality and odd rhythms accentuate the menacing, crooked figure of Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day Lewis. 

The film is an adult or young adult film. Its slow pace and occasional graphic violence relegates it to a more mature audience. It may also appeal to readers of Upton Sinclair or those interested in the 1900s oil booms. The film also works as a character study of misanthropy, ambition, and the development of evil.