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Cole Drumb

There Will Be Blood: A Character Analysis of Daniel Plainview (Part 1)

Will Be Blood

“A classically styled film with an imposing and original soundtrack.”

“A work of art, arguably good, occasionally infuriating.”

“There Will Be Blood is oil, family, birth, death, passion.”

All true, these types of statements are expected when writing a
review. But this is not a review. Instead, I want to focus solely on
the main character of Daniel Plainview, a role that will without
question receive much attention and analysis in the years to come.

Played by Daniel Day-Lewis, Daniel Plainview is hypnotic and for
much of the film shows an emotional restraint I have come to know as
being tempered by a hard and unforgiving land. As with Terrence Malick,
Paul Thomas Anderson has announced that he understands outward emotions
and manners were very different in times past. Yet, in many reviews
Plainview has been described as evil, sociopathic, even a monster.
Painting Plainview as another Hannibal Lecter cheapens what will soon
be considered one of cinema’s great character pieces.

In this write-up, I want to give a few examples of Daniel Plainview
in direct conflict with the labels critics have given him. Societal
monsters are defined by their actions and throughout the film
Plainview’s actions are those of a man, plain and simple. Contextually,
even his outbursts of anger and rage can be understood and rationalized
within the story without the easy characterization of monster or
sociopath. Be aware that I discuss specifics of the film that reveal
plot points.

Here now is the required MAJOR SPOILER WARNING.

Plainview starts as a solitary man, unafraid of his own quiet
company and aware of the dangers inherent in the type of work he has
chosen. While digging a silver mine he falls down the shaft. Left with
a broken leg, alone in the rocky plains, he has enough mental fortitude
to check his work (he’d be a fool not to, he’s already down there),
crawl out of the shaft and then out of his campsite for help. Much the
same way a farmer would react after catching an arm in a thrasher –
removing the damaged appendage, hopefully not damaging the machine, and
walking or crawling back to the farm for help – Daniel Plainview does
what is rational and necessary when faced with a bad situation.

Early in the film, a deadly well accident kills the father of an
infant. Plainview steps up and adopts the child, H.W., and gives him
the Plainview name. Granted, adopting the child and bringing him along
on business trips works to Plainview’s favor while dealing with the
public, but he also shows sincere kinship with the child, as he does
with another child in the film, Mary Sunday.

While building the initial oil well on the Sunday family farm, H.W.
informs Plainview that young Mary Sunday is beaten by her own father,
Abel, if she fails to “do all the praying shivering lord stuff” that he
demands. Plainview intervenes and makes sure that the physical abuse
comes to an end. Speaking to Mary (from the script):

DANIEL: “Daddy doesn’t hit you anymore does he? Does he now? He
better not, right? I’ll take care of you.”

He leans in and holds her shoulders kindly;

DANIEL: “No more hitting, right? No more hitting. Now go. Go play
some more and don’t come back!”

She runs off. HOLD. Daniel holds a look on Abel, who looks away.

Throughout the film Plainview reveals himself to be a man protective
of children. Late in the film he admits to a longstanding dream; as a
child himself Plainview felt the desire to raise children. In his own
way he seems to cherish family. When Plainview believes a competitor is
attempting to tell him how to raise his son, Plainview threatens to cut
his throat. Family, it seems, is a third rail for Plainview that runs
throughout the film.

Part Two HERE!

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