There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
"You show me a capitalist and I'll show you a bloodsucker," Malcolm X once said. Danny Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is perhaps the most audacious representation of capitalism recent cinema has produced. He fancies himself an oilman, quite accurately, as he has built himself a vast fortune, not exactly a legacy, by building skeletal edifices in the Californian desert sucking the barren Earth of oil, and eliminating other prospectors or middlemen through his several inaccurate representations of himself, including being a family man by parading his ward H. W. (Dillon Freasier) to the numerous families he seeks to buy land from. He is both cunning and vicious apart from having a voracious appetite for wealth, aspects which are inherent to the traditional vampire, the bloodsucker Malcolm X compares the capitalist to. It's easy to refer to P. T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood as a bleak examination of greed, especially its damning effects on the human soul. Plainview, from the moment he opens his mouth to convince a pack of outspoken impoverished landowners to sell their lands to say he's both an oilman and a family man with the accent and attitude of a rehearsed thespian, we are affirmed of a man who is desperately clinging on a mere fragment of his soul. Anderson more than adequately convinces that Plainview is indeed the metaphoric bloodsucker of the Malcolm X quote.
Plainview's nemesis Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) is supposedly a man of the cross whose cherubic facial features and gift for convincing oration and theatrics has led him into a lucrative path earning fortunes from the faith of the plenty impoverished hopefuls. He too is undoubtedly a capitalist, a worthy competitor of Plainview despite the differences in business ventures. Their respective industries meet at the towns and communities they thrive on, where the citizenry hold both in both high esteem and perhaps fear: Plainview for economic reasons and Eli for spiritual ones. The final chapter of the film which takes place within the sullen interiors of Plainview's grandiose mansion reintroduces the two characters. Eli tries to find relevance in an age, the Great American Depression, wherein money is the only thing relevant as it is the predominant tool for survival, trying to lease a piece of land a devotee entrusted to his church. He tries to redesign himself as an oilman, a collaborator of Plainview even to the point of reneging his faith. The final chapter doesn't expose Plainview as a monster since we already knew that but instead juxtaposes, rather eerily, the business of religion with the business of oil, as both purport benevolence despite being businesses that thrive because of abject exploitation. Of course, the greedier one triumphs. Like a true capitalist, Plainview ends the bloody meeting with "I am finished," a quote that both notifies his butler that he is done with the steak he was gorging minutes ago and symbolically signifies that he has eaten up another competitor.
Greed is a sin he and Eli share. Such, however, is not the only capital sin Plainview exemplifies. He intimates to his long-lost brother (Kevin O'Connor) an unmitigated hatred for mankind, yet the mystifying aspect of this hatred is that he doesn't disclose the source of it. My theory is that Plainview's most paralyzing sin is not greed but envy, envy of the people around him, of their capacity for humanity, to relate, and to express real feelings. Plainview is in truth a man of well-kept insecurities, and this is what prompts him to wallow in greed and wealth, and sparks his inevitable descent to obscurity. While Eli succumbs to a human fallibility that is close to disgusting depravity, he generates a response that isn't as ominous as the one Plainview inflicts on the audience. Eli is merely sneaky worm, while Plainview is a monster, who will inevitably be victorious and eat the worm.
Plainview is afflicted with impotence, moral and physical. There is no doubt about Plainview's moral impotence manifested by his unscrupulous business methods, his untempered cynicism for all humanity that leads to a resolution that welcomes glorified nihilism, as shown in that final scene in his private bowling alley. It is probably Plainview's physical impotence that is arguable. Plainview, I believe, is a rather limp character. He masquerades himself with an air of patriarchal command but is himself unable to foster a family, or even attempt to make his own. This is the reason for his abusive need to be in control, why he scorns Eli since the latter, through religion, seeks to share in equal portions with him a dominating command of the community.
His control is of course artificial, like a commodity he bought along with the barren oil-yielding land. This is because he is unable to naturally produce such trait, a probable result of his accident in the mines leaving him not only with a distinctive gait but also an incurable sterility. This leads a compulsive need to drape such impotence with and jealousies, such as the one he tells about his ward H. W. and how his fictional mother died during childbirth, or how he finds murderous annoyance when his brother incomparably enjoys the company of women, or how he becomes indignantly offended when people pry into his private affairs especially those dealing with family, or how he erupts angrily when his ward decides to prospect for oil in Mexico not only because he gains another competitor but also because his ward, supposedly inferior and disabled, has advanced much further than he is capable of. He is an envious man, jealous of the rest of the world's capability to put into fruition their basic humanity or masculinity while he can only bask underneath artificial copulation, of his structures penetrating the Earth to produce black oil.
There Will Be Blood is a fascinating film, where all the technical elements seem to conspire to paint a portrait of Plainview, although harsh and unflattering. Jonny Greenwood's atypical score, ranging from primal rhythmic melodies to near-atonal ambient strains, enunciates Anderson's primary theme of humanity on the verge of monstrosity, and adds a tinge of absurdity and ridicule to the grave exercise, further punctuating the film with a valuable sense of humor along with Day-Lewis' over-the-top performance and the drastic maneuvering of the well-written screenplay, which is a loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!. The cinematography, by Robert Elswit who also photographed Anderson's previous feature films, showcases both landscapes and interiors that are as dry, bleak and empty as the man the film so exquisitely details. From the first ten minutes which stretches a wordless yet visually enthralling sequence of Plainview in the initial stages of his conquest for oil to the final chapter that puts an absurd twist to this historically-placed epic, P. T. Anderson maintains a firm grasp of his ambitiousness without succumbing to the tendency of overreaching, as he did in most of his previous films. There Will Be Blood, I'm convinced to say, is a triumph.