x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

There Will Be Blood

DVD review Raymond Beauchemin identifies a psychological pivot that sets Paul Thomas Anderson's multi-Oscar winning chef-d'?uvre towards its inexorable end.

Daniel-Day Lewis won a deserved second Best Actor Oscar for his embodiment of Daniel Plainview in <i>There Will Be Blood</i>.
Daniel-Day Lewis won a deserved second Best Actor Oscar for his embodiment of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood.

The United States was founded on three principles: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. One would be forgiven thinking, based on recent history and the movie There Will Be Blood, that the founding principles were two: God and oil. Indeed, God and oil are a limited partnership in this film, embodied by Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis, in the role that won him a Best Actor Academy Award in 2008), a do-it-himself prospector and driller, and Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a devil-casting evangelical of remarkable strength and fragility. Both characters are preachers of a sort: each promises a better life to Californians who, in 1911, are in need of hope and bread. Sunday says it will come in the afterlife. Plainview promises it a little sooner than that. Neither delivers, although they do attract their followers - the Christians of Little Boston and the hard-scrabble landowners who wish to make it rich from the black gold beneath their parched land (captured like postcards from the 1900s by Robert Elswit, who won the Oscar for cinematography). Plainview and Sunday's is a combative relationship, based on a traitorous act by Paul Sunday, the pastor's brother (also played by Dano), and Eli Sunday's need for money to grow his church. Plainview uses that desire to his advantage, only to have it turn against him when he needs something himself - land through which his pipeline must traverse to get to the Pacific Ocean. His need and his competitiveness force him to his knees in front of Sunday's congregation, begging for the mercy of the Lord. It's a hell of a show - as is Sunday's ultimate humiliation near the end of the film when Plainview is successfully retired and Sunday has lost everything in the crash of 1929 - and reinforces the ugliness of the marriage of manna and Mammon. Just as interesting and even more complicated is the relationship between Plainview and the boy he adopts as his own, H W (Dillon Freasier). Plainview has no idea how to raise a son, yet he does - as any good man thrust into that situation would. Yet Plainview, as complex a character as he is, is no good man: we see this in the repeated ways he does whatever is necessary to get what he wants, even to the point of lying before God. And while he also does what is necessary to care for the boy, it is clear he is devoted firstly to the oil that will make his reputation and make him rich. When he finally confronts H W with the truth about his being an orphan - "there is none of me in you" - one could see it as a blessing. The line refers to a previous conversation Plainview has with a man he thinks is his half-brother, Henry (Kevin J O'Connor), when Plainview says that what is in him - his competitiveness - is also in Henry. When what is in Henry is revealed, it has disastrous consequences for him. Day-Lewis is known for the complexity with which he saturates his characters. That complete absorption has a physical ­dimension ? Plainview sweats crude until his last moments ? as well as an emotional one so the relationships he has with Sunday, H W and Henry are full and persuasive, and his maniacal Plainview is less mono- than megalo-. It is this level of acting that has won Day-Lewis the Oscar before ? for his portrayal of Christy Brown in My Left Foot (1989) ? and nominations for his roles in Gangs of New York (2003) and In the Name of the Father (1994). In any given narrative work, there is usually a "then" moment - that pivot after which everything changes. Psychologically speaking, that pivotal moment happens to Plainview before we meet him. For the purpose of There Will Be Blood, however, his singly focused trajectory comes to the point of change with the last words he speaks: "I'm finished."