There Will Be Blood
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

There Will Be Blood, the latest from director Paul Thomas Anderson and adapted from Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel, Oil!, concerns the rise and descent of ruthless oil baron, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis). It is, on one hand, a visually stark look at the machinations of American capitalism, as represented by the misanthropic Plainview. On the other hand, its failure is rooted in the lack of historical exposition that gives insight of how a miserable, scheming tycoon came to be. The film resorts to the ultimately simplistic notion of "innate evil" or "human nature" instead of attempting to examine social or economic relations explored in Sinclair's novel.

The film begins with Plainview as a silver prospector in 1898 California, who discovers oil on one of his mining expeditions. He earns enough from this find to start a small oil company with a crew. One of his workers is killed during drilling, which leaves Plainview the guardian of the worker's son, whom he adopts as H.W. Using his foster son as crutch to obtain leasing rights (as a "family man"), Plainview builds a monopoly by buying out landowners and becomes even wealthier by 1911. A man named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) offers to sell a prospect to his family's property in Little Boston, California, which he claims has oil. Plainview travels to the Sunday farm and deceives the family by buying what he claims is land for hunting quail. However, Paul's twin brother, Eli (also Dano), an evangelical preacher at the town's Third Revelation Church, already knows of the oil and sells the land rights to Plainview for $10,000, some of which he uses for his church.

Plainview sets up an oil rig on the Sunday property and immediately promotes himself as a the father figure who looks after the town's basic needs. He competes with Eli for control of the people's hearts and minds. Plainview, an atheist, spurns Eli's request to bless the opening of the rig. Eli has cynical motives himself, using oil money to build up his church and its members, whom he galvanizes with fire and brimstone sermons. Despite his success, Plainview is subject to misanthropic rage, particularly against those who encroaches on his territory. He threatens to slit the throat of a Standard Oil executive who suggests he should sell his company to the oil giant and take care of his son. Plainview's relationship to his son, H.W., is less protective and more as another asset he can control. When H.W. loses his hearing and becomes unable to communicate after an oil rig explosion, Plainview sees him as a liability. He descends further into his hatred of the world and eventually madness. Plainview confides in an associate, who claims to be his brother, in a scene that sums up the film's central point: "I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people...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...I see the worst in people. I don't need to look past seeing them to get all I need. I want to rule and never, ever explain myself. I've built my hatred up over the years..."

Plainview is clearly a malevolent figure and Daniel Day-Lewis gives a magnetic performance (though occasionally over-the-top, particularly at the conclusion). There Will Be Blood, shot by cinematographer Robert Elswit, is a visually rich film. There is a sense of doom in the frenetic, chaotic depiction of capitalist decadence, which Anderson no doubt sincerely feels regarding greed and corruption in American capitalism. Anderson unfortunately does not answer the larger questions pertaining to the subject matter at hand, focusing on Plainview as an individual, operating independent of any authoritarian structures that typically encourage many more Daniel Plainviews of the real world. The writer-director deviates greatly from the socialist viewpoint of Sinclair's novel. In Oil!, the son evolves as a socialist opposing his capitalist father. In the film, greed, corruption, and hatred are characteristics of Daniel Plainview the capitalist, but not necessarily capitalism itself. Whether Anderson is consciously aware of this or not, or whether he intends this or not, There Will Be Blood falls into the trap of disaffected liberalism, which manifests itself in films as resignation. Taking this to liberal conclusions, this would mean reforming people rather than attacking the system.

Of course, one doesn’t expect a socialist critique like the one in Sinclair’s novel or an anti-authoritarian perspective in a studio-financed film nor should one expect a didactic approach. But a deeper look into the socioeconomic circumstances that existed in the early 20th century would provide better insight into capitalists like Daniel Plainview and American capitalism in general, which go beyond concepts of evil and insanity. In short, if one tries to make sense of the madness of capitalism, one has to look at the method as well.