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"THERE WILL BE BLOOD."
"CITIZEN KANE." "TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE." "CHINATOWN." "THE SHINING." "UNFORGIVEN."
Pretty good company: Orson Welles. John Huston. Roman Polanski. Stanley Kubrick. Clint Eastwood. Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, Shakespeare, O'Neill, Miller, Williams.
I missed the first few minutes of this movie, and what I wanted to l know all through the film, it turns out, was only hinted at: The "Rosebud." The defining moment in the main character's past, on or off-screen, that set the narrative in motion. I went straight home from what was, alas, the last screening of this film state-wide, and hit the 'Net. It seems that the lost sled, the mother's love, the opening of a great emotional chasm, the itchy scabbing over of a cardiac wound, took place way, way off-screen. Or maybe it ended up on the floor. Let's hope it makes its' way onto the definitive DVD.
The mystery of Daniel Plainview is what drives him. In the beginning, it is his raw determination to wrest first silver and then oil from the bowels of the earth. This completely absorbs him in his early life, as depicted on the screen. He has no human connections other than his fellow prospectors, with whom he shares only the work, and the lucre. Then one of them is killed, and Plainview takes charge of the man's orphaned son. This is the beginning of Plainview's only real emotional relationship. But it also the beginning of a new phase in his life, as he becomes an entrepreneur, a con-man who uses his own adopted son as a shill to steal land from ignorant peasants.
Even as he came to hate the earth he conquered, Plainview begins to despise the people he cons. It is all too easy for him, this triumph of the will, first over the naked earth, and then over humanity itself. At this point, only God stands between Daniel Plainview and the fulfillment of his destiny, the final raw surge of power that will wrench out the very guts of his reality. God help anyone or anything that stands between Plainview and his destiny, if only for a moment.
His next turning point severs his connection to humanity entirely, as his adopted son is deafened by the explosion of an oil well. It is the Earth striking back at Plainview, and he is not up to the battle. He loses his son by failing to care for him. For all this, he blames God, or his minions on Earth. And now, like Lucifer, he will take them on. Like Cain, a la Citizen Kane, he kills his own brother. To cover up and profit from the crime, he does a devilish deal with the local false prophet, and wins his last great battle with Man and Earth. He completes his oil pipeline to the sea, standing like a demonic, greed-driven Moses overlooking the Promised Land. But it is all as ashes in his mouth.
He beat the Earth, he beat all mankind, but he could not beat God, in whom he does not even believe, despite his pretenses for business purposes. God's minions have humiliated him and forced him to crawl to them for his ultimate success. So it becomes an ultimate failure of the will, and his whole empire comes to mean nothing to him. Now it must end like a classic tragedy, with a Biblical doom. The madness that has always driven him to beat everything and everyone turns in upon itself, and Plainview destroys all he has worked for. He strikes out at the earth, at humanity, and at God, killing the false prophet who first took away his only son, and then humiliated him in his final moment of triumph. And now Plainview must face God's justice, to which the film leaves him.
This is not just the story of a man, but of all mankind. Those who pay attention will notice certain parallels to current events. The choice of oil as the means to power, and the cause of downfall, should bear especial meaning for Americans, today. We are all Daniel Plainview.
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