There are few films outside of the horror genre as ominous and perpetually unsettling as Paul Thomas Anderson‘s 2007 historical drama, There Will Be Blood. Telling the story of a silver miner-turned-oilman on a quest for wealth during Southern California’s oil boom in the late 19th and early 20th century, the film is widely regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made – largely in part to Daniel Day-Lewis‘ award-winning turn as the ruthless and terrifying Daniel Plainview.
In order to understand the horror of Daniel Plainview, you must first realize the unrivaled dedication of method actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Known for fully encompassing each of his characters, the approach of Day-Lewis has been a staple of awards nominations for seemingly every character the actor portrays, with Daniel Plainview earning him a Best Actor nomination and win. In the case of Plainview, the majority of the elicited fear stems from the vicious realism brought to the character. Though larger than life in personality and in his aspirations, Plainview never feels less than real, which, thanks to the performance of Day-Lewis, transcends this greed-driven monster from on-screen villain to real-life nightmare.
We’re first introduced to Daniel Plainview and his determination in 1898 as he’s mining an ore vein from a pit mine hole. While dynamiting the lode, he falls from a broken rung of the tunnel ladder and breaks his leg. Even with his leg broken, Plainview manages to save a sample of silver, climb out of the mine, and drag himself to the nearest assay office to evaluate his find. We meet the character again in 1902 as he discovers oil near Los Angeles and establishes a small drilling company. When one of his workers dies in a brutal drilling accident, Plainview adopts his young son for himself, who becomes his nominal business partner so that Daniel may disguise himself as a family man and further his success.
Nine years later, Daniel is approached by Paul Sunday, who tells him of an oil deposit under his family’s property in Little Boston, California. Plainview attempts to buy the farm at a bargain price, but Paul’s twin brother and local church pastor, Eli, is aware of Plainview’s plans to drill, and demands $10,000 for his church. An agreement is made with Plainview agreeing to pay half upfront and $5,000 more at a later time, but at this point, the gears are turning for Daniel Plainview’s monster to be unleashed.
Oil production begins, but due to “the well not being well blessed,” there is a gas blowout that robs Plainview’s adopted son of his hearing. Already furious about the misfortune of his drilling, Daniel beats and humiliates Eli Sunday when he is approached about the owed fee to his family. The madness of Daniel Plainview, however, has only just begun to surface, and becomes ever-present when a stranger arrives at his doorstep, claiming to be his half-brother, Henry.
Daniel hires Henry to work for him and the two become close. Jealous of his father’s affection being placed elsewhere, Plainview’s son sets fire to the house, intending for it to kill Henry. Angered by the behavior, Plainview sends his son to a school for the deaf, leaving him on the train by himself. Later, while reminiscing about their childhood, Plainview becomes suspicious of Henry and holds him at gunpoint. The man confesses that he was a friend of the real Henry, who had died of tuberculosis. In a fit of rage, though not the scariest we see, Daniel murders the impostor and buries his body.
At this point in Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterful film, the tension and looming sense of dread are ever-prevalent. The film’s tone matches the madness of Daniel Plainview as he spirals out of control, comparable only to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. We’re reintroduced to Eli Sunday as Plainview is forced into a baptism. Eli humiliates Daniel in front of the congregation and coerces him into acknowledging that he is a bad father. Some time later, as the pipeline is well under way, Plainview becomes reunited with his son.
In 1927, Daniel Plainview is extremely wealthy but a raging alcoholic. When his adopted son marries the sister of Paul and Eli, he asks Daniel to dissolve their partnership so that he may start his own company in Mexico. Plainview reacts brutally, mocking his son’s deafness and revealing that he was an orphan.
Soon after, Eli visits Daniel, who is drunk and passed out in his private bowling alley. Eli, now a radio preacher, offers to sell Daniel the land of William Bandy, who recently died. Daniel agrees on the condition that Eli loudly denounces his faith and his own credibility. Swallowing his pride, Eli reluctantly does so. In an unforgettable scene, Daniel reveals that the property is now worthless because he has already drained its oil through surrounding wells. Take a look for yourself.
Afterwards, we witness the culmination of Daniel Plainview’s greed-driven madness, as well as Eli’s equally greed-driven ploy. Daniel snaps and chases Eli around the bowling room, eventually beating him mercilessly with a bowling pin in the continuation of the scene above.
In summation, Daniel Plainview is a terrible father, a murderer, and a monster created from his own success – brought to life by a tremendous actor in a film that takes its time with creeping into your subconscious. Like the greatest horror villains, Daniel Plainview is not only someone you’d hate to come across, he’s someone you’ll never forget. Horror or not, Plainview is an all-time great movie villain.