There Will Be Blood part 4

In which I wrap up this far-too-long chunk of character analysis.

After murdering and burying Henry, DP is awoken at his campsite by William Bandy, who has apparently been looking for him to seal this pipeline deal. Bandy’s price for leasing DP his land for the pipeline is that DP join Eli’s church.

(DP gets woken up several times in this movie, and never to good news. First he is awoken to be told that a worker has been killed, then to find out that his son has set the house on fire, then to Bandy holding a shotgun, then to Eli telling him [hmm…] that his house is on fire.)

DP, in a corner, submits to Bandy’s demand, and agrees to join Eli’s flock.

(Does Bandy know that DP has killed Henry? It’s hard to say. Bandy mentions DP’s “sin” and DP jokes about drilling being a sin [which, I suppose, if it’s a substitution for sex, it is] and Bandy responds by handing DP the gun he used to kill Henry. Did Bandy find Henry’s grave, and had DP left his gun nearby? Or had Bandy merely disarmed DP in his sleep so that DP wouldn’t kill him once he woke up?)

DP goes to Eli’s church, which is the only thing that seems to have improved since DP’s arrival in Little Boston, and submits to a public humiliation and beating from Eli, who forces DP to repeatedly shout “I’VE ABANDONED MY CHILD!” which, although I would argue is not strictly true (he has checked with Henderson to make sure the boy is being well cared-for), seems true enough for DP, since he did try to replace HW with an impostor. Otherwise, Eli’s speech about DP’s deeds strikes me as calculated and false as DP’s speeches about family — that is, they’re both con-jobs designed to elicit a response. And Eli, the son of the abusive father, not only beats his father (in private) but now beats DP, the man who posed as a father to all of Little Boston, in public — this, after DP promised Eli’s sister Mary “no more hitting.” After DP has been beaten and humiliated by Eli, Mary comes and kisses him, seemingly returning his promise to her.

(Mary exists at an interesting interstice in the movie. A true innocent, she seems to believe in both DP and Eli — although oddly, Eli does not marry her to HW.)

The pipeline is complete, and the very next thing we see happen is that Eli leaves town — his work here is apparently done. As though his duty was never to minister to the needs of the townsfolk, but to beat and humiliate DP — once that’s accomplished, he’s ready to move on.

With false-brother Henry out of the way and the pipeline built (that is, DP’s sexual needs fulfilled), DP brings HW back tout suite. HW delivers a few blows of his own to DP in revenge for being sent away, but otherwise seems forgiving and glad to be back.

DP takes HW into town, where he orders a whiskey for himself and goat’s milk and water for HW. And while it may seem like a tiny thing, I find it interesting that we have a scene where, when a drink order is involved, DP orders something different for HW — every other time DP, HW and drinks have been in the same scene, it’s DP forcing whiskey upon HW. Now that the son has been brought back to his father’s side, DP seems to be less interested in turning HW into a clone of himself. He’s willing to accept that, to a certain extent, his son is “his own man” now, and should have his own (age-appropriate) drink.

ACT VI: We now flash-forward to 1927. DP, now without his gushing derricks and pipe-laying, is reduced to shooting things in the front hallway of his mansion. We also see that his signature, so dynamic and eloquent in the earlier Act I close-up, has become a blurry smudge — further evidence of DP’s loss of identity.

HW, who has married Mary Sunday in a wonderfully economic act change (compare to the screenplay, if you wish) comes to see DP, to tell him about his decision to go into business for himself in Mexico. He says that he misses working outdoors, and I imagine that DP feels that way too.

(This, by the way, is very good dramatic construction — coming in as late as possible in a scene. We don’t see or hear about anything that DP or HW has done in the past XX years, everything must be inferred.)

DP, feeling that HW has betrayed him by becoming a competitor, disowns him in violently derogatory terms. But this “family speech” is just as bogus and calculated as his others — we finally get the feeling that DP doesn’t really understand anything about family — and why should he? His father (probably) beat him, he didn’t know his mother, he drills for oil instead of falling in love with a woman, his son is not his son and his brother was not his brother, what in God’s name does DP understand about family? Except that we see that he did love HW, to the extent that he is capable of loving anything. Even if his love for HW is only a form of self-love, that makes DP no different from many other parents.

The more curious thing is why DP feels that HW has become a competitor. He doesn’t seem to feel that way about Fletcher Henderson, his longtime associate, who now apparently is in his own business. Nor, as we will see, does he hold any grudges against Paul Sunday, Eli’s brother, who took DP’s money and made himself his own profitable oil business.Why does DP hold such anger toward HW’s branching out? And more to the point, what did DP expect him to do, after a lifetime of lessons from DP? Is he merely looking for a reason to write off HW, so that he can take his final step toward self-actualization?

Which is what happens next. Soon after disowning HW, DP is awoken from a drunken stupor one last time — this time, he has fallen asleep in his private bowling alley — in a cute visual pun, literally “lying in the gutter.”

Eli has come to call. It is, apparently, some time after DP disowning HW — Eli makes mention of “the recent panic in our economy.” Eli, like DP, now drinks whiskey (and in the screenplay arrives at DP’s house with a pair of floozies). And DP has his now-famous milkshake speech, but more importantly, I think, is what he has to say about Eli’s brother Paul. Eli, DP says, poses as prophet, but it is Paul who is the real prophet. Paul, whose character arc is to sell out his family and his community, then use the money to start his own drilling business (I wonder what Paul’s sex life is like) is seen by DP as the “good” son, while Eli he considers the “bad” son, because Paul, it seems, understands the world and his place in it in a way that Eli has not begun to grasp.

And here we get to DP’s final step in self-actualization. Because for all his talk about the importance of family, what DP actually feels is that there is no such thing. A family, DP shows by his actions, is something you betray and subvert and sell out and destroy.

Check this out. This is the plot structure for Act VI: DP wants to “lay pipe” on the Bandy tract, which leads to DP joining Eli’s church, which leads to Mary’s acceptance of DP, which leads to Mary’s hanging out with HW and learning his language (Mary can talk to HW, DP cannot), which leads to HW falling in love with Mary (maybe that’s why DP disowns him — in spite of HW’s handicap, he has an apparently normally-functioning sex life), which leads to HW marrying Mary, which leads to Eli becoming DP’s brother.

And here’s what, I think, The Protagonist has Wanted all along — to fulfill his self-actualization by murdering his brother. DP bellows at Eli that he is “the third revelation” (Revelations being the last book in the Bible) and the title of the movie comes from Exodus, but DP’s story, it seems to me, comes from Genesis — he is Cain, whose job it is to kill his brother. All along, DP has wanted to kill his brother, but first didn’t know he had one to kill, then killed a man who claimed to be his brother. His sense of competition, his psychopathic outburst at the Guy From Standard, his lying, cheating, drinking, despoiling of the land — unable to commit original sin, DP settles for sin #2, fratricide. Then, and only then, is he “finished.”

In a movie rife with Kubrick references, the bowling alley scene stands out as a twofer — the set itself is unmistakably designed and photographed as though a lost corner of the Overlook Hotel (it is, of course, a basement — another hole dug, another body for it), and DP’s tragical-comical attack on Eli is reminiscent of Humbert’s attack on Quilty at the end of Lolita. Not to mention DP’s understanding that he was put on earth to kill his family, a quality he shares with many of Kubrick’s protagonists.

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41 Responses to “There Will Be Blood part 4”
  1. moroccomole says:

    This has been really amazing to read. Thank you for writing/posting it.

    • Todd says:

      Next, I’m working on a 10-part series analyzing the character of “Hud” from Cloverfield.

      • moroccomole says:

        Once, in his childhood, he was traumatized by being attacked by a homeless person who was on fire.

        • Todd says:

          He is also incapable of seeing the world through his own eyes — like Plainview, he creates a substitute for his losses, substitutes a camera for his eyes. Apparently when he was a child, someone once told him “take a picture, it will last longer” and he took them at their word.

          • moroccomole says:

            And yet he felt limited by the short range of the Disc Camera he received as a First Communion present and longed to be like Superman, with telescopic vision that would allow him to see long distances. And in the dark. The terrifying, terrifying dark.

            • Todd says:

              At the end of my analysis, it will be revealed that Hud always secretly longed to be half-eaten by a giant monster from under the sea. Mother-complex thing.

              • greyaenigma says:

                Hud’s older brother, a vegetarian, was lost at sea in a fishing accident off the Alaskan coast. Hud always resented his own inability to cut meat and fish from his diet. He’d never admit it (nor, sadly, even realize it), but it was Marlena’s vegetarianism that really drew him to her — every time he saw her biting into the celery in her bloody mary, he’d only be reminded of how he failed to live up to the standards of his brother. Who, of course, his mother always preferred.

  2. jake82 says:

    Awesome, amazing stuff here! Though technically, wouldn’t Eli be his son-in-law, since he’s Mary’s brother, rather than his brother-in-law?

    • Todd says:

      I suppose he would be at that, which would make DP’s sin even more extreme — sacrifice of the son. But it’s Eli who says to DP that he is his “brother by marriage.”

  3. greyaenigma says:

    It struck me that Eli and DP used the brother metaphor, when strictly speaking, Eli would then be his nephew. But that’s likely neither here nor there. This could also be an indirect reason why he’s so upset at Eli — it was Eli’s sister that stole HW from DP. At least in DP’s eyes.

    As I was mentioning yesterday, I think the reason DP gets so upset at HW’s “betrayal” is that it leaves DP without an heir — it effectively invalidates everything he’s done so far.

    Or, perhaps most accurately — DP sees Eli as the religious mirror of himself. Maybe he’s not really committing fratricide at the end of the film, but homicide of the man he sees in himself. (Not suicide, which would simply be a destruction of the entire self.) This could also explain why he kills Henry — not only is Henry witness to DP’s lies, but when he reveals himself to be a con man (of a sort — he’s willing to work hard, but he’ll lie for the chance).

    Another thought on DP and Henry — is it possible DP is only impotent with women, but swimming with Henry gave him some other ideas?

    • Todd says:

      What I can’t figure out is how Henry saw The Return of Martin Guerre in 1907.

      strictly speaking, Eli would then be his nephew

      Yeah, but nephew-cide, I don’t even think that’s in the top ten.

  4. tawdryjones says:

    Hi and thanks for this, I’ve been reading this series at the literal edge of my office chair.

    You left out any analysis of the scene in the restaurant where DP covers his face to yell at the oil men without HW “hearing” what he’s saying. I found this so odd in watching the film, I couldn’t account for DP’s motivation in hiding his true feelings from HW in this regard. What would you say is his reason for doing that?

    • Todd says:

      It occurred to me that he was hiding his shouting from HW, but if so, he picked a really inefficient way of doing that. It looked more to me like he was trying to hide his speech from GFS, essentially doing the thing where you cough into your hand and say “bullshit!” He’s pretending, for the sake of driving in the knife, to be someone else, and chooses a really bald mask in order to call attention to himself.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Non sequitur

    But why the blog redesign?

  6. Anonymous says:

    First, thank you for taking the time to do this. Probably the best thing written about the movie anywhere, internet or otherwise.

    Second, thank you for answering the one question that was really bothering me about the movie: why does he kill Eli? He’s humiliated him beyond reason, why add the injury to insult? I can’t say I’m fully satisfied by the answer, but at least it’s an answer backed up by the text. Awesome stuff.

    — Kent M. Beeson

    • Todd says:

      Thank you for your kind words.

      And let me add that I may be completely off about all this; these are just things I put together with no other resources beyond the movie and the screenplay, which the movie company posted online (presumably to help with writing nominations). Maybe is correct and DP’s motivation is merely greed, pure and simple — but the more I think about the movie, the more “greed” recedes into the distance as a logical motivation for DP’s actions.

      In any case, I hope this has helped you with your question about expressing motivation.

      • mimitabu says:

        “And let me add that I may be completely off about all this; these are just things I put together with no other resources beyond the movie and the screenplay,”

        clearly the best resources, don’t you think? better than interviews, or even knowledge of a filmmaker’s other films (unless they throw a lot of self-allusion in).

  7. Anonymous says:

    DP and HW

    Now that the son has been brought back to his father’s side, DP seems to be less interested in turning HW into a clone of himself. He’s willing to accept that, to a certain extent, his son is “his own man” now, and should have his own (age-appropriate) drink.

    I saw in DP’s drink order only his awareness of the distance, psychological and physical, that had grown between them. But your argument makes a lot of sense.

    I was frustrated that HW didn’t quickly pick up lip-reading — he shouldn’t have had to learn American Sign Language to communicate, since he’d lost his hearing late in childhood. Then I realized that perhaps the only person’s lips he couldn’t read might be DP’s. (His thick mustache and odd inflection don’t help.)


  8. dougo says:

    Did you get to the Cain thing because Eli’s father is named Abel, or was that a coincidence?

    • Todd says:

      It didn’t occur to me until after I posted that that Eli’s father’s name is Abel.

      • Anonymous says:

        Hey, I had the same interpretation as you about this Cain slaying Abel theme in the movie. I even did a search online for the Biblical reference to “There will be blood” trying to see if the exact same line was contained in the Biblical story of Cain and Abel.

        • Todd says:

          Me too, and couldn’t find anything. Someone else mentioned that it comes from Exodus, and while my search through Exodus yielded a couple of similar phrases (about the river turning to blood), “There Will Be Blood” didn’t come up. Perhaps in a translation different from what can be found online.

          • Anonymous says:

            bible quote

            (New American Standard Bible, 1995)
            Exodus 7:19

            Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, over their streams, and over their pools, and over all their reservoirs of water, that they may become blood; and there will be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.'”

  9. Anonymous says:

    I finally got out to see this movie, and so then was free to read your analysis of it, which I think is pretty intriguing and makes me question my own opinion of what DP wants.

    But here’s my take (short version) anyway:

    I also got the notion that DP was abused as a child and actually struck out against his own father and family. And what he’s wanted ever since is two related things: First to outdo his father in every way; to succeed much better than his dad could ever imagine. At first it was a child’s version of “doing better than father” which could only be articulated by his dream of someday being able to own the really great house in Fon du Lac, Wisconsin, because his father never could get them such a nice house. The second desire is to have a better, perfect family than the one his father created; a family totally loyal to him (DP) as the head. Absolute loyalty is a requirement to be part of DP’s idealized family.

    I saw the “working alone in the silver mine hole” as a demonstration that DP is a broken man anytime he’s alone, breaking a leg in this case (but now I think you pegged it better with each dig requiring it’s own sacrifice – and even laying out the pipeline to the sea require the death of Henry). DP only really becomes successful when he inherits his son HW. And HW is the perfect son, a real DP in training, and I think DP was authentically devoted to him in his twisted, broken way. He proudly tells all that HW is his full partner, and I believe it’s true. He uses HW as a tool to close deals, which to DP is the highest honor HW could rise to. Using HW that way isn’t cynical, it’s raising his son almost to the level as his equal. And he shows real admiration for HW when HW discovers the oil on Sunday’s land.

    DP moves to make his family even better, and reward his good son, by getting Mary for him. Mary is given a new fine dress. DP names the oil derrick after Mary. Mary is going to join with HW and provide the avenue to increasing DP’s family, which DP can’t do for himself.

    Then HW gets broken and he has to go. I think the scene when HW is injured when the gusher comes in is most telling. DP’s first instinct is to rescue his beloved son – saving his better family (better than the one he left back in Wisconsin) – but he doesn’t stay with his son, pulled by the allure of the well, which supplies his other need to outdo his father.

    HW is replaced (just in time as you noted) by Henry, the brother. Once again DP has a chance at his ideal family and takes Henry on as his partner. Together they map out the route of the oil pipeline to the sea – an honor only a family member could share with DP, because the pipeline is the current embodiment of “how DP is more successful than dad.”

    Then Henry is proved false and has to go. HW comes back, partially fixed and regains his place as DP’s better (than dad’s) family. This works for some time and HW even marries Mary.

    But then HW decides to strike out on his own, starting his own company, and basically starting his own separate family. That can’t be endured and so HW is denounced again and for the final time as another false relation – the worst thing anyone could be in DP’s world.

    Finally Eli comes back into DP’s world and makes a fatal mistake by trying to stake a claim – something he pleads over and over in the scene – as family with DP. Since at this point DP can’t tolerate another false family pretender, Eli has to die.

    It was never greed driving DP, as evidenced by how much he disdained his own wealth, shooting up his own mansion and such. He never needed the stuff of wealth. He never once drove a fancy car and even when he could afford a soft bed he slept on the floor.

    That’s, roughly stated, what I got out of DP’s motivations.

    Bill Willingham

  10. leborcham says:

    Fantastic analysis as always. The Boy and I FINALLY got to see this last night after many many failed attempts. I must admit, I thought there could have been some editing, but perhaps that was just my bladder talking. I also admit that this movie was made with such a curious approach to dramatics that at times it seemed like the proverbial — and Oscar winning — Daniel Day Lewis reads the phone book movie. The Eli/DP conflict was so underplayed that you could be blamed for thinking there was no antagonist in the movie save DP’s own eccentricities. However, as your analysis shows, all the scenes revolved around the central narrative of DP’s struggle.

    I did get the Cain thing right away when I recalled Mr. Sunday’s name was Abel.

  11. Anonymous says:

    how can you be sure that DP is telling the truth about paul using the money to dig for oil. I know he tells eli that have gave him a lot more, but at the beginning of the movie it seemed that he only gave him 500 dollars. i always took it as a lie dp was telling eli.

    • Todd says:

      Regardless if DP is telling the truth about Paul’s fortunes or not, his larger point about Paul being the “real prophet” of the family is the heart of the matter.

  12. tamburlaine says:

    What do you make of the theory that Daniel Plainview is a repressed homosexual? Eh? Eh?

    • Todd says:

      I don’t see why a man who has no sex cannot be either a repressed homosexual or a repressed heterosexual.

      • tamburlaine says:

        I’m confused about the way you phrased that.

        Anyway, I’ve read the theory that while he is impotent, he has rendered himself as such psychosomatically because his desires have been towards men. And that is unacceptable to him and partially explains his violence towards men who humiliate him or betray his confidence.

        Just throwing it out there. I don’t think I saw any discussion of the possible homoeroticism in this movie, which notably has very few women.

  13. fancyxthat says:

    I don’t really have anything constructive to add, but this was a really really interesting read and, honestly, kudos to you. I think a rewatch is needed now with all of this in mind. 😀

  14. Thank you for your analysis. I know I’m late coming in to this but it was a great read.

    “DP gets woken up several times in this movie, and never to good news… then to Eli telling him [hmm…] that his house is on fire.”

    Actually– and this is a great, funny detail IMHO– DP doesn’t wake up when Eli screams that the house is on fire. He wakes up when Eli (in a quiet voice) says “Brother Daniel… it’s Eli.” THAT’s what woke him up. It turns out Eli announcing himself as a brother to Daniel is far worse news– news that’ll wake him up– than his house being on fire.

    As for the goat’s milk and water for HW at the restaurant, I just thought it was because they were in a public place and DP knew it wouldn’t be considered appropriate to give him an alcoholic drink. Alone in their house to get HW to sleep is okay, but not in public. People might talk or whatnot. And the napkin on his head– I thought it was to prevent HW from reading his lips. But really, I don’t know how effective that is.

    Another detail I found very interesting was in DP’s first scene with Tilford, in which he threatens to cut his throat, DP says, “Did you just tell me how to run my family?” as if his family is a business. And in the second scene with Tilford in the restaurant, when there are a lot more people around, DP says, “I told you not to tell me how to raise my family.” The run/raise bit is written in the script, and I was wondering whether you had any thoughts on the meaning of the different word selection.

    The brother issues that you explored were really fascinating and I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on the Abel Biblical reference beforehand. In any case, the story of Cain and Abel works well at points with the suggestion that perhaps the audience can see DP as Cain and Eli as Abel. In the Bible, Cain was a farmer, someone who worked the earth and received produce from the earth (just as DP used the earth to extract its “produce”, this time, “oil”), while Abel was a shepherd (which Eli calls himself, in reference to him being the pastor/shepherd of his “flock”, or his congregation). And when both give their offerings (Cain’s produce, Abel’s sheep) to the Lord (the “Father,” if you will), Cain’s offering is rejected in favor of Abel’s.

    In a fit of jealousy– because he could not please the Father in the same way his brother could– Cain kills his brother. This works with your suggestion of fratricide as act of self-actualization. Possibly because of his inabilities to please his “father,” DP/Cain finds he must kill his “brother.”

    Another detail: the incredibly memorable musical cue of “Henry Plainview”– the first music we hear in the film, the dissonant strings rising ominously as we see the three mountains in the first shot– is used again in the scene in which Plainview is digging Henry’s grave. And even the sound effects are the same– in the first scene, we hear the strings and hear the slam of DP’s pickaxe against the rocks around him as he’s digging into the hole he’s in. In the post-murder scene, we hear the same strings and again hear the same slam of DP’s pickaxe into the earth as he’s digging another hole (this time a grave).

    The musical cue and the sound effects cue seem to imply that despite the years that have passed, despite all the wealth and influence DP has managed to accumulate, here he is again,, back where he started, just digging into the earth, digging himself into another hole. Brilliant.

  15. Anonymous says:

    This is an interesting analysis with a lot of truth, but Alcott makes a major misstep. Paul sells information about his family’s oil to Plainview for $500. There is nothing in the movie to indicate that Paul ever set up his own company or that Plainview or anyone else ever saw him again.
    Plainview tells Eli that he paid Paul $10,000 in hand for the information, violently smacking his own hand while he makes this assertion to emphasize how easy it was. We know this is a lie. There is no reason to suspect that Plainview is not also lying when in the next sentence he claims that unbeknownst to Eli, Paul is now a successful oil man in his own right. It seems clear to me that DP’s lies about Paul’s intelligence and success are merely weapons to attack Eli and bring him down further. DP knows that in his own way Eli is very ambitious, jealous, and likely resentful about Paul selling out Eli and his family. Eli in fact states to Abel when he is attacking him earlier in the movie that “I know it was Paul” who sold them out.
    Plainview knows that it will be very distressing for Eli to hear that after refusing for years to pay Eli the mere $5,000 that he promised him at their first meeting, that he was in fact willing to pay Paul, whom Eli hates, $10,000, no questions asked for selling out his family. Plainview points out to Eli that rather than incur God’s wrath and punishment for the sin of betraying his familiy, Paul profits from it, just as Plainview profited from being smart in spite of, and often because of his immorality. He is telling Eli “you boy” that God does not exist, and that if he does, he chose Paul and abandoned Eli just because Paul was smarter, not because he was a better man. This echoes Eli’s statement to his father that “God does not save stupid people.”
    Plainview hates God, people and life (perhaps due in part to impotence). In response to Eli whining about how God has brutally and unjustly “tested” him beyond his coping powers, Plainview replies in a contemptuous sneering rage about the absent God and his vicious tests, “YES HE DOES.” Plainview’s hatred for Eli from the beginning is a hatred directed at God, at the stupidity of the people that follow Eli, and at the stupidity and arrogance of Eli himself who in spite of his obvious charlatanism has convinced himself that he is carrying God’s word. If you doubt that Eli truly believed his own BS, look to the final exchange where he breaks down and cries about being “full of sin”, corrupted in “ways I couldn’t have even imagined” and being “tested” by god. Eli’s tears are honest, and are of a man finally coming to terms with his own moral bankruptcy and the true absence of God in his life. When Eli breaks down at the end, it is obvious that he believed in his own sermons, at least to some degree, and that he was somehow chosen. He achieved power through his church, and to justify his manipulations of people he deluded himself into believing that he was doing it for God.
    This is why Plainview has always hated Eli with such passion. Plainview has abandoned belief long ago, and has come to terms with his own selfish ruthlessness. Plainview believes that in his own way he is more honest than everyone else because he knows that life is just a meaningless game and does not lie to himself about his motives. He sees Eli as just as ruthless, but at the same time as a coward who uses religion to justify his ambition because he is too weak to accept it for what it is.