There Will Be Blood part 3

In which I talk about Daniel Plainview’s family issues.

ACT III: So, DP has built his derrick in Little Boston and gotten it running.

The first thing we’re shown in this act is DP, sleeping on the floor of his cabin (he has a habit of doing that — probably because of his drinking), being woken up in the night because one of his workers has been killed in the well.

So we see that for each hole DP digs, there must be a sacrifice. The first one only asked for DP’s leg, the second took HW’s father, the third takes an anonymous worker.

We see that Eli has taken strong advantage of DP’s operations — his church is the only thing in the town that seems to be thriving under DP’s influence. DP comes by to talk to Eli about seeing to the spiritual needs of the killed worker, and Eli uses the scene to try to “put DP in his place.” DP calls Eli on his bullshit, reminds him that Eli only has his church, and his flock, and their money, because DP is here to “blow gold all over the place.”

The derrick hits a gusher, and HW becomes deaf as a result. And I’m watching the movie thinking “Why deafness? Why is it important that HW become deaf as a result of DP’s gusher? How does deafness function as a metaphor for something in DP’s life? And it took a couple of reels to come to me, but we’ll get to that in a minute — first, we need to talk about sex.

It has been mentioned elsewhere that DP is impotent. And it is, apparently, mentioned more explicitly in the Blood screenplay. This could account for DP’s obsession with digging holes and his fascination with precious fluids gushing from towers. But whatever the screenplay’s indications, the finished movie downplays psychology (and editorializing) for simple observation, which is always the better choice in moviemaking. So maybe a gusher is only a gusher, but it’s nevertheless interesting that DP abandons his injured son in order to metaphorically “get his rocks off” at his oil well. The fact that the gusher catches on fire, becoming a giant pillar of flame — well, what impotent man wouldn’t be impressed by that? (Who knows, maybe that’s why the image of DP sitting on his camp stool, gazing at his flaming pillar, has become the signature image of the movie. Becausethat’s all you people can think about is sex, sex, sex.)

Anyhow, DP tends to HW and then beats Eli up for not being able to heal his son — essentially, calling him on his con game. DP may have swindled the people of Little Boston out of their resources, but at least he produces a tangible commodity. Eli trades on fear and ignorance and gives his marks nothing in return — he’s nothing more than “show business.”

So DP attacks Eli and pushes him into a puddle and covers his face in oil. Eli, helpless to retaliate, instead goes home and attacks his father at the dinner table. So we could say that this whole act is a daisy chain of impotence-related violence. DP, because of his impotence, digs oil wells to achieve sexual fulfillment, which indirectly leads to HW’s deafness, which leads to DP bitch-smacking Eli, which leads to Eli bitch-smacking his father (who probably used to beat the lord into Eli and his siblings, which would mean that Eli’s brand of highly physical soul-saving is merely a transference of the anger he feels toward his father).

ACT IV: Henry Plainview arrives, claiming to be DP’s half-brother. DP is suspicious, but Henry knows enough details of DP’s childhood to pass inspection.

DP cottons to Henry right away. Before the night is out, he gives HW a milkshake (!) of whiskey and goat’s milk (this, strange as it sounds, becomes important later) to put him to sleep and goes outside and tells Henry all about himself.

This scene, and a later one where DP tells Henry about the fancy house back home that provided the model for DP’s ambitions, struck me as false the first couple of times I watched the movie. DP doesn’t confide in anyone during the movie, but he’s known Henry for only a couple of hours before he spills his hopes and dreams (although he does clams up when the talk turns to women). Then I started to string together DP’s family history. He begins alone, and he acquires a son, but not a “real” son. Then he acquires a brother, but as we will soon see, not a “real” brother. We could say that DP’s entire story is about replacing real things with fake things — he replaces sex with drilling for oil, women with the earth, HW for a son and Henry for a brother.

Then I thought more about HW, and DP’s attitude toward him. At the end of the movie, DP disowns HW, calling him “nothing but a bastard in a basket.” But we see that DP, in his way, does love HW, tries to care for him, does the best he’s able to try to form him into an intelligent young man. So he’s not a monster, he’s not inhuman, he has feelings.

And then I was thinking about the whiskey. DP drinks whiskey, and literally the first thing we see him do with HW is feed him whiskey. So we see that DP is trying to turn HW into another DP — he takes him with him on his scouting trips, teaches him to hate the suits, teaches him how to be a wily businessman, a skillful con man and a fierce competitor. Then I realized, that’s why it’s important, dramatically, that HW goes deaf. Because if HW is deaf, DP can’t talk to him, and his shot at turning HW into another DP goes out the window. DP may love HW, but he loves him for the same reason a lot of bad parents love their children — because the child represents a smaller version of the parent. DP’s love for HW is nothing more than a form of self-love.

And so we see that, to DP, Henry’s arrival on the scene comes at exactly the right time. With HW a crushing disappointment, DP has no one to turn into another version of himself. Then Henry arrives and DP’s relief is palpable. Which explains why DP unburdens himself so easily around Henry, and so willingly. His hopes-and-dreams speeches may sound like backstory, but they’re actually making a dramatic point — not about DP’s hopes and dreams, but about his relationship with HW. He’s telling Henry all these things because he’ll never be able to tell HW.

HW, in spite of his deafness, correctly intuits that Henry has, in the course of an evening, literally replaced him in the eyes of DP, which is why he tries to kill Henry by burning down the cabin (it seems that DP’s lessons about dealing with competition got through loud and clear).

(HW isn’t the only one jealous of Henry. Henderson, DP’s loyal assistant, is also replaced, when DP takes Henry surveying, the job that Henderson used to do. Henderson feels the sting of betrayal almost as strongly as HW, and comments on it.)

DP sends HW away, abandoning him at the train without saying goodbye, and the next thing we see is DP, and Henry, talking to the suits from Standard Oil, negotiating a deal for his business. The Guy From Standard offers him a million dollars for his interest in Little Boston, and DP says “And what else would I do with myself?” Which comes back to one of my original thoughts — does DP become a prospector in order to become rich, or because he enjoys the work? Indeed, if drilling for oil is DP’s way of having sex, GFS’s offer to buy him out is nothing less than an offer to emasculate him. Whereas DP’s grand scheme is to take his oil interests — all those towers spurting precious fluids — and attach to them a, yes, a big long pipe, buried in the ground, heading all the way to the sea. (Perhaps when he was an adolescent DP overheard someone talking about the satisfaction they got from “laying pipe” and took the phrase literally.) DP makes a big stink about GFS’s offer being a comment on his child-rearing skills, and there may be a certain amount of guilt he feels about sending HW away without saying goodbye, but I have the feeling that DP’s fulminations about family here are just as bogus as they were when he was using HW to sell himself to the townspeople of Little Boston — HW is a shield, in both cases, for DP to keep from revealing his true nature.

DP threatens to kill GFS in his sleep if he ever mentions HW again, and while we’ve seen DP accidentally kill men before, a direct threat is something new for him, and we’ll see later that his homicidal nature is a key component to his drive for self-actualization.

DP takes Henry on the trek to the coast, two brothers scheming to lay pipe to the ocean (that sounds like a drunken challenge if I ever heard one — “let’s you and me lay pipe all the way to the ocean”). He pounds a stake into a table at the HQ of Union Oil, and everyone applauds. Pounding a stake to show where to lay pipe so you can pump precious fluids to the ocean sounds about as Freudian as it gets, but the Union Oil guys seem enormously happy with the whole thing.

(We don’t hear much about Eli in this act, and Eli is the central antagonist of the movie. Instead, we hear about William Bandy, a holdout that DP needs in order to complete his pipeline. Later, we learn that Bandy’s price for leasing his land is to have DP join Eli’s church, which I’ll talk more about later. The important thing is that Bandy is really nothing more than a reflection of DP’s conflict with Eli — another replacement.)

DP and Henry reach the ocean and DP tells Henry his story about the house back in Wisconsin. This speech is related to his earlier speech about how he hates people, and again, I thought it was the weakest moment in the movie, until I realized that he’s not giving the example of the house to indicate his dreams, but to indicate how small his dreams are compared to reality. His dream house back in Wisconsin, the “mansion on the hill” that gave him his ambition, he now says would probably make him sick if he saw it today — the reality of his achievement with the pipeline pushes him far beyond his childhood fantasies.

Soon after this scene, DP puts two and two together and realizes that Henry is not his brother — he has confided in a man who is a mere stranger. DP then kills Henry, digs another oily hole(apparently no hole in There Will Be Blood is complete without a body in it) and buries him.

Why does DP kill Henry? It’s true that Henry is an impostor, but he didn’t ask DP to make him a partner, or confide in him — DP did that. Henry was hoping for maybe a job at best, it was DP who decided to replace a son with a brother. DP kills Henry partly as punishment for his charade, partly for the knowledge that Henry is a stranger who knows something about him, partly from his shame at replacing HW with an impostor, and partly for one more creepier, darker reason, which I will get to tomorrow.

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13 Responses to “There Will Be Blood part 3”
  1. Of the five nominated Best Picture films, this is the movie that has stayed on my mind since seeing it last month. I’d been thinking of seeing it again.
    And Todd, thanks to your breakdown of “There Will be Blood” I’m going to go see it again this weekend! (but first I’m going to stop off at the local Dairy Queen and bring a long a milk shake. I think everyone who sees this film should bring one along too!) :b

  2. greyaenigma says:

    As anticipated, you said a lot of what I meant to about DP’s motivation, that he’s trying to create someone to replace him, someone to pass on all this to. Which does make HW’s eventual decision to start his own oilfield to unpleasant to DP — he can’t hand down what he’s accomplished… which perhaps invalidates his whole life in his eyes.

    I did know ahead of time that Paul and Eli were the same actor, but I still had the same thought I assumed DP did — that Paul was just playing with them.

    I also thought, during most of the movie, that Eli was genuine about his belief… at least during most of the movie.

    It’s also worth noting that DP gets his most violent at anything that threatens to expose his impotence — HW is something like his beard, and the oil company’s threat to buy him out not only takes away those precious spurting derricks, but also the apparent evidence he’s been able to produce a son. He kills Henry not only after the discussion about the house, but when they talk (he talks) about women. And an evening where DP fails to, you know… do anything. And is it my imagination, or did Eli mention something about women during the “I am a sinner” speech, which prompted and odd, almost bemused reaction from DP?

    • mr_noy says:

      And is it my imagination, or did Eli mention something about women during the “I am a sinner” speech…?

      That caught me by surprise too. The script is online and there are some interesting things that didn’t make it into the final film, such as the scene in which Daniel has sex with a townswoman in an alleyway. Presumably Eli is referring to DP’s encounter with the townswoman (or LOCAL VIXEN WOMAN as she is somewhat redundantly referred to in the screenplay.)

      • greyaenigma says:

        Well, not all local women are vixens, and not all vixens are local — the trickster kitsune of Japan are especially infamous. Maybe they had to cut that scene because a samurai riding in to rescue DP from the vixen would have been disrupted the flow of the main film too badly.

        • Todd says:

          I imagine you’re joking, but the fact that DP obviously has no mother to speak of indicates that perhaps she was, indeed, a Fon-du-lac, Wisconsin sort of kitsune.

  3. Anonymous says:

    DP, sleeping on the floor of his cabin (he has a habit of doing that — probably because of his drinking)

    Huh — I hadn’t thought of it that way. I kept connecting it to how he probably slept when he was out mining — that he was, consciously or not, returning to a time before he had a kid, employees, etc., when it was just him. It also reminded me of the TV show “Profit” (which I’m not sure if you’ve seen).

    — Kent M. Beeson

  4. Anonymous says:

    DP and H.W.

    One scene that I can’t get out of my head….

    We know of DP’s conflict with family and lack of a natural son and how he explains it so tragically to H.W at the end (“I only used you because I needed a sweet face to buy land”) sidenote: I felt like crying for H.W (as any human would) BUT,

    Here’s where I get confused. Flash back to poor H.W getting his ears blown out and the end of that scene has DP lying next to him in bed, comforting him and cooing him like a caring, loving Father. The camera pans from the top in a most touching scene. Can this guy be that bad if he truly reacted like that? That’s my conflict with the character.

    • Todd says:

      Re: DP and H.W.

      I think that PTA means us to be conflicted about the character. When he says those things to the adult HW at the end of the movie, he’s saying them to hurt him — we’ve seen him be a loving father (or at least as loving as he is capable of being). One of the great things about the movie is that it doesn’t provide us with any easy answers.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Have any of you morons even read oil the book its based on. hE goes deaf because a character in the book goes deaf when the well hits a gusher. plain view is an amalgamation of characters and all of the events that happen to the charctrs happen to him.