“There Will Be Blood,” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is based on the Upton Sinclair novel “Oil!” It was filmed in West Texas, so as a Texan I recognized the landscape without difficulty. It is a visually stunning flick with a great portrayal by Daniel Day-Lewis of the boundless greed, violence and cutthroat competition of wildcat oilmen in the early days of the oil industry.
I worked for a Houston wildcat oilman from 1971 to 1981 so I have first-hand experience with the mentality of these capitalists of the Wild West. I found the portrayal to be quite accurate.
Of course, the insight into the oilmen currently running our country is unmistakable.
Daniel Day-Lewis really captures the mindset of these individualists. At one point, he tells the small town, which he bought for a very meager amount, that if the oil comes in they will build schools and provide health care, because he needs workers who are educated. It becomes clear that he has no intention of helping the populace because he “hates people” and just wants to get enough money so he can get away from them.
The film does a great job of dramatizing the quintessential capitalist’s lack of regard for human life and the deadly working conditions, which resulted in many deaths of oil workers. At one point, Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) argues with a pitiful young preacher, Eli Sunday, over the working conditions. The preacher weakly argues that the deaths could be prevented if the workers were not exploited so ruthlessly. The preacher appears repeatedly throughout the film asking Plainview for money for his church. His begging is always met with savagery and brutality by Plainview.
The movie is flawed in spite of its portrayal of the power of raw capitalism. There is not a hint of the response from the workers. In the book, there are two main characters, a capitalist and a labor organizer. In this movie version, the labor movement is completely lost. This gives the film a very nihilistic feel and leaves the audience overwhelmed by the malignancy of the capitalist.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Working people, if organized, can defeat the power of capitalism.