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What is There Will Be Blood about?
Through the characters of Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday, There Will Be Blood looks at the masquerade of business and religious institutions in America. We see how performative both are and the promises, to better the lives of those who buy-in, that go unfulfilled. Neither seems to truly care about the human cost associated with progress. Because under the showmanship is a greed and self-interest that is ultimately something monstrous. Whatever humanity and capacity for love that Daniel possesses can’t win the battle against the carnivore’s ambition that’s in the soul of this country. There Will Be Blood isn’t just a historical drama about oil. It explores what lurks under the surface within all of us.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Daniel Plainview – Daniel Day-Lewis
- Paul & Eli Sunday – Paul Dano
- H.W. Plainview (young) – Dillon Freasier
- H.W. (adult) – Russell Harvard
- Mary Sunday (young) – Sydney McCallister
- Mary (adult) – Colleen Foy
- Henry – Kevin J. O’Connor
- Fletcher Hamilton – Ciarán Hinds
- Abel Sunday – David Willis
- William Bandy – Hans Howes
- Tilford – David Warshofskky
- Written by – Paul Thomas Anderson
- Directed by – Paul Thomas Anderson
The ending of There Will Be Blood explained
The end of There Will Be Blood begins with a time skip from 1911 to 1927. We see the marriage between H.W. Plainview and Mary Sunday. Then a cut to a mansion (perhaps two years later?). Inside the mansion we find an older, disheveled Daniel. He uses his survey tools to line up shots in a makeshift shooting range located in a hallway of the home.
H.W. arrives to have a conversation with Daniel. It doesn’t go well.
H.W. (through his interpreter): This is hard for me to say. I’ll tell you first: I love you very much. I’ve learned to love what I do because of you. I’m leaving here. I’m going to Mexico. I’m taking Mary, and I’m going to Mexico. I miss working outside. I miss the fields. It’ll only be for a time, for me to do my own drilling and start my own company. It’s time to make a change.
Daniel: This makes you my competitor. [A few lines later in the conversation]. You’re killing my image of you as my son.… You’re not my son.… It’s the truth. You’re not my son. Never have been. You’re an…You’re an orphan. D’you ever hear that word?…. I don’t even know who you are because you have none of me in you. You’re someone else’s. This anger, your maliciousness, backwards dealings with me. You’re an orphan from a basket in the middle of the desert, and I took you for no other reason than I needed a sweet face to buy land.… You have none of me in you. You’re just a bastard from a basket.
H.W.: I thank God I have none of you in me.
Daniel: You’re not my son. You’re just a little piece of competition.
Despite Daniel’s words, we cut to the two of them in Little Boston, before H.W.’s injury, when they were at their best, like an actual father and son. Daniel drinks himself into a stupor and falls asleep in the bowling alley. The next day, Eli Sunday arrives.
This final confrontation between the two starts mildly normal. Eli treats it as if they were old friends. Not just old friends, but, since the marriage of Eli’s sister to Daniel’s son, family. Daniel couldn’t be any less interested in an actual discussion. There’s very much a predator and prey dynamic to it that Eli is not aware of. Eli wants money. Daniel makes him grovel for it by yelling out “I am a false prophet. God is a superstition.” Once he’s broken Eli emotionally—with, of all things, a milkshake metaphor—Daniel begins to physically attack him. The assault culminates with fatal blows from a bowling pin to the skull. Winded, Daniel sits on the ground, then announces to his butler, “I’m finished!”
The final scenes operate on two different levels. Daniel’s last conversation with H.W. is a character moment that serves as the ultimate fork in the road for Daniel’s soul. That frames the encounter with Eli—a clash that transcends character and gets at There Will Be Blood’s larger thematic statement.
Part 1: The games we play
There Will Be Blood uses Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday as embodiments for business and organized religion in America. Each has power. Each has influence. Each relies on a degree of showmanship. Eli’s sermons where he “cures” people are no different than Daniel’s pitches where he promises schools, and roads, and all these local improvements. It looks good. It sounds good. But it’s far from the truth.
The theatrics hide something uglier—greed. Both Daniel and Eli are cut from the same cloth. They want power. Success. Wealth. They go about it in different ways but the desired result is the same. The major difference is the “when”.
Daniel in 1898, at the beginning of the film, has only his determination and the tools needed to prospect. By 1902, he has a small company. In 1911, he’s far more successful. He has nice clothes, a number of wells, connections, resources, etc.
When we meet Eli in 1911, he’s not as far along as Daniel. He’s also not as old. He’s in that 1902 period. A tiny church. A small congregation. But a lot of determination and the shamelessness to swing for the fences. By that final scene, in the bowling alley, Eli’s definitely progressed. He now has nice clothes. A radio show. Investments. We don’t have all the details but you get the sense Eli’s finally at or beyond where Daniel was in 1911 (before the deal with Standard Oil). Except instead of having his big break, his big discovery, his Little Boston—the 1929 stock market crash has hurt him badly. Bad enough that he’s come to get money from Daniel.
Where’s Daniel at, though? His big deal with Standard was for $1 million. In 2024, that would be worth $32,000,000. The mansion used in the film belonged, in real life, to Edward Doheny. There Will Be Blood was initially inspired by the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair. Doheny was the inspiration for one of Oil’s main characters, James Arnold Ross. By having Daniel “live” in Doheny’s mansion, we can assume Daniel may have been as wealthy as the man himself. Doheny’s net worth? $1.7 billion dollars ($100 million in 1925).
So Daniel has “f*** you” money. He’s way past caring what anyone else thinks. That’s something we saw near the end of his time in Little Boston, when he drunkenly berates the men from Union Oil. Nearly 20 years later, that lack of concern for optics and polite society has only deepened.
The difference in energy in that final scene is because Eli is still trying to perform. but Daniel is absolutely done with charades. Eli tries so hard to be charming and calculating and to play by the rules. Daniel doesn’t care. He sees Eli as food he gets to play with before devouring. Eli doesn’t recognize the build-up to a blowout because he still believes this is a game. But Daniel had already won. The rules no longer applied to him. So he gives in to what he wanted to do in 1911—kill Eli.
Part 2: Daniel’s (loss off) humanity
Another thing to be aware of is the difference in dimensionality between Daniel and Eli. Daniel Plainview is a tragic character. Eli is not. Why?
Every scene in There Will Be Blood, up to the time skip to 1927, does at least one of three things. It either develops the showmanship theme, reveals the greed that underlies the showmanship, or humanizes Daniel. The opening segments in 1898 and 1902 show Daniel as a determined, resourceful, and hard working prospector. When we pick up in 1911, we witness the showman for the first time. Slowly, as the 1911 section progresses, Daniel reveals more and more of his greed and hatred. His ego. His willingness to exploit. Whatever humanity he had possessed evaporates.
When we get to the conversation with H.W., Daniel has, still, maintained the lie that H.W. is his son. Why? We can only assume it’s because part of him really did love H.W. Until H.W. decided to drill. Remember that Daniel had, in 1911, told Henry, quote:
I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people…. There are times when I, I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money I can get away from everyone…. I see the worst in people, Henry. I don’t need to look past seeing them to get all I need. I’ve built up my hatreds over the years, little by little. Having you here gives me a second breath of life. I can’t keep doing this on my own, with these…people.
Everything Daniel said there explains what happens at the end. He had kept H.W. around because he was the closest thing to a son. But the moment H.W. became competition, that love disappeared. Instead of seeing the little boy, he saw the worst. H.W. was not his son. Just a bastard from a basket. Who was now a competitor. So Daniel destroys the relationship.
H.W. was Daniel’s anchor to his humanity. The last thing that could possibly endear us to him. He was no longer an underdog you could somewhat root for—he was too successful for that. He lives like a pharaoh in a pyramid, waiting for death, so it seems safe to assume he wasn’t a noble billionaire philanthropist, like Rockefeller or Carnegie. You have him confront H.W. and say such horrible things because it completes his turn from an anti-hero into a full-blown villain.
But it’s bittersweet because we know Daniel had loved H.W. We know that he wanted to believe Henry was his actual brother. We know he longed for a family he never had. Despite how awful he ended up, we saw flashes of his best. Perhaps there’s a world where H.W.’s never injured and their bond continues to grow and Daniel ends up a better man?
Regardless of what could have been, the Daniel we see in the bowling alley is his final form. The bitter, malignant spirit that had grown, like a cancer, over the course of the film..
Now compare that to Eli. Because Eli wasn’t the main character, we didn’t spend the same time with him. His scenes are never humanizing. It’s all showmanship or the greed that underlies the showmanship. He’s a two-dimensional figure. So when we have that climactic conversation in the bowling alley, we see Eli as a lesser character than Daniel. Even though Daniel’s objectively the worst person, he’s the more developed figure. Which is why you might find yourself, weirdly enough, on Daniel’s side.
Part 3: Capitalism as religion
For many, many centuries, organized religion dominated civilization. It’s still a major influence on the world. But, as of the 21st century, capitalism and the globalism that followed have caused a major shift in priorities. In America, you can trace this back to the Industrial Revolution. At the end of the 1800s, the United States had its first global corporations, mostly based in steel, energy, oil, and pharmaceuticals. The oil boom of the early 20th century transformed the country. As of 2024, Los Angeles and Houston are the second and fourth largest cities in America because of the wealth generated by the oil discoveries that happened over 100 years earlier.
The conversation around the relationship between religion and capitalism is exhaustive. Some focus on the way the two have influenced each other. Others on the battles they’ve waged against one another. Whether you see them as complimentary or at war, capitalism and religion have become indefinitely linked.
Paul Thomas Anderson decided to use Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday as personifications for these forces. Daniel’s vanquishing of Eli is a pretty strong statement about who Anderson seems to think won the battle (if not the war). Capitalism drank religion’s milkshake. It’s become a religion. Arguably, the dominant one of the United States. In some ways, you can view There Will Be Blood as the birth of modern capitalism in America.
That’s not to say There Will Be Blood takes the position that all business people are like Daniel. Or that all religious leaders are like Eli. H.W. certainly serves as a counterpoint. We’re told that H.W. “has none of [Daniel]” in him. So there’s hope for morality and ethics in both business and religion. Daniel and Eli represent an aspect of it all, rather than the whole.
Overall, PTA seems to be warning us of a masquerade. There Will Be Blood is not only a look back at how America got to where it is today. It’s about America, today. Greed, competition, and deceit aren’t artifacts from a bygone era. They’re ingredients of the human condition. Which is why the film resonates so strongly. Because we’ve all witnessed a Daniel or an Eli. And we’ve all been, to some degree, Daniel and Eli. Those two are, obviously, extreme examples, but it’s through such exaggeration that narrative illuminates details and emotions that often get lost in the chaos of our day to day lives.
When Daniel announces “I’m finished,” it’s true. He, as a person, is done for. But the heart of what he represents, capitalism as the third revelation, beats on.
Lastly: Does Daniel get away with murdering Eli?
The final scene is more concerned with thematics than it is plot. But if you want a plot-based answer, we can get into it.
You would hope Daniel doesn’t get away with murder. But. It’s pretty common in America for the super wealthy to skirt the rule of law. Daniel’s butler doesn’t seem particularly shocked or concerned about Eli’s lifeless body. Though you could chalk that up to confusion. There’s a world where the butler snaps out of his stupor and calls the police. There’s also a world where he doesn’t care and would rather keep his job than see justice done.
It’s also possible Daniel is at a point of self-destruction where he doesn’t mind calling the cops and facing the consequences. That’s kind of the subtext of “I’m finished.” That Daniel doesn’t care what happens next. He won at business. He came clean to H.W. And he finally got rid of Eli. What else is left for him? He’s already withering away in that mansion—it might as well be a prison. Even if no one cares about Eli’s disappearance, if Daniel is never charged with the murder—he’ll probably just drink himself to death. What happens next doesn’t really matter. Because all roads lead to the same outcome.
The themes and meaning of There Will Be Blood
Performance is part of the sell
There Will Be Blood is almost a wrestling movie in the sense that Daniel and Eli are performers who must maintain character a majority of the time (in wrestling, that’s called kayfabe). Only here and there do we glimpse who they really are underneath the theatrics. For example, Eli acts so patient and kind when in public. But at dinner with his family, he attacks his father. Or Daniel’s whole song and dance about having a family business and wanting to bring improvements to the places he drills. We know he hates people. He couldn’t care less about improving their lives. It’s something he says because it works. Not because he means it.
You can trace a petty back and forth between Daniel and Eli through their performances. First, when Eli blows up Daniel’s spot about wanting to buy the Sunday ranch in order to “hunt quail”. Next, when Eli asks Daniel to allow Eli to bless the well and to introduce him, Eli, as a proud son of these hills. Daniel agrees, but, the next morning, does the blessing himself, and calls Mary, Eli’s sister, a proud daughter of these hills. When Bandy brings Daniel to join the Church of the Third Revelation, Eli doesn’t have to smack Daniel around and force Daniel to say “I’ve abandoned my boy.” Eli does so because he wants to embarrass Daniel and rough him up as payback for the beating Daniel had given him after H.W.’s injury. It’s such a part of the melodrama of the service that Daniel has to play along.
Which brings us to the confrontation in the bowling alley. Eli thinks he can outwit Daniel. That they finally might be even. Except Daniel’s no longer a performer. Meaning he doesn’t have to play the game anymore. So he pays Eli back, with interest, for the smacks and the embarrassment of “I’ve abandoned my boy.” That’s why he makes Eli say “I am a false prophet. God is a superstition.”
The thing is, neither Daniel nor Eli hesitate to humiliate themselves or go against their morals. Daniel does so because Bandy makes it a stipulation to sell the land needed for the pipeline. If that means joining a church, smacks across the face, and letting go of his ego and pride and crying out “I’ve abandoned my child!”—so be it. This is a man who broke his leg in a hole then crawled miles back to civilization. What won’t he do to make a sale?
It’s the same with Eli. You would think that Daniel’s demand to announce that “God is a superstition” would be a line that a preacher would never cross, unless it were life or death. Except Eli puts up a mild defense before giving over then fully committing. It’s just another performance for him. One that he hopes will, like all the others, end with getting paid.
Henry could have gotten away with his performance as Daniel’s brother if he had sold it a bit more. Instead, one moment of poor enthusiasm (in response to the peach tree dance) was enough for Daniel to lose the illusion that Henry was the man he said he was.
“If it’s in me, then it’s in you.”
Some of the most important dialogue in the film is between Henry and Daniel.
Daniel: Are you an angry man, Henry?
Henry: About what?
D: Are you envious? Do you get envious?
H: I don’t think so. No.
D: I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.
H: That part of me is gone. Working and not succeeding. All my failures has left me…I just don’t care.
D: Well, if it’s in me, it’s in you. There are times when I, I look at people and I see nothing worth liking.
Diegetically, Daniel only says this because he thinks Henry is his brother. He seems to believe in a shared capacity given their genetic closeness. It’s something that comes up later in the revelation to H.W. He tells H.W. “I don’t even know who you are because you have none of me in you.”
But it’s worth asking why Paul Thomas Anderson had Daniel believe such a thing. It’s not like Daniel is a real person who just happened to believe in some biological pseudoscience. There Will Be Blood has the kind of literary craftsmanship where every scene is some kind of set-up or payoff. We know this dialogue with Henry is an important insight into Daniel’s character. And is especially relevant to the ending.
We also know that Daniel embodies capitalism in America. That There Will Be Blood isn’t just about how oil shaped the country but about the human condition, then and now. So when Daniel says to Henry, “If it’s in me, it’s in you,” it’s almost as though he’s speaking to everyone. And it’s true, right? We all have that capacity to be like Daniel. To feel competitive. To give so much of our lives to the pursuit of wealth. The “live to work” attitude has come to define 21st century America, so much so that it’s become the basis of scientific studies and economic research. We might have relatively healthier work-life balances than Daniel. And be relatively better people. But we are, like him, capable of negativity, pessimism, and putting our own gain over everything and everyone else.
Whether we understand that or only feel it on a visceral level, the recognition of Daniel Plainview as a representation of a part of our psyche we often struggle with is what makes the character and film so powerful.
What’s the cost of progress?
Daniel Plainview starts the movie in a hole in New Mexico. He breaks his leg. Then crawls for miles. Not for medical treatment. But for a mining claim. That opening establishes this dynamic between economic growth and human cost. When we jump to 1902, it’s an oil dig and Daniel has a team working for him. Instead of someone breaking a leg, it’s death by equipment failure. In Little Boston, it’s not one accident but multiple. One that includes H.W.
Daniel’s one oil man. Imagine Union Oil. Standard Oil. These national companies have dozens of digs at a time. How many injuries occur? How many deaths?
But we see that it’s not just the physical cost. Also the emotional one. The stress Daniel faces. The way he devolves as he succeeds. Same with Eli. The effort has a price. So much so that Daniel’s unfathomable wealth is balanced out by the emptiness of his life. No family. No friends. No spirituality. He has everything but also nothing.
We can extrapolate that from the personal level to the public. Oil booms are real things. There’s an influx of people and business to an area. But that isn’t always great. Because it can change the fabric of a community. We don’t get much of this in There Will Be Blood aside from the swarm of workers who arrive by train. And that many of the families received payouts (that pale in comparison to the profit made by Plainview). Many towns like Little Boston (which was fictional) grew thanks to well discoveries. But that doesn’t always mean it was to the benefit of the people who had been living there.
A similar thing has happened in modern times. In 1990, Austin, Texas, for example, was a quirky, relatively quiet, mid-sized city. 27th most populated in the United States with 465,000 people. Cleveland was larger with 505,000.
Now, in 2024? Austin ranks 12th with 985,000 (Cleveland is 54th with 354,000). It’s one of the major tech cities in America. The price of everything has skyrocketed. An article from 2012 from the Austin American-Statesman said that “The property tax bill for a typical Austin home rose 38 percent between 2000 and 2010…. For an average-value home, the bill was $5,590 in 2010, up from $4,053 a decade earlier.” Later in the same article it notes that one family had paid $3,921 in 2000 but that had climbed to $11,028 in 2010. In 2014, the median sale price for a home in Austin was $280,000. In 2024? $528,000.
Many long-time residents couldn’t afford their property taxes so had to sell. Many people who grew up there couldn’t afford to buy a house. The flood of tech jobs and salaries has catapulted the city. But there’s been a human cost to the progress. You can imagine the same thing happening in Little Boston. The town grows, but not everyone benefits.
Now extrapolate that to the country as a whole.
Why is the movie called There Will Be Blood?
Paul Thomas Anderson said the movie wasn’t called Oil! even though the Upton Sinclair novel was an inspiration. That’s because, in PTA’s own words, “there’s not enough of the book to feel like it’s a proper adaptation.” In interviews after the movie’s release, both PTA and Day-Lewis stressed that it’s not an adaptation but its own story that happened to grow from inspiration provided by Oil!.
So why There Will Be Blood?
It’s not a direct quote. You won’t find a Bible verse that says “there will be blood”. It seems to be an amalgamation of three key factors.
First, oil is often described as the blood of the Earth. They share similarities in that both are beneath the surface. You drill into the earth, oil comes up. Drill into someone’s flesh, blood comes up. More symbolically, oil has become one of the most important resources in the world. It’s not uncommon for experts to describe oil as the lifeblood of the economy.
In that sense, the phrase “There will be blood” refers to the idea of drilling for and finding oil. Daniel even makes this reference when he yells at Eli about the oil under Bandy’s property. “Do you understand, Eli? That’s more to the point? Do you understand? I drink your water. I drink it up, every day. I drink the blood of lamb from Bandy’s tract.”
Second, blood does have a religious context. Which is there in Daniel’s use of the phrase “blood of lamb”. The Biblical reference is primarily established during the “I’ve abandoned by boy” scene. Bandy won’t deal with Daniel unless Daniel is baptized by Eli’s church. Part of that process involves the “blood” of Jesus. It comes from 1 John 1:7. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
So you get that whole stretch where Daniel has to say “I am a sinner” and “I want the blood.” Once Daniel accepts Jesus Christ as his savior, they pour the baptismal water over head. That’s the “blood”. As that happens, a song plays in the background. The lyrics go: “Would you be free from the burden of sin? There’s power in the blood, power in the blood.”
Why is Jesus associated with a lamb? It gets at the idea that he was pure and innocent, like a lamb, and that his crucifixion absolved the world of sin. John 19:34: “Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”
The Old Testament also makes mention of water and blood. There, it’s about the Hebrews leaving Egypt and what will happen if Pharaoh tries to prevent it.
Exodus 4:9: But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.
Exodus 7:19: The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over the streams and canals, over the ponds and all the reservoirs—and they will turn to blood.’ Blood will be everywhere in Egypt, even in vessels of wood and stone.”
Lastly, blood can refer to violence. So the phrase “There will be blood” foreshadows a clash. Some kind of damaging altercation. Which is exactly where Daniel and Eli end up. You can also see it in relation to the accidents that happen during the digs. People get hurt. It’s a reality of the job. And something capitalist societies tend to take for granted, that whole notion that you have to “crack a few eggs” to make an omelet. When the ladder breaks. When the rope snaps. When a hand slips. There will be blood. It’s the cost of doing business.
Bring it all together and “There will be blood” gets at this idea of the contest over oil, over the pursuit of wealth, couched in Biblical notions of punishment (Old Testament) and sacrifice (New Testament). You could also read it as prophetic, as if saying that the path we’re on in this country, so hell-bent on profit, always leads to conflict.
The “will” is important, too. It’s a future-tense. That means the title positions the film as not about what has happened. But what’s yet to come.
Important motifs in There Will Be Blood
It would be one thing if the only injury we saw was Daniel’s fall at the beginning. Or the geyser that destroys H.W.’s hearing. If those were it, you simply chalk the accidents up to establishing character and a plot beat. But the inclusion of the other two accidents brings the total to four. Four means it’s a motif worth exploring.
One thing that stands out is the visceral nature of the accidents. There’s a brutality to Daniel’s plunge to the bottom of the pit. To the support beam that bashes in H.W.’s real father’s skull. To the drill bit that spikes Joe Gundha.
When those accidents happen, you might think of the film’s title. “There’s the blood they mention.” Industry has a cruelty to it. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. It takes a pound of flesh from you, one way or another. That’s why people say they poured their blood, sweat, and tears into an endeavor.
But the string of accidents throughout the movie establishes a cadence. You don’t get a sense that “That’s the last of ‘em.” Instead, the movie tells you to expect the next one. That lends There Will Be Blood a bit of a haunting quality. Capitalism is full of casualties (both literal and metaphorical).
According to the AFL-CIO, in 2021: 343 workers died each day from hazardous working conditions. 5,190 workers were killed on the job in the United States. An estimated 120,000 workers died from occupational diseases.
Daniel’s face covered in oil and the fire at the well
Probably the most famous sequence from There Will Be Blood is the oil blowout. The “gusher”, as they’re called, was an iconic image from America’s oil boom. Blowouts like this occurred because oil digs break into layers of rock filled with liquid and gas. You open up a vent and the liquid and gas travel up to escape. Normally, this happens slowly. But if you hit a pocket of high-pressure material then it bursts like a dam.
Blowouts can kill workers. They cause massive environmental damage. And they not only break equipment but can wreck an entire dig. However. The more pressure in a reserve usually means the more oil in the reserve (or nearby). So a blowout on the scale seen in There Will Be Blood is why Daniel says “What are you looking so miserable about? There’s a whole ocean of oil under our feet! No one can get at it except for me.”
It’s a triumphant moment for Daniel the Oilman. But there’s a narrative balance—the injury to H.W.
Even though H.W. lives, the relationship between “father” and “son” is never the same. On the surface, it’s because Daniel doesn’t have the patience nor heart for H.W.’s hearing loss. But we know there was some degree of love and concern as he carried H.W. from the well back to the mess hall. The next day he even cuddles with H.W. and tries to soothe him. That was genuine affection. You can imagine part of Daniel feels guilty for what happened and doesn’t process it well. Meaning that his negative reaction to H.W.’s hearing loss isn’t only because H.W. is no longer as useful in the charade of Daniel “The Oilman” Plainview but also because Daniel feels responsible for it and can’t fix it. He ends up incredibly torn. He wants H.W. around but H.W. also reminds him of his own failures. So he keeps a cold distance.
Despite Daniel’s complicated parental feelings, the night of the blowout is still a tipping point, a deal with the devil, where Daniel exchanges his relationship with H.W. for the wealth he’s always wanted. That devilish presence comes to fruition when the gush catches on fire and night falls. The combination is like Hell on Earth. And Daniel gazes on it, face covered in oil, a creature risen from the underworld. It’s after this point that we see his humanity start to erode. Scene by scene, he grows less sympathetic, more unhinged.
The oil-covered face we see the night of the gush foreshadows the haggard, murderous visage of Daniel in the bowling alley. It’s who Daniel really was, beneath the mask of the performer.
Questions & answers about There Will Be Blood
Were Eli and Paul the same person?
No. It makes sense why someone might think this on first watch. They’re just twins. Daniel gives us an update on Paul before the whole milkshake speech. He recounts how he paid Paul for the information about Little Boston and how Paul has “a prosperous little business. Three wells producing. Five thousand dollars a week.” That directly clarifies that Eli and Paul are distinct.
Does that mean Paul really did have a prosperous little business? Eh. Right before the update on Paul, Daniel says he paid Paul ten-thousand dollars. Which wasn’t true. It was $500. So it might be that Daniel’s just making things up to taunt Eli with. Regardless, Paul was a real person.
Why did Daniel call himself the third revelation?
Eli’s church was the Church of the Third Revelation. The Old Testament had one revelation—the Ten Commandments. The New Testament had a second revelation—Jesus Christ. So a “third revelation” would be some new, paradigm-shifting miracle. Eli probably justified his “power” as a faith-healer as a sign or byproduct of the third revelation.
Plot-wise, Daniel says he;s the third revelation in order to mock Eli and religion. “Did you think your song and dance and your superstition would help you, Eli? I am the Third Revelation! I am who the Lord has chosen!”
Thematically, Daniel’s declaration has a whole lot of meaning. As it’s essentially PTA’s concluding paragraph in an essay about the way in which capitalism has replaced Christianity as America’s primary religion. The line “I am who the Lord has chosen” raises a lot of philosophical questions. Like would God choose capitalism? If so, why? If not, then why is it so popular?
Why did H.W. try to set Henry on fire?
This is kind of strange. Prior to the fire, we see H.W. look through Henry’s stuff. That includes a journal. Henry, when Daniel finally confronts him, mentions using the real brother’s diary. That’s what H.W. found.
The thing is, when H.W. opens the diary, it’s upside down. We never see him turn it the proper direction. The implication of that is that H.W. doesn’t know how to read. The script says “…he has it upside down, trying to make sense of it…he looks at more items.” It doesn’t say H.W. reads the diary. Only that he tries to make sense of it.
We never see H.W. discover anything actually incriminating. And it’s unclear what that would even be, since H.W. seemingly couldn’t read. But, somehow, he pieced together Henry wasn’t who he claimed to be.
Why try to set him on fire? Well, not being able to read means H.W. also couldn’t write. And because of his hearing loss, he couldn’t speak. He’s also only 9 years old. So if he can’t write, can’t talk, fire probably seemed like a decently good idea.
Really, though, H.W. was angry. Bitter about his injury. And maybe a bit jealous at how much attention Daniel was giving to Henry. So the fire was definitely him acting out.
Who was H.W.’s real father?
Probably the guy in the 1902 scene who has baby H.W. We even see that guy give the baby a kiss on the forehead, which implies a lot. Unfortunately, that’s the guy who catches the wood plank to the head. We don’t know much about H.W.’s mother but you have to imagine that if the dad brought a baby out to an oil dig that the mother wasn’t very involved.
Did Daniel love H.W.?
In the script, it’s a bit more explicit. Like right after H.W.’s injury, the script has Daniel say “I love you, I love you my boy. It’s alright. Listen to me if you can: you’ll be fine. A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I. I love you. I love you.”
Two moments seal the deal for me. First, after the big fight at the end, we have those flashbacks to Little Boston, before the injury, when Daniel and H.W. were at their best. The editing implies the flashbacks are Daniel’s own reflection. That implies a sense of nostalgia. Of longing. Of loss. Which leads into the second moment—Daniel stumbling down the stairs, a drunken wreck.
In reality, you could make up all kinds of reasons why someone would drink after that. It doesn’t have to be because he actually loved H.W. In a movie, though, events are consequential and usually illuminate some aspect of the story or main character(s). Since we go from the fight to the flashback to Daniel’s drunken stupor, the intention seems to be that Daniel drank because he’s sad. Because he is, to some degree, in mourning.
When he puts H.W. on the train to go to a school for the deaf, at 1:29:57, you can actually see a tear fall from Daniel’s eye.
Why did Daniel get off the train and leave H.W.?
He didn’t want to leave the dig but knew H.W. wouldn’t go anywhere without him. So he tricked the kid. Fletcher has to keep him from jumping from the moving locomotive.
What was the peach tree dance?
It seems like it was just a small town festival. My hometown of 5,000 people, in Ohio, had Canal Days. It is something everyone from the area would know. Except Henry didn’t react strongly enough for Daniel. He didn’t even say anything wrong. He just…didn’t say enough.
This is what it says in the script: Something has triggered in Daniel… “the Peachtree” reference has gotten past Henry… A few graphs later it picks back up with: …the paranoia has started in Daniel. THIS SETS IN MOTION THE FOLLOWING PROTRACTED SEQUENCE COVERING DANIEL’S SUSPICION OF HENRY
Did Daniel have a brother?
It’s never confirmed. Henry just says he met a man in King City who said he was the brother of Daniel Plainview. The two were friends. But then the guy died from tuberculosis. So Henry decided to pretend to be him and see what happened, aided by the guy’s diary. Given the accuracy of some of Henry’s details, it seems the man in King City may have really been Daniel’s brother.
The script even confirms “This is a journal by the real Henry Plainview.”
What does Daniel whisper to Eli after Daniels’ baptism?
It’s not in the script. So it seems to be something added after or made up on the spot by Daniel. Whatever he whispers, it chills Eli so much that he goes pale and quiet. Then actually leaves town soon after. The leaving could have been a coincidence. But it’s the next thing we see Eli do after smacking Daniel around like that. And it’s not long after that Daniel threatens to cut Tilford’s throat. If that’s what he said to someone who only mildly frustrated him, imagine what you threatened Eli with.
Actually, in the bowling alley, Daniel does say “I told you I would eat you! I told you I would eat you up!” Eli’s response to that? “We’re family!” in reference to H.W. marrying Eli’s sister. The “I would eat you” is probably what Daniel said after the baptism. And Eli thought that the wedding gave him some kind of armor.
What does “drainage” mean?
Daniel: Drainage! Drainage, Eli, you boy. Drained dry. I’m so sorry. Here, if you have a milkshake, and I have a milkshake, and I have a straw. There it is, that’s a straw, you see? Now my star reaches acrooooooss the room and starts to drink your milkshake. I…drink…your….milkshake!
Daniel never bought Bandy’s land. He only made a deal to use Bandy’s property for the pipeline. Eli thought that meant that Daniel was unable to access the oil there. Which is why Eli calls it “one of the great undeveloped fields of Little Boston.”
The issue is that Eli’s thinking of oil like a lake under each property. If you don’t own the property, you can’t access the oil. But oil is more like the ocean. Even if Daniel doesn’t own Bandy’s property, isn’t drilling on it, the oil still flows from Bandy’s land to fill the space left by what’s already been brought up.
That’s why Daniel uses the straw metaphor. The drill site opens up a vent that’s like a straw into the earth. The released pressure creates a sucking effect.
What’s funny is that cinematographer Robert Elswit confirmed that the oil used in the movie was “industrial material used by McDonald’s to thicken their milkshakes. And I’m not kidding. That’s actually true.”
Is There Will Be Blood an adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!?
Eh. It started as an adaptation but became its own thing. Though you can still see the DNA of Oil! Like you have a dad and his son who go quail hunting on a ranch and find oil. The owners of the ranch of two sons, Paul and Eli. And a daughter, Ruth. Eli even believes he received a “third revelation”.
But the story and characters definitely go in different directions in Oil!. A lot of the book is concerned with workers’ rights and politics. The H.W. character has a much larger role. The ending is completely different. So similar ingredients but very different recipes.
Is it H.W. or HW?
The script often uses HW. But that’s probably because it’s annoying to type the periods every time. Formally, it should be H.W..
Is Little Boston, California real?
No! Fictional. But based on any number of small oil boom towns.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about There Will Be Blood? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!