There will be blood: Analysis
Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007)is a complex and thought-provoking film, recognized for it’s detailed character study of Daniel Plainview, and the seemingly endless amount of possible interpretations.
It is difficult to approach this film without having already heard the obvious “Greed” and “Capitalism” commentary from most critics. While themes are present, this analysis aims to show There will be blood as a character study with ‘family’ as its most important theme. It will examine each character and how they affect, reflect and contrast Daniel Plainview.
This film revolves around a deeply troubled man, his ambition and his attempts to create a family.
Daniel has characteristics, which are so deeply embedded that they will become his fatal flaws, and destroy his hopes of any family connections. His journey through the film affects him positively and negatively but these experiences aren’t strong enough to change his true character.
Daniel has characteristics of ‘Competition’ and ‘mistrust’ these lead to drive and success within the oil industry but also bring him loneliness and a necessity for things to be done his way. These 2 characteristics’ remain strong throughout the film and eventually lead to the demise of potential family and results in Daniels final judgement.
The silent beginning sequence of the film reveals a lot about Daniel through visual language.
We learn that Daniel: -
The name Daniel means, in Hebrew, “Judgment of God.” Daniel is judged by God at the end of the film and sees himself as a God among men, he even refers to himself as ‘the third revelation.’ This god complex is developed through the film and starts from his first line of dialogue, Daniel is the first character to speak after close to 20 minutes, similar to the biblical opening “God spoke, and the earth listened”. We are properly introduced to him when he is now successful and attained some form of godhood. We are told the characters name when he signs the document before this, but he is insignificant.
Like a God Daniel believes in his words as gospel, when introducing himself to the audience he says "...If I say I'm an oil man you will agree." The wording here is very deliberate and has Daniel making up the minds of others through his words, this continues throughout the film. Daniels voice is established early as the source of his godlike power.
More evidence of this can be seen during the standard oil discussion, after Tilford makes one too many comments about raising Daniels family he threatens to cut his throat. This hits a number of themes, Daniel will take away Tilford’s power of speech by cutting his throat and silencing him, Daniel has the need to do things his way and doesn’t like to be told otherwise and at that moment Daniel still has very raw feeling for HW as his family situation has recently changed. The power of his words can been seen when he brags about dealing with union oil, ‘I told you what id do’ as if by saying it will make it so, he wants to prove to others how strong his word is and prove Tilford wrong but calling him a fool.
Multiple interpretations of Daniel’s dialogue can be seen again at the conclusion of the film when he says, ‘I’m finished’. This line could mean several things, it could mean his battle with Eli is won and over, his family situation has completely lost hope. The tone and delivery hints at Daniel accepting his fate and marking the end of the journey, now that he has conquered the oil industry shown by the value of his house, he has no more competition, Eli is dead and no more hope since HW is gone. The line could refer to God judging him now the story is done, he could also be giving the film permission to finish, again using his words as gospel, as if by saying so the film is allowed to end. This line also draws a parallel to Jesus’s last words on the cross, ‘it is finished’ John 19:30, which has been described by Rev. Barry Gritters as a god-centered cry and a shout of victory which both apply in the thematic case of Daniel Plainview. It also suggests that Daniel was unable to achieve godhood by failing to raise a son and therefore like Jesus the bloodline stops with him.
We aren’t given a lot of backstory on Daniel, however his loneliness is evident at the start and must somehow be as a result of his past. During a conversation with Henry we are told Daniel remembers and wants two things for himself, a big house with children running around. These represent his ambition for success and his much deeper and unspoken need of family. At the end of the film Daniel achieves the house but for the final scene he has cut ties with his last remaining family and is unable to fulfil this dream. This suggests that the moral lesson of the film could be, ‘success and grandeur are meaningless without the family which satisfies the inner desires of a troubled man.’ We don’t know how long he was living in the house before the final scene, judging but the decoration and well filled rooms it could have been a fair time, but its clear that only when Daniel looses the promise and hope of family does he completely allow himself to be taken by his impulses and kill Eli. He has insulted and even physically harmed Eli many times before but always with some restrain, the final act could be Daniel showing us he has nothing else to loose.
As we meet HW he is washed in the oil of Daniels first score, linking them through success, oil and marking the beginning of their journey together. HW thematically represents ‘Hope’ for Daniel, during the scene where they are hunting quail and discover oil we see the only time in the film were Daniel smiles and is happy with laughter, this moment combines the two things he has been searching for, the promise of more success with the discovery of the earthquake oil and being able to share this discovery with his son and have this journey ahead of them together.
HW could be derived from YHWH, the Hebrew name of god meaning ‘he is’. HW is brought to Daniel through ‘immaculate conception’ and although not his real son, he can be raised in his image as with his lessons as gospel, this is essential as Daniel must be able to do things his way and in order for him to show any trust toward HW he must be raised by his accord, being reborn through his son. 23
In the OT God declared that His name was YHWH (Exodus 6:3; 20:7; see also 3:14). Scholars believe that "YHWH," or "Yahweh" is the third person singular form of the ancient Hebrew verb, "haya," meaning "to be." The basic thrust of this verb describes the state of existence. As the third person form of haya, Yahweh literally means "He is," or "He exists." It is a description of who God is. He is the self-existing one.
First, the literal meaning is that there will be violence and Daniel will kill if he deems it necessary. Daniel also tries to ‘Will’ or create a family or ‘blood’ to extend his so-called bloodline by having a son in his vision.
At the beginning train journey we can see hints of empathy towards HW, this is the start of the hope that is brought into his life. Its interesting that we assume Daniel slowly destroys himself as the story goes on as he looses HW, however Daniel may have been this type of character from the beginning of his life and this would explain why we meet him alone, it is only when we meet him again in 1911 after spending 8 years with HW possible becoming a more trusting and social person.
During an explosion HW becomes deaf and Daniel looses his power over HW, unable to use his words of gospel to raise his son as he wants, becomes a problem, this marks the beginning of Daniels hope fading away. After some frustration Daniel physiologically turns or perhaps re-turns to his darker side of obsessive work and hateful thoughts, this dark state is personified in the character that arrives at this juncture, Henry.
Henry + HW
Daniels loss of interest in his son is compounded by the arrival of new blood as he looses his power over HW. During the silent start of the film Daniel is used to being alone, however after growing with his son, Henry fills the familiarity of companionship but reflects the worst sides of Daniel. Daniel is mistrusting, Henry is untrustworthy, Daniel is driven by competition and Henry is driven by his failure and similar to Daniel does whatever is necessary to gain some success. It is also important that Henry tells Daniel he has no ambition so that Daniel can accept him, as he would not have let him in if he had potentially been a threat. At this point HW is send away and we see a glimpse of emotion from Daniel at this decision.
We can see parallels in the scenes where Daniel shares his thoughts with each of the characters. If we look at the first scene with Daniel and HW we see them framed together during Daniels dialogue showing their growing closeness, however we, the audience are watching the scene from behind and this hints at some element of falseness. I believe the falseness is the person Daniel is trying to be, although he is trying to run his family and share a moment with his son, I think he has to work hard to create this image of himself and is still hiding some of his true hatred.
We can contrast this scene with the moment he shares alone with Henry, they are framed separately to show the lack of real connection between them or perhaps that Daniel still hasn’t fully accepted Henry. This time however the dialogue is much more meaningful and truly revealing of Daniels character, this is shown by the close ups shots and the fact he is around his dark side and can perhaps speak his true feelings. Daniel admits to his own nature and can be seen to be speaking honestly. If there is doubt about which is the truer reflection of who Daniel really is, we hadn’t look further than the conclusion of the story were Daniel shows us which path he has chosen. He admits ‘I don’t need to look past seeing them to get all I need’ he gives little evaluative process for most of humanity, as his name Plainview implies.
Henry thematically represents Daniels darker side and we can see parallels between them physically, however each element is slightly more sinister with Henry. They are generally framed at the same height; they both have dark hair, moustaches and come from oil drilling backgrounds.
Another scene, which could be considered to parallel, would be the two instances of fire, HW tries to set their house on fire after reading Henrys diary, there are a few possible interpretations to this, either HW discovered that Henry was a fraud, he could perhaps see henry as competition for his fathers affection, sharing his fathers competition which would makes sense since Daniel is raising him in his image, or maybe HW discovers that Daniel never had a son through Daniels real brothers dairy entries about him. This seems unlikely as henry would know this information and he still asks where his mother is, however it is left to our imagination.
Henry is exposed as a fraud at the beach, the two men are framed directly one behind the other, showing their similarities, however henry is in complete darkness, again emphasising the darker side of Daniel. Once Daniel confronts Henry and he realises he has none of his blood in Henry then there is not connection to this man and he is killed for trying to achieve their means by deifying Daniel. Daniel is shown from an extreme low angle to show us his power, authority and godlike presence at this moment.
When HW arrives back to Daniel we see their meeting from a distance, this shows the lack of connection and distance now between the characters. This is also a technique used by PTA to intrigue the audience, it makes us want to see what’s going, Tarantino commonly uses this.
At the end HW is disowned as he tries to follow in his fathers footsteps by starting his own business, rather than be happy for him, Daniel shifts to the argument of ownership, if he’s not working under Daniel then he’s not part of him and that means he’s competition.
HW uses the line, ‘thank god I have none of you in me’, and this signifies the split between the two and HW thanks god, as he wasn’t able to live up to the unreasonable expectations of Daniels Godhood.
There is a short flashback at this point showing Daniel with a young HW. As the whole film revolves around Daniel we assume he is thinking it, however I believe after cutting HW off his mind is set and its HW who is experiencing hurt from the loss of a father and we see moments which are dear to him. The actions in the flashback are also quite revealing as Daniel pushes HW away and moves towards the oil drill and then HW playful kicks in his direction, this could foreshadow Daniel choosing his work over family and the eventual separation where Daniel never looks back and HW is left wanting more.
The suspicions nature of our introduction to Eli has the audience asking questions about his ability to be trusted, his off beat mannerisms and the question ‘does he have a twin brother or is the same character’. Eli’s character represent the mirror image of Daniel, they share the same hunger for success, they both use their power of speech to influence other, Eli sells himself as a fake profit as Daniel sells himself as a fairy-tale Family man. Like Daniel Eli likes things to be done his way, like when he is telling Daniel to introduce him at the well by telling him what to say, putting his words in Daniels mouth. He shares aims of Achieving Godhood.
Eli however has some key differences that contrast to these characteristics, Eli is greedy and wants money, Daniel never brags of his money, only his achievements, Eli wants success to be given to him because he says so, therefore exercising his words as gospel, however unlike Daniel he has not worked for it and earned the right and credibility with the audience to do so, this is why the silent start of the film is so important, it separates Daniel and Eli, from mere greed to success earned.
Daniel and Eli are too similar and are therefore in direct conflict with each other, their natures clash and neither is willing to fully accept the other. Both men can see the hints of falseness in each other’s acts, while in each others presence the tension builds from petty insults, to insulting the other way of life, to physical abuse, to embarrassment, to the eventual death of Eli.
Daniel murders twice in the film, the interesting points here are that both times he is caught and judged for it. Firstly, he kills Henry, caught by Bandy and is baptised, washed for his sins and forgiven by a false profit and fails at his attempt of redemption by bringing HW back. The second murder is Eli, caught by his housekeeper, this time with his God complex he refuses to let God judge him but facing away from us, however he judges himself and only then does he allow the film to end. An interesting point here is the use of water. Water is used to wash away his sins during the baptism but before the second murder its, seems that no amount of water can purify Daniel.
The bowling alley scene and Daniels baptism share parallels that give deeper meaning to the story. The obvious role reversal occurs from Eli embarrassing Daniel to Daniel taking his revenge on Eli, both men are exposed for their false natures. The baptism ends with Eli being physically aggressive towards Daniel; this is magnified in the final scene when Daniel physically kills Eli. As shown early in the film Daniel shows the lengths he is willing to go to in order to gain success, as he knows Eli is a false profit and the whole process is a fake, he is willing to put himself through it to get what he needs, because as established earlier, he said he would make a deal with union and therefore making it gospel, this is confirmed at the end of the baptism when he says the word ‘pipeline’ out loud. Daniel only has a problem with the process when he is made to say, ‘I have abandoned my child’. This line is difficult for Daniel because it is a truth he has hid from and dislikes having to explain himself, the fact the words are coming from Eli is twice as bad.
Eli and HW as brothers
This is an interesting theory, the idea that as the film progresses Daniel adopts both HW and Eli as his sons, making them brothers and disowning them both by the end of the film.
Shot of looking at map, father and 2 sons.
At the end of the film HW is married to Mary making Eli, Daniels stepson. Therefore obtaining both sons through Immaculate Conception. In these two shots PTA has constructed the same visual language with each son connected to their so-called father, the similarity in composition suggests a similar connection to Daniel. At the end of the film Daniel tells Eli that his brother Paul, meaning HW was the smart one and has his own business now, just like HW has just told Daniel. This could mean that despite disowning HW, Daniel has faith in his ability to become successful because of how he raised him.
Another scene which shares parallels are the beating of Eli in the mud and the beating of Abel at the dinner table, both are framed similarly and the positions of the characters are the same, this could show that Eli has disowned his father as he wishes he was like Daniel, this would explain why Eli inherits the same traits as Daniel. This theory is interesting but it would only seem valid if you could explain what the purpose would be to make HW and Eli brother thematically. I believe that Daniel would have raised HW to be exactly like him and would have taken on the character traits of Daniel and therefore Eli, since Daniel and Eli mirror each and are in direct conflict, resulting in Daniel killing HW, however HW’s upbringing was altered and out of Daniels hands which led HW to a becoming a different character and ultimately saving his life.
Did Daniel Love HW?
We can assume that Daniel took advantage of his situation with HW and used him as the front man of the family business, however the more important question is, did Daniel love HW.
This may be down to personal opinion, however I will share some evidence on why I think the answer is closer to yes. Although he tries to loves HW it is outweigh by his need for a son.
Firstly, Daniels childhood dream of having children in a big house, Daniel protects Mary by stopping Able beating her, this is very revealing as he goes out of his way to make this change, perhaps because he wants to do right by his son or maybe because he has his own views on how children should be raised and although he refuses to be told how to raise his family he doesn’t mind telling other. We can see genuine emotion when HW is hurt, when he is making noises, with his struggle to communicate with him and when he sends HW away on the train, although the right decision for him, we can see the emotion that has been provoked. During HW’s return Daniel says the line, ‘that does me good.’ Which is very telling also, HW is brought back to make Daniel feel better and not out of empathy for HW. Although Daniel tries to love HW, he is in his life because he has an inner need for a son; this need is stronger than his ability to love.
How certain shot emphasis the narrative and support the analysis above.
Paul Thomas Anderson uses several ways of keeping the audience engaged in the film, one way is to have a moving camera and the other is to leave gaps for the audience to fill in the gaps with there imagination.
A way to actively involve the audience
How PTA shows touches of Kubrick through the film from the shining and 2001 and how they support the analysis and narrative
As reflected in 2001’s structure the film shows us the evolution of characters and the eventual re-birth as the star child. The silent segment resembles the dawn of man, the middle of the film shows the developing stages for evolution in the vast space of endless fields and the end is in a very different environment presented in Bowman’s final destination, here shown in the cold mansion at the conclusion. The alignment of these stages magnifies the lack of evolution seen in Daniel. He begins the journey as an insignificant ape and instead of being reborn, returns to his caveman mentality. 2001 starts lonely ends reborn as starchild, twbb, lonely and ends up lonely. The comparison of the film emphasis the lack of evolution.
Perhaps the use of 2001 images pays homage to the ambition shared to make such grand stories.
Bowling alley= elevator doors=blood
Mirrors the social alienation of Kubrick’s work.
The beginning of the film, the balls and sound with black screen. Explaining and series of events,
Music liget overture atmospheres/ johnny greenwood-henry plainview plus black screen. Extended no dialogue like the dawn of man, showing us that like an ape, dnaiel at the beginning of the movie is discovering things for himself, and when we meet him again in the middle section of the film he is elevated or advanced to a fully formed human with success and hungry.
Monolith= dawn of man 2 middle and then
Middle, last shot before moving up is hw and mary juming with 2 monoliths at the side perhaps showing a very separate eveolution of HW and his father which leads us to the future.
God has judged him proud, and punishes him with loneliness. Further irony is found in the fact that the person he judged most correctly was Eli. In the Bible, God gave us Jesus, but in this film, Plainview can not make the sacrifice. H.W. must be in his image, or there will be no H.W. He doesn't love, he wants, and thus fails to achieve godhood. Where Eli is false in God's name, so too is Plainview in God's image.