Film / There Will Be Blood

"What's this? Why don't I own this? Why don't I own this?"

A controversial but critically acclaimed 2007 film starring Daniel Day-Lewis, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Written, directed, and co-produced by Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood was nominated for seven other Academy Awards including Best Picture. It also won Best Cinematography for Robert Elswit. Loosely based on the first half of the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair.

The story takes place in the late 19th century and early 20th, during the Southern California oil boom. It centers on Daniel Plainview, an oilman who travels the state buying people's land to drill. He is accompanied by his young adopted son and "business partner", H.W. One day he gets a tip from a young man named Paul about undiscovered oil fields on his family's land in Little Boston. As he buys up land in the town and starts drilling, tension builds between Daniel and Paul's twin brother Eli, a young charismatic evangelist who runs the local Church of the Third Revelation.

Despite much difficulty during the drilling, including H.W.'s injury and resulting deafness; Daniel's humiliating baptism at the hands of Eli; and the long process of building an oil pipeline to avoid shipping costs (which is more dramatic — and traumatic — than it sounds), Daniel pulls it off and makes a fortune. But by the end of the movie, it is clear that his morality has completely eroded, and has been dissolving throughout the film.

It is a complex and even confusing movie. Many left the theater asking themselves, "What was that about?" Unlike most Hollywood films, it eschews conventional plotting in order to focus almost entirely on exploring a character. One might say that in this case, the character is the plot.

Which is not to suggest that not much happens. Plenty happens. And there IS blood. (But very, very little.)

This film contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Daniel and the Sunday father.
  • The Alcoholic: Daniel.
  • All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game": Daniel drains the oil from under the entire area without Eli's knowledge, then mockingly reveals it to him (years after the fact, when Eli finally caves and tries to sell him the properties he doesn't already own) by likening it to drinking a milkshake with a giant straw. Though that speech is the only thing about the film that many people know, it's actually a big revelation that comes out in the very last scene.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Milkshakes aren't a random, unexpected example of Anachronism Stew: Milkshakes (at least whiskey and whiskey cream-based ones) have been around by that name since the early-to-mid 1880s, and are appropriate for a metaphor by an alcoholic oil baron.
    • PTA also based that line off of an actual quote from U.S. Senator Albert Fall during an oil-related Congressional hearing in the 1920s; it amused Anderson that a term such as "milkshake" would be used as an analogy in a senator's testimony.
  • Ambiguously Gay: The effeminate Eli Sunday, who at the end praises Bandy's grandson's physical beauty, then breaks down crying about having sinned in ways he'd never thought existed. He may just have been crying about having lost all his money in bad investments.
  • Anti-Hero: Daniel is a Nominal Hero.
  • Arc Words: Played with; Daniel Plainview's name as an interrogative apostrophe serves the role of Arc Words, but the characters use different variations rather than always the same form ("Mister Plainview?", "Daniel Plainview?", "Daniel?", "Mister Daniel?")
  • Badass Moustache: Daniel's got one.
  • Berserk Button: Don't ever tell Daniel how to run his family. Ever.
    "One night I'm going to come to you, inside of your house, wherever you're sleeping, and I'm going to cut your throat."
  • Black and Gray Morality: There aren't many sympathetic characters in this movie. H.W. and Mary Sunday are probably the only ones.
  • Black Comedy: Though not a comedy itself, the film is filled with darkly comic moments and scenes that are simultaneously absurd and horrifying.
  • The Caligula: Daniel.
  • Camera Abuse: Occurs in a shot of workers in the shaft of Daniel's oil derrick, a streak of oil splatters onto the lens, and again when Plainview attacks Eli at the climax, he knocks over a bucket of water, some of which gets on the lens.
  • The Chessmaster: Daniel.
  • Conversation Casualty: Daniel Plainview wakes up the man who claims to be his brother, and forces him at gunpoint to say who he really is. During the man's confession, Daniel puts away the gun. When the man is done explaining himself, however, Daniel unexpectedly draws the gun again and kills him.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Daniel Plainview, of course.
  • Day of the Week Name: The Sundays.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Daniel's half-brother, Henry, who shows up all of a sudden later turns out to be an impostor. He knew Daniel's real half-brother, who died of tuberculosis, and took his identity so he could get work with Daniel.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: When Mr. Plainview buys the Sunday Family land, the women are dismissed from talking business. Surprisingly, Mr. Plainview is actually less dissonant than the rest of the community.
  • Denied Parody: While the film is about the dual corrupting powers of capitalism (specifically oil-related capitalism) and self-centered religion, Paul Thomas Anderson maintains that it had nothing to do with the presidency of George W. Bush.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Daniel is the devil in plain view. Get it?
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: H.W. and Mary, presumably, and they're the only characters that deserve it.
  • The Edwardian Era: Strictly speaking, the film's setting corresponds most closely to the "Progressive Era" of American history (Teddy Roosevelt's presidency to World War One), though Daniel as a character seems more suited to a decade or two earlier. The finale is set in 1927, with the Depression implied to be on the horizon.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: Discussed. Daniel Plainview famously uses the analogy of using a long straw to drink someone else's milkshake as an analogy for how he rendered his bitter rival's land worthless by drilling all the oil out of it from his own property.
  • Enthusiasm vs. Stoicism
  • Evil Versus Evil: Let's see, in the left corner we have an (in the beginning) indifferent to life, determined miner who just wants to earn a living. In span of two hours he cheats folks in California to basically work for him like oxen and give him oil to sell, personally kills a few people, abandons his son because he.. failed him, takes pleasure from dominating everybody and generally perceives the world as much more evil than he is. In the right corner, we have a cowardly, hypocritical preacher who bullies his father and manipulates members of his church. Also, he ultimately sells his soul to Daniel in the end, complete with swift one-way ticket to Hell. Gentlemen, place your bets.
  • Faux Affably Evil: While he can have some genuine moments of humanity, namely with his fake brother and son, Plainview is this, hiding his sociopathic and greedy nature under a civilized demeanor.
  • The Film of the Book: Anderson adapted only the opening chapters of Sinclair's novel. The book Oil! actually is about the life of H.W.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Daniel Plainview starts out as a dirtied gold-seeker just trying to find some rare minerals without blowing himself up with his own TNT. By the end of the story he has stepped on anyone he has needed to in order to advance his own goals, exploited just about anyone with a speaking role, note  and killed anyone who betrayed him.
  • Genre Savvy: When he comes to Daniel to tell him about the oil on his family's land in return for money, Daniel does subtly attempt to find out where the land is so he can investigate himself without having to pay any money at all. Paul firmly deflects all the questions ("Where are you from? What town is nearby? What crops does your family grow?). He even lampshades it by pointedly telling Daniel that he'd like it better if Daniel didn't think he was stupid.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: Oil equals corruption, milk equals kindness. (or "evil" and "good" if you prefer)
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The deaths of H.W.'s biological father and Eli, but averted with the death of a worker down Daniel's wells.
  • Greed: Daniel's defining trait.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: Pretty much any exchange between Daniel and Eli.
  • Happy Flashback: A couple of quick, heartbreakingly affectionate moments between Daniel and young H.W., right after Daniel casts adult H.W. out of the house.
  • Hypocrite: Daniel ensures that Mary Sunday is no longer hit by her father for not saying her prayers (for whatever motive, see Pet the Dog below,) but when one of his competitors makes a suggestion about spending more time with H.W Daniel furiously demands "Did you just tell me how to run my family?" and tells him he'll cut his throat. He reminds the man of this moment when he humiliates him in the restaurant later, pointing out how he is spending time with H.W (who has just that day come back from being sent away to boarding school for ages).
    • Daniel actually has a lot of moments of this, as he manipulates and bullies people into doing what he wants by faking care. For one example, there's the way he gets the townsfolk to sell them his land; he makes an impassioned speech about how "it is an abomination to [him], that in this great country of ours, any child should look upon a loaf of bread as a luxury" while promising to bring them wealth. His oil does bring them wealth, but Daniel couldn't care less about any of them, and holds them in total contempt.
    • A more subtle one, but when Eli and Daniel have a conversation about the workers (a conversation is a polite way of putting it) one of the things Eli mentions is how his workers shouldn't be drinking. Guess what he offers Daniel in the final scene?
  • I Have No Son: "Justified". In the second-to-last scene, Daniel reveals to H.W that was the son of the worker that died down Daniel's his well at the beginning, and claims to have adopted him just because he needed a pretty face to help him make business deals.
  • Jerk Ass: Daniel, though Eli isn't much better.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: While this was a sure sign that Plainview had gone off the deep end, its hard to feel bad for the murder of Eli.
  • Large Ham: Who do you think? Daniel is the very definition of this trope. More memorable scenes include Daniel murdering his impostor half-brother, yelling with a napkin over his head in a posh restaurant, killing Eli, "disowning" his son and taunting him for being a "bastard from a basket!" and of course the "I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!!" lines, along with the visual acting out of the analogy. (*slurrrrp!*)
    • Eli Sunday is a pretty Large Ham himself, first seen when he appears to exorcise a woman with arthritis at the start, and again when he puts Plainview though his embarrassing 'baptism' experience.
  • Leave the Camera Running: There are a lot of long, uninterrupted shots in the film, especially during the opening sequence.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Both Daniel & Eli.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Daniel Plainview. Just in case you don't quite get it, it's referring to the saying "Devil in plain view."
    • H.W. is never given a full name, because Daniel never sees him as a complete person.
    • The entire Sunday family
      • Sunday is a religiously-significant day of the week in Christianity, and the Sunday family also happen to be the most religious family in Little Boston. It also Shouts Out to real-life preacher Billy Sunday.
      • Paul Sunday is named after Paul the Apostle. The biblical Paul received a revelation of Jesus and then spread the gospel. Similarly, Paul Sunday receives oil money from Plainview and then uses that to spread out into new oil fields. Also, Paul the Apostle claimed a distinct separation from the church in Jerusalem, just as Paul Sunday is separate from the rest of his family.
      • Eli Sunday is named after Eli, which is both the Hebrew name of God as well as a Biblical Israeli judge. There is irony in the divine interpretation of the name, because although Eli Sunday starts his own church to preach his own gospel (as if he were God) he is shown to be instead incredibly immoral and powerless, unable to heal H.W. and easily physically subdued. The Biblical judge Eli dies suddenly after learning that his power has suddenly been stripped from him, a close parallel to Eli Sunday's powerless desperation in the face of the oncoming Great Depression.
      • Abel Sunday is named after Abel, a son of Adam and Eve who was murdered by his brother Cain. Both Abels are shepherds. Abel is regarded as the first victim of evil in the Bible, and the cinematic Abel is the first one to sell his land to Plainview.
      • Mary Sunday is a reference to the Virgin Mary. Or Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus saved from stoning, just as Daniel saved Mary Sunday from further beatings.
  • Mind Rape: Daniel lays a truly savage one on Eli in the climax, reducing the man to tears. For bonus points, we only have Daniel's word on Paul's success and the drainage of Eli's land, but his delivery is strong enough that the victim doesn't question it. and then he bashes Eli's brains out with a wood bowling pin.
    • While he could be telling the truth, he did lie to Eli to twist him up with brother/jealousy issues. He said he gave Paul $10,000 dollars for the information, when really he only gave him $500. Eli has spent much of the film trying to get paid $5000 for selling his land, while Daniel has made a disgustingly large fortune off of it.
  • Misanthrope Supreme: Daniel does not like people.
  • Mood Dissonance: For some people, the final scene goes from hilarious to utterly horrifying when Daniel murders Eli. Yes, the narm actually makes the film better.
  • Morality Chain: It doesn't stop him from murdering his fake brother Henry, but his relationship with H.W. seems to be the only tenuous link keeping Daniel attached to the rest of the human race.
    • And before he found out that he was a fake, Henry, too; as he mentioned that the man's arrival gave him "a second breath of life."
  • Mugging the Monster: The baptism scene. One can argue that Eli knew damn well what he was doing, especially considering how he emphasizes the child abandonment, but slapping and humiliating a man like that in front of god and company was not the wisest decision Eli Sunday ever made.
  • Nice Hat: Daniel's got one.
  • No OSHA Compliance: A lot of people get maimed or killed because safety procedures are either ignored, done haphazardly, or not even thought about at all.
  • Older Than They Look: Despite the 16 year Time Skip, no makeup is used to make Paul Dano look any older in the final scene.
  • Oscar Bait
  • Pet the Dog: The film is peppered with these moments, but Daniel's motives are ambiguous, the film often offering darker explanations.
    • Daniel is kind to the youngest Sunday daughter and ensures that she is no longer beaten by her father for not praying. However, even this act of kindness could be a tainted act for Daniel. While asking the girl if her father still hits her, Daniel's glance at said father suggests a motive of dominance.
    • One of the main points of the movie is just how much H.W. is or is not a Pet the Dog / Morality Pet for Plainview. In their final confrontation Plainview tells H.W. that he was exactly this: Daniel adopted H.W. because he believed posing as a family man would help him talk people into selling their oil rights to him. Yet the movie seems to suggest that Daniel did in fact love his son as much as he could love anything. Note the embrace when H.W. comes back from school, or Daniel's rage when his parenting skills are questioned, or Daniel's anguished "I abandoned my boy" when Eli makes him confess in front of the congregation. Most poignant is the quick flashback at the end, after Daniel has disowned H.W., when we see affectionate moments between father and son, followed by Daniel drinking heavily. He may not care about H.W anymore, but this certainly suggests he used to and is upset to the point of (further) madness that he doesn't any longer.
    • When H.W loses his hearing, Daniel's frantic questions of where he got hurt, and that he has to tell them if his head got damaged, his fear looks genuine. While it's true that he then seems more concerned with the oil than H.W's health (calmly replying "No, he isn't" when someone asks if H.W is OK), that moment suggests that he does care to the fullest extent that someone like him is able to.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Jonny Greenwood composed the score, but also used classical cues and some of his own previous score from the documentary Bodysong.
  • Psycho Strings: That's pretty much the whole soundtrack, with the occasional Drone of Dread to enforce the point.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "I! DRINK! YOUR! MILKSHAKE!"
  • Put on a Bus: Daniel abandons his son on a train to a boarding school, and he doesn't appear again until the last few scenes.
  • Pyrrhic Villainy: Daniel, though unbelievably rich, gave up what morals he had, disowned his son, lives in isolation, is hated by most everyone, and kills a few people in the timeline of the movie.
    • Of course, being rich enough to be completely alone was what he claimed to want all along, but we repeatedly see he still wanted a family and took their perceived "betrayals" with crippling pain and frustration.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The milkshake speech is this, combined with some general Evil Gloating.
    • "You're just the afterbirth that slithered out on your mother's filth! They should have put you in a glass jar on the mantlepiece. Stop crying you sniveling ass! Stop your nonsense!"
  • Scenery Porn: There's a reason it won an Oscar for cinematography.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Eli.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • As it turns out, the milkshake-drinking-as-oilfield-drainage metaphor is actually paraphrased from the 1924 testimony of Sen. Albert Fall, who was convicted of bribery for selling off oil-drilling rights in what became known as the Teapot Dome scandal. One of them men who bribed him was Edward Doheny, the real-life inspiration for both Plainview and his fictional precursor in Oil!, James Arnold Ross.
    • That opulent mansion at the end, with the sweet private bowling alley? Built by Edward Doheny, as a present for his son.
  • Sinister Minister: Eli Sunday is obsessed with his church, and is probably just as power-hungry as Daniel. The weird part is that, even though Eli is greedy, very unforgiving, a mooch, extremely over-the-top, and clearly a wackjob, his church has many followers and grows throughout the film.
  • Sissy Villain: Eli Sunday.
  • Smug Snake: Eli Sunday is a great example of this trope. He can be charming and charismatic but when faced with a bigger bully than himself he breaks down screaming and crying. He has no trouble beating up his dad but when Daniel drags him through a pool of mud he barely tries to defend himself.
  • Society Is to Blame: Arguably one of the major points of the movie, although there is some question as to whether this is A man with questionable morals being forced down the path to becoming a villain by his peers, who never seem to prove him wrong in his belief that all humans are horrible people that should be shunned or profited from, or whether he was evil to begin with, and society is to blame because it allows him to prosper so much.
  • The Sociopath: As has been mentioned, the film is less about the events that happen, and more about the character of Daniel Plainview, and realizing that this is what he is. At first, Daniel seems to simply not like social interactions because many of the people he deals with are quite petty, but in a discussion with his previously estranged brother, he has this rather revealing conversation with him:
    Daniel: "Are you an angry man, Henry?"
    Henry: "About what?"
    Daniel: "Are you envious? Do you get envious?"
    Henry: "I don't think so. No."
    Daniel: "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 has left me... I just don't... care."
    Daniel: "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 that I can get away from everyone."
    • It's more likely from that conversation that Daniel is not a standard textbook sociopath (one who is simply born with a defective brain), but more a man so let down by others he feels nothing but contempt, and years of misanthropy has made him into a sociopath.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Daniel.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: In the end, the movie lives up to its title. Civilized men return to their animal selves, brutality reigns, blood is had—blackout to credits with a rollicking performance of a Brahms Violin Concerto so you can dance your way out of the theater.
    • Done earlier in the film for the opposite effect - seemingly mundane scenes are accompanied by a relentlessly foreboding soundtrack.
  • Steel Ear Drums: Averted with H.W.
  • Stepford Smiler: Daniel Plainview spends much of the movie in his public persona, trying to charm people into selling him the right to drill for oil on their land. He even uses his own son as an appealing "face" for the company and his image as a "family man".
  • Straw Nihilist: Guess who?
  • Stupid Statement Dance Mix: Type "There Will Be Blood" in the YouTube search box, it is guaranteed at least half of the results are "I drink your milkshake!" videos.
  • Tragic Mistake: It could be argued that sending H.W. off to boarding school was the real tipping point for Daniel. The reason he does it is simply because H.W. is in the way and Daniel doesn't have the patience to properly care for him while working. He doesn't even give him a proper goodbye, he simply leaves him on a train and sneaks away as it departs. H.W. seems to be the only person Daniel may actually like, so carelessly sending him away effectively strips him of his last shred of humanity.
  • Trash the Set: In that impressive, dramatic scene where the oil derrick burns, how do you think they made it look so real? They burned the derrick.
  • Time Skip: The last half-hour jumps to 1927.
  • Villain Protagonist: Plainview.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The second half of the movie is essentially a very long breakdown for Daniel, as he becomes more and more unstable as time goes on. He has a few moments which definitely count by themselves, though, in particular, him slapping the hell out of Eli because Eli couldn't cure H.W. of his deafness, his telling H.W. that he's not his son, and finally, his "The Reason You Suck" Speech given to Eli at the end of the film, culminating in him brutally murdering Eli.
    • Eli also seems to be trapped in a perpetual villainous breakdown. Even when he's "winning", he comes across as desperately strung-out.
  • Zig-Zagging Trope: Good vs. Evil... which is which?