Paul Thomas Anderson’s (PTA) There Will Be Blood is a dizzying cinematic embodiment of American hypocrisy that blends industry pursuits, the burden of conscience, the sleight-of-hand religious manipulation, and the savage truth of western frontier life to create a film as moving as a renaissance fresco in a cathedral.
Day-Lewis is an immersive force as Daniel Plainview. When he’s in control, he’s a pleasant, if strange sort. PTA charges the audience with glimpses, if ever so rare, of a potentially sympathetic human underneath. However, when he’s being challenged or opposed, anger swells like his blood’s boiling, yearning for physical violence that’s signalled by his prominent vein bulging on his forehead. He’s repressing an inner, simian golem, a harbinger of those who’d deny his pursuits.
Paul Dano is delicious and delirious as identical twins Paul Sunday and Eli Sunday. Firstly, Paul Sunday plants the seed of what will eventually be the Plainview large scale operation. With a $600 finder’s fee, he unleashes Daniel Plainview’s force upon his family. His identical twin brother Eli won’t allow the family patriarch, his father, to be hoodwinked by Plainview, seeing straight through the goodwill and courtesy to a motive. The equally opportunistic Eli knows that the community surrounding this industry provides him a chance to ascend to a position of power. He’s as enamoured with the opiate-like effects of religious practice as Plainview is with oil. The oil is all-consuming – drowning men in greed and opportunism, but the slick is challenging to remove. Eli manipulates Plainview into a Baptismal confession to swell his reputation and make him bend the knee to religion. Much like Plainview’s son H.W. having an oil baptism earlier in the film, PTA foreshadows an inevitable reprisal for making Plainview endure this concentrated dose of humanity. When Eli returns clamouring into the presence of Plainview, he doesn’t realise he’s walking into the jaws of a man recently shed of any ties to the world.
The devastatingly quotable final scene of There Will Be Blood (2007) often inspires laughter. It’s not a pleasurable chuckle; there’s no mirthful satisfaction. It’s a reaction of sheer discomfort, shock and tension; your body contorts and busts out something to defuse the realisation. Plainview is speaking from a new vantage point. Plainview has severed the connections with his son like someone haphazardly gouging an unwanted growth. His cavernous mansion is a symbol of his swelling wealth. When Plainview says, “I drink your milkshake,” he’s saying - you cannot stop me. I don’t need your permission; wealth is my permission to exploit. You cannot refuse me. In the final moments in the opulent mansion, as Plainview descends upon the defenceless, weak and callow Eli, the devastating realisation is that there’ll be no consequence for his actions. What’s more, his greed, manifesting in a slovenly life eating off of the ground in his bowling alley and bludgeoning this parasitic snake-oil religious man to a bloody death is as inconsequential as spilling food on the polished hardwood flooring.
– Blake Howard