There Will Be Blood (2007)

'There Will Be Blood' Character Study of Daniel Plainview

By: Domonique Cox-Salberg 

The 2007 masterpiece There Will Be Blood begins with eerie scenic shots of desert-like mountains and a chilling impetuous sound reminiscent of elephants trumpeting—creating a tone of dread. Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is introduced in a mind shaft axing at the walls by himself, determined to find treasures. The year is 1898. For the next 14 in half minutes, there is no dialogue spoken, only the sounds of Daniel’s environment echoing within the first few scenes. We watch him survive a gruesome silver mining accident, breaking a leg and dragging himself for an unknown distance to a buyer of materials. Then, later assembling a crew to help mind oil. One of his men with an infant son dies accidentally, and Daniel adopts him, passing him off as his own.

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To that end, in these first 14 minutes, we are presented with a man radiating resolve, sharp focus, and a constant need to seize his goals. These are defining moments of Daniel’s nature and a glimpse into his mentality and what is to come. There Will Be Blood demands a lot from the viewer, such as patience, acute attention to the often-sparse dialogue, and a capacity to tolerate vague ambiguities, but it all pays off. There Will Be Blood’s illustration of character study, in particular, Daniel in correlation with H.W., Eli, and Henry, is indeed one of the most significant merits of the film and will be the focus of this analysis.

Daniel & H.W: Love Lost

THERE WILL BE BLOOD: Fathers and Sons

Furthermore, in the following early scenes, we see Daniel emerging from an overtly isolated man to a man with a crew. Then finally to a man who seems to take on a father’s responsibilities. At this point, we do not know much about Danielle’s personal life. Other than, he has no wife, kids, friends—only H.W. (Dillon Freasier) and close associates. He appears not to be concerned with anything other than drilling and making a profit. Daniel is charismatic and confident with his words, giving speeches many times throughout the film. Each one is echoing with cadence, and taking on a theatrical quality ingrained in the 19th century. As such, during a significant scene of the first speech, H.W. is revealed to be at his side with the camera slowly tracking in and slightly shifting to H.W., emphasizing him instead of Daniel while he speaks.

This shot is what first introduces the viewer to look closer into Daniels motive behind his relationship with H.W. It represents the eyes of the townspeople Daniel is giving the speech too, and now us. We are left wondering if he is a family man that can be trusted as he presents to be. It is also important to note when discussing their relationship that at some point, Daniel acquired enough power that he did not need H.W. anymore to persuade trust from his peers or profit. Nonetheless, H.W. goes on to be the closest thing to an intimate relationship that Daniel has throughout the entire film, which makes their connection that much more intriguing and provoking of analysis. Besides, there are later scenes that could support either assumption.

One crucial moment that keeps Daniel’s feelings for H.W. blurred is the scene when he sends H.W. away on the train. The first thought that comes to many is how could he abandon him when he needed him the most. However, we get a glimpse of raw, tender expression from Daniel as one tear drops from his eye when he is leaning in front of H.W., telling him he will return. It happens so quickly viewers may need to rewind several times to catch it—but its there. Ergo, he is noticeably trying to keep his composure, to make sure that the truth or his affliction stays concealed. Also, Daniel is remarkably riddled with guilt and anger (at himself) as he walks quickly from the train to his car. All while H.W. calls for him. When H.W. comes back after a while, it shows another situation in which Daniel is emotionally vulnerable and affectionate. He hugs H.W. as if he is relieved of his intense loneliness and guilt. Showing just how much Daniel indeed relies on H.W. for comfort.

Although the pivotal scene depicting Daniel and H.W.’s bond is their exchange towards the closing act. Observed during their last conversation is that Daniel feels betrayed by H.W. to want to leave and start his own oil company. This kind of anger and bitter shouting can only come from a place of feeling wounded and abandoned. He is undoubtedly alone now. Daniel changes many times throughout his interactions with H.W., appearing to struggle with his need for connection, his reclusive nature, and drive for wealth and power at all costs.        

Daniel & Eli: One In The Same

Though, Daniel’s greatest antagonist, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), and their many conflicts with each other help us to realize Daniel’s philosophies and behavior more profoundly than with any other character. With H.W., Daniel was shown ‘acting’ as a father but never really being able to fully become one. Leading to their relationship strain and undoing. However, with Eli, he provokes a spiteful side from Daniel, exposing both character’s most private reflections that come to the surface when they interact. As follows, exploring the struggle between power, religion, morality, and capitalism.

Eli uses the church and religion as a veneer to ultimately be seen and treated as a profit to attain riches and recognition for himself. And not to better the church as he protests. Daniel, on the other hand, uses the Sunday family in capitalistic fashion by exploiting their land and ignorance of the oil industry. Which we see Eli challenge when conditioning for more money for his church. Between this first interaction, we understand that Daniel and Eli see right through one another, and they both share an affection for wealth and power. So seeing them feud, it is easy to assign Daniel the role of the deceitful character. However, Eli Sunday proves to be just as the fitting of that role and to some extent, worse.

There Will Be Blood': The Story Behind The Original Eli Sunday

Eli’s corrupt nature is illustrated in a few key scenes: when he demands money for his church, praise after completion of the derrick, and when he visits Daniel at his mansion. These scenes not only display Eli’s corruption but also how he functions as a parasite—enlightening the principled qualities of Daniel. In each scene, Eli’s motivation is the attainment of wealth or recognition; he does not value respect or hard work. He would instead prosper by using other people’s accomplishments and resources. Thus, Eli’s behavior allows viewers to see that Daniel is not only self-interested, but too, possesses the qualities of an enduring, hardworking, incredibly intelligent, polite yet shrewd, and skilled individual that treats his workers well. At the least, Daniel does demonstrate some honorable qualities that get overshadowed by his grand misanthropic nature throughout There Will Be Blood.

Eli, conversely, is repeatedly shown being disingenuous with everyone around him. Accordingly, not allowing the viewer to gain compassion or understanding for him as they can with Daniel. Eli’s corrupt behavior does not seem to have a source of where it comes from; it merely is his nature. Thus, the closing scene of There Will Be Blood is what conveys the dynamics of these two characters in their rawest. Further exposing their varying corrupt capacities. We see Daniel express how he detests Eli’s conceit and contemptible tendencies when he describes him as “sniveling,” thick, and nonsensical. The opposite of Daniel. Daniel goes on to demand that Eli recite that he is a false prophet and that God is a superstition. Eli quickly renounces his beliefs in an attempt to do anything to attain wealth. As a result, Eli Sunday becomes the most perverse character as he does not contemplate his penchant for deceit; Daniel does.

Daniel & Henry: The Tragic Drifter

However, the character of Henry (Kevin J. O’Connor) is significant, too. He helps to support and show Daniels afflictions and capacity for compassion. Introduced, Henry approaches Daniel, claiming to be his half brother. Once Daniel learns that he has a brother, he becomes more open and trusting almost instantly. He feeds and gives Henry a job while providing him a place to stay. They develop a relatively close relationship as they drink, attend meetings, survey the land, and spend time together—each scene slowly revealing Daniel’s deepest yearnings.

Notable scenes that explore these connotations are when Henry and Daniel are drinking and sharing their ambitions and motivations in life. Henry is noticeably unambitious and content with only working to survive and does not care anymore. While Daniel is ambitious and desires to have enough wealth for isolation. The key revelation is when Daniel unveils his sincerest sentiments about people, the role they play in his life. Which is not much other than to serve as a stepping stone to his goals.

He says, “I look at people and see nothing worth liking. I want to make enough money so that I can get away from everyone” and “I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed.” Even after expressing this, Daniel still later says to Henry, “Having you here gives me a second breath of life” and “I can’t keep doing this on my own.” Daniel decided in this scene that Henry is someone he can confide in, trust, and his equal. A sentiment that did not seem possible with a character like Daniel Plainview until Henry appears.

As a result, Henry’s character can bring not only the calculating side of Daniel to the forefront but also his vulnerability. We see them later on attending a personal business meeting together, surveying the land, and going for a swim. These are things, friends, and partners do. So, when Daniel finds out that Henry is a fraud, the reaction says it all. He plots to kill Henry, does, and then cries with torment and a loss of hope while looking at his real brother’s diary in agony and defeat. It simultaneously shows that Daniel genuinely wanted and thought he had a family and is not just a ruthless salesman. Henry’s betrayal was his last undoing.

Daniel and Henry’s demise is so critical to his story of isolation and his character as a whole because it allows us to see a man that yearns for connection in which he lost faith in along the way. Henry was his last hope, resulting in his descent into madness. Daniel’s relationship with H.W., Eli, and Henry all help to delve deep into the many facets of Daniels character exposing the depths of his tortured psyche. Interactions with H.W. and Henry, show us a man wounded, feeling betrayed, and vulnerable with snippets of tenderness. Though, Eli brings out the ruthless, cold, intolerable, and dangerous side of Daniel. Together, all three help to paint a complex, dark, but fascinating portrait of Daniel Plainview and his journey into isolation.

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Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview

Ciaran Hinds as Fletcher

David Willis as Abel Sunday

Kevin J. O’Connor as Henry

Sydney McCallister as Mary Sunday

David Warshofsky as H.M. Tilford

Sunday Colleen Foy as Adult Mary

Dillon Freasier as H.W. Plainview

Russell Harvard as Adult H.W.

Paul Dano as Eli Sunday

Colton Woodward as William Bandy


Paul Thomas Anderson

Drama, Thriller

Rated R for some violence

158 minutes


Cinematography: Robert Elswit

Editing: Dylan Tichenor

Soundtrack: Johnny Greenwood

Distribution: Miramax

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