An infant HW is anointed in blood. Not literal blood, or even the symbolic blood of the Church, but the blood of the earth. His father dabs on his forehead a splotch of oil, baptizing a new generation into an era of capitalism. Not long after, HW’s father dies and he is adopted by Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), the most ambitious oil man in America.
Therefore, not only is HW (Dillon Freasier) baptized by oil, but he’s also adopted into the family of capitalism. Plainview teaches him the trade, uses HW as a soft face to buy up land and finds every last way to improve his bottom line. When he comes across a small town, he buys up most of the land and then endeavors to build a pipeline to the coast in order to cut out the shipping costs imposed by the railway.
Yet Plainview isn’t the only force vying for profit in this small town. Already well-established in the town is the preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). He professes to be a healer, casting out the demons of affliction that plague the townfolk, but Plainview is skeptical of his methods as well as his intentions.
These two forces represent a shift in power. The centuries long reign of the Church as the center of political and economical power is dwindling. Eli does his best to grasp at what’s left, but men like Daniel Plainview are the new rulers of the 20th century. Where once priest preyed upon the weakness of men, now Plainview preys upon the weakness of Eli.
The climactic scene of the film is the famous “conversion” scene where Plainview “joins” The Church of the Third Revelation. While and astounding and magnificent scene, it ends with the congregation singing “There’s Power in the Blood.” And for Plainview there is power in the blood, but not of Christ. He says “give me the blood,” but here he’s referring to oil as he’s only agreed to this charade in order to finish his oil pipeline.
While many might see Daniel’s acts as obscene, and they certainly are, he’s a character with more honesty than Eli, who later admits to being a false prophet, a man simply after profit. Daniel is just as deceptive, but while Daniel exploits people’s homes, Eli exploits their very being. Therefore, it’s not simply a capitalism of the oil industry, but a capitalism of religion.
The controversial ending might make no narrative sense, but it is the death of the Church as the dominate force in society. When Daniel Plainview slowly demeans, demoralizes and destroys Eli, he yells at him “I told you I would eat you.” And he has. The beast of capitalism devoured the Church, giving rise to charlatan preaching, network shows, an entire industry of books and music and stadium seating worship halls.
Today, we see both industries in full force, both at the gas pumps and behind the pulpits of mega-churches. Just in the last few weeks there’s been much talk about the rising gas prices, which subsided just in time for a wave of talks about the potential end of the world. As long as there are men seeking money, There Will Be Blood will be a relevant and powerful film.
© 2011 James Blake Ewing