I’ve struggled since last night trying to find a way to properly convey my thoughts upon seeing There Will Be Blood, and I still can’t. To be sure, it is a beautifully and expertly crafted film. I was riveted throughout all 158 minutes. Daniel Day-Lewis as actor and Paul Thomas Anderson as director deserve all the praise that has already been heaped upon them.
And yet, I am not exactly sure why I enjoyed the movie so much. After watching the life of successful and ruthless oilman Daniel Plainview unfold over the course of nearly thirty years, we learn how he acts the way he does but never why. In only a precious few scenes do we get any clue as to his real motivations, but all we really learn is that Plainview is as hateful on the inside as on the outside.
So the essential challenge with There Will Be Blood is this – how do you invest in a movie when you can neither root for nor against the main character? His actions certainly point towards villainy, but can an essentially amoral man be considered evil? The movie hints at the pain he might feel over a lack of family, but it is impossible to sympathize.
This, for me, is the movie’s fatal flaw. I can accept that it serves in part as a commentary on unfettered capitalism, but that doesn’t explain Plainview. Greed is an understandable motivation (and is displayed by many of the film’s secondary characters), but I’m not convinced that it is what moves him. I don’t think he is driven to succeed because of what it can afford him, but rather because it enables him to act on his hatred toward his fellow man.
It is indeed a testament to the talent and skill of Anderson and Day-Lewis that they could make it so enjoyable to watch such a character.