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Written by Timothy Sexton
“I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.”
To all appearances, this self-confession by Daniel to the man who may be his half-brother is utterly true. Daniel appears particularly misanthropic toward all but the fewest of those who are closest to him. His driving ambition to make money and to gain power could be a result of that misanthropy or the hatred of others could well be a consequence of the effect of dealing with others who are either just as competitive as he is or lack the drive he temporarily needs to necessitate his own ambition. A chicken or egg conundrum, to be sure, and one of the enigmas of Plainview’s personality that makes him so fascinating and unpredictable.
“…ladies and gentlemen, if I say I'm an oil man, you will agree.”
Daniel’s standard, boilerplate template for introducing himself to the folks living where he plans to drill is directed toward just one thing: establishing himself as a unique creature on the landscape of America, the oilman. Oil has not yet displaced cotton as king of the American exporting business, but by this time people are already beginning to see the potential and the oilman is already on its way to become a mythic of American legend like the ranchers and cowboys that the prospectors and wildcatters are displacing. Daniel Plainview recognizes the power of creating this myth and presents a persona that exceeds every expectation.
“What's this? Why don't I own this? Why don't I own this?”
The Bandy tract. That is what Daniel doesn’t own. One single section of land within a larger section of land he had made deals with. But Bandy won’t sell. And he never will. And so that means Daniel cannot access the oil beneath that land. A state of affairs that is going to loom large as the film progresses toward its final climactic showdown amid talk of milky shakes and movie stars.
“We have a sinner with us here who wishes for salvation. Daniel, are you a sinner?”
There will be Blood pits capitalism against Christianity in a battle to become the one true religion in America. Of course, the title indicates this battle will result in bloodshed, but the result reveals a surprise ending to the war. Peace will be made between the seemingly irreconcilable ideologies of capitalism and Christianity and create a new form of religion embraced by the faithful despite directly contradicting the teaching the savior toward whom all that faith is entrusted. This assertion and admonition from Eli (religion) to Daniel (capitalism) symbolically plays out the commencement point of that unlikely integration.
“I have abandoned my child!”
As part of the battle for the soul of the community—which is a microcosm of America at large, of course—Eli has managed to get Daniel to admit in front of his entire congregation that he is a sinner who abandoned his child. The child is literally H.W. whom Daniel has sent away for caring, education and treatment after losing his hearing as the result of a drilling accident. But in a figurative sense, Daniel is forced to admit to abandoning much more as he pursues a non-Christian existence of greed, ambition and selfish aggrandizement. The rift between religion and capitalism never seems so wide and the promise of there being blood so stark. And yet, as history proved, that chasm is now non-existent.
“I am a false prophet God is a superstition!”
Daniel Plainview ultimately will respond in kind. Just as Eli forced Daniel to assert the awful truth, later does Daniel force Eli to assert the awful truth. By this point, Christianity is already beginning to take on a shape which embraces the selfish qualities of capitalism to a point where the seemingly irrefutably faithful and pious Eli of earlier barely looks recognizable. Instead, Eli very much seems to resemble someone like evangelical founder of the megachurch concept Aimee Semple McPherson who right around the time Daniel forces these words from Eli is struggling against her own charges of being a false prophet stemming from her mysterious and still-never-fully explained “kidnapping” and five-week disappearance.
“I... drink... your... milkshake!”
The most famous quote from There will be Blood was directly inspired by historical fact. The Teapot Dome Scandal—the most far-reaching Presidential scandal in American history until Watergate—is the epicenter of the concept of this quote. The Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, used the milkshake analogy to illustrate the necessity of selling rights to preserves (at a princely little benefit to himself in the form of bribes, of course.) Plainview’s justification for drinking the milkshake that rightfully belong to the Bandy is really no different: oil drainage would have ruined the property, making the land unfit for farming anyway. But this quote isn’t really so much about the Bandy tract as it is about how capitalism has dipped its straw into the milkshake owned by Christianity. And how Christianity has figured out that half a milkshake shared is better than no milkshake at all.
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