There Will Be Blood
In Roman Polanski's Chinatown, detective Jake Gittes became suspicious of a devious California millionaire named Noah Cross, played by the great John Huston. Dazzled by Cross's fortune, acquired by laying irrigation pipelines across LA, Gittes asked why such a rich man would want to get richer. "What can you buy that you can't already afford?"
Cross's answer was simple: "The future."
That answer would probably make sense to Daniel Plainview, the central character of There Will Be Blood, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Plainview makes his fortune tapping into "an ocean of oil" under his feet, driven by insatiable ambition.
As Plainview tries to buy up land and put in a pipeline of his own, he consults a real estate expert about the area surrounding Little Boston, California. He points to a specific spot on the map, and the expert nods: "That can be got, I'm sure." Plainview, his ravenous appetite growing with everything he consumes, asks, "Can everything around here be got?"
Curiously, it's not just greed and pipelines that Plainview and Chinatown's Cross have in common. It's the voice. Played with monstrous energy and complexity by Daniel Day-Lewis, Plainview seems possessed by the same evil spirit, rasping each line as if his throat is a chimney. He's the kind of guy who probably drinks coffee straight from the pot—and then swallows the grounds.
When we first meet Plainview, he's mining for silver. Hunting for something beautiful, he emerges with something darker, something flammable, something that stains. He calls it "gold." And barrel by barrel, he builds a hellish heaven of his own. With every achievement, his ambition grows, until it squelches the sparks of his dying conscience.
Most of the time, Plainview glad-hands like a campaigning politician. Calling himself himself a "family man," he assures his target communities that he prefers "plain speaking," that he happens to "enjoy all faiths," and that "the children are our future." He even passes off H.W. (Dillon Freasier)—the orphan of a driller killed in the line of duty—as his own cute-as-a-button boy, so that he can seduce the Little Boston locals.
But in a rare moment of honesty, Plainview admits, "There is a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed." Like the oil saturating the ground, his hatred rests on the surface, twisting his smile and his speech. But it takes 158 minutes to plumb the depths of the reservoir beneath his hard façade. Suppressed rage blasts to the surface if Plainview perceives anyone's judgment, or if his failures and weaknesses are exposed.
Throughout the film, oil is a metaphor for blood. In a moment of unsettling and almost ceremonial reverence, a man smears oil on a baby's forehead. And when young Eli Sunday, the preacher at Little Boston's Church of the Third Revelation, pays Plainview a surprise visit to reveal the secret of his family's ranch in Little Boston, Plainview hurries off like an oil-thirsty vampire, all but baring his fangs.