3 Stars — Thought-provoking
What does it take to make you happy? Most people would list either family, financial security, a job that brings fulfillment, or love. There Will Be Blood reminds us that we can pay a steep price if we are trying to achieve a self-centered happiness.
Based loosely on the Upton Sinclair book, Oil, this story follows the life of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) from his days as a young prospector in Texas to his final days as a rich oilman in California. Like many men who came west to make their fortune, Plainview had planted himself in the right place at the right time, securing early tracts of land where oil was about to become big in Texas. Set in the period of the 1890s and the early 20th century, Plainview is a prototype for every common man who wants to strike it rich “out West.”
Plainview is a loner, who only rations his affections to his son, H.W. Plainview (Dillon Freasier). We do not really know what happened to H.W.’s mother, but H.W. is the only place in Plainview’s life where his soul is touched in a positive way. Otherwise, he has little use for other people, and his ultimate desire is to be rich enough to get away from everyone.
With the shrewdness of a prospector, Plainview combs the hills of the Southwest looking for the right geological conditions that would indicate oil could be beneath the surface of what often seems like useless land. This search ultimately leads him into an unlikely and unholy alliance with the Sunday family. Plainview despises the simple-mindedness of this subsistence farming clan, but he wants the land upon which they sit. With promises of wealth, he takes advantage of their situation and proceeds to make himself rich while never really sharing the proceeds with the Sundays.
It is in this relationship that the moral lessons of the film are learned. Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), the sanctimonious son of the owner of the land, fashions himself as a modern-day Christian prophet, physically and spiritually healing sinners through a blend of Scripture verses and tent revival theatrics. Sunday sees a chance for his personal success to be elevated through the prestige and funding of Plainview’s oil royalties. He wants to build a church with Plainview’s money. With an outward capacity to preach and hold the attention of the town’s folk, there is a corruption of Sunday’s inner soul by his love of attention and his ego-driven desire to be a great man of God in the eyes of his community and family.
Plainview despised Sunday’s flimflam spirituality, but he needed his help to achieve his financial success. Plainview’s biggest business deal is to build an oil pipeline to the northern Santa Barbara County coast from Central California, thus saving millions of dollars of transportation costs. Ironically, the reluctant owner of the land across which he must travel happens to be a staunch member and supporter of Sunday’s church. With the ease of a serpent, Plainview slithers into Sunday’s church and becomes a “saved soul” and a financial supporter of the church. With everyone’s temporal needs in place, he goes on to become the multimillionaire loner he always desired to be.
Like many people of wealth, Plainview is faced with the fact that money doesn’t buy happiness. Early in his career, his young son, H.W., lost his hearing in an accident in the oil fields. Despite Plainview’s mistrust of Sunday, he is even more frustrated by the fact that Sunday preaches a good line about physical healing, but he can’t really heal the hearing of the only person who means something to him. Here is the one thing in his life that money can’t buy.
There Will Be Blood exemplifies the answer to the biblical question: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, if it costs him his soul?” Plainview’s frustration darkens his hatred for Sunday to a depth that ultimately leads him to the point of destruction. In the end, there is a shattering of everyone’s lives by greed, duplicity, hypocrisy, vengeance and envy.
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.