In film, there are memorable characters and there are iconic characters. The latter is a result of great writing, directing, and acting. Auteur directors flesh out these iconic characters to create a whole person. The screen has been graced with iconic characters like Jack in The Shining, Travis in Taxi Driver, or for this article, Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Who is Daniel Plainview?
There are many components that contributed to the creation of the character of Daniel Plainview. Research, inspiration, and casting decisions are all critical. In this article, we’ll dive into a Daniel Plainview character analysis and uncover how Paul Thomas Anderson created the flesh and blood of the Plainview in There Will Be Blood.
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Daniel Plainview Character Analysis
Writing for Daniel Day-Lewis
Who is Daniel Plainview played by? It would be difficult to imagine the part played by anyone other than the great Daniel Day-Lewis and for good reason. From the start, Paul Thomas Anderson had Daniel Day-Lewis in mind to play Daniel Plainview. The task was ambitious since Anderson had never formally met Daniel Day-Lewis.
As he continued writing the character for Plainview, PT Anderson tried to detach himself from the thought of Day-Lewis playing the character. This would allow him to create the character more organically. But as he continued writing, he always came back to the fact that Day-Lewis was the only person who could get the job done.
Daniel Day-Lewis is known for his method acting and rigorous approach to developing characters. Compared to classical acting, Method acting often requires great collaboration and rapport between director and actor. Luckily, there was both between PTA and Daniel Day-Lewis. What he brought to the character of Daniel Plainview, not even Paul Thomas Anderson expected.
Luckily, a mutual friend between the director and actor had told Anderson that Daniel was a fan of Anderson’s 2002 film Punch-Drunk Love. This gave Anderson the courage to approach Day-Lewis with the script for There Will Be Blood. And thus one of the most brilliant collaborations in recent cinema was born.
For a look back at what PT Anderson had done prior to this, let's review his directing style up to this point. In this video we break down seven key formal elements in a film.
Who is Daniel Plainview?
Drawing from fact and fiction
As an auteur director, PT Anderson took control of There Will Be Blood and its characters. So, who is Daniel Plainview and how did the character form? From the genesis of the film, Daniel Plainview was a Frankenstein-esque character creation drawn from various inspirations. PTA partially drew inspiration from the book Oil! By Upton Sinclair. The book follows a father and son stumbling upon oil rich land during an oil hunting trip. The correlations, however, stop there.
Because most of the book revolves around the son, PTA only drew from the first 150 pages of the book. Primarily, Anderson used the novel to form the language of the oil man. We brought the There Will Be Blood screenplay into the StudioBinder screenwriting software to analyze a line used from the book. In this scene, Daniel is pitching to local townspeople. To win them over, he presents himself as an oil man by using certain language.
Using this type of language was important in shaping the character of Daniel Plainview as an oil man. Who is Daniel Plainview historically based off of? I’m glad you asked, because it would be difficult to write a Daniel Plainview character analysis without mentioning the connection to real life American oil tycoon Edward Doheny. In fact, the exposition of Plainview was drawn from Doheny.
Doheny, like Plainview, was from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He also was a drifter who became the richest man in America by starting an oil drilling empire. This video by CinemaTyler further analyzes the similarities between Doheny and Plainview.
PTA drew from fact and fiction to flesh out the details of Daniel Plainview. To create his desires and arc, Anderson drew from an entire genre of film.
Daniel Plainview Character Analysis
There Will Be Blood as a horror film
Paul Thomas Anderson has described There Will Be Blood as a horror film. Originally, Anderson drew inspiration from the character Count Dracula. Specifically, critics have pointed out similarities in the opening shot of the film.
We are introduced to Plainview in the darkness of the mine shaft, protected from the sunlight. He swings at the rock repetitively. There is an aura of madness behind him. Throughout the film, Plainview thirsts for oil, which PTA calls the blood of the land.
The similarities do not stop there. In the 1931 film Dracula, Count Dracula’s antagonist is a religious, god-fearing man named Van Helsing. In There Will be Blood, Plainview collides with Eli, a self-proclaimed prophet. In one of the film’s iconic scenes, Plainview is baptized as a barter to buy a plot of land. But his aversion to religion strikes a resemblance to Count Dracula. Not to mention, the screenplay constantly references blood throughout the scene.
Let’s take a look at how this scene plays out on screen. Paul Thomas Anderson’s directing style and writing with Daniel Day-Lewis’ incredible performance brings to life the twisted tones that are often found in thrillers and horrors.
Daniel Plainview is one of the most complex characters in cinema history. PTA’s incredible writing as well as Daniel Day-Lewis’ transformation into the character makes Plainview appear on screen, not as a character, but as a unique person with their own history, desires, and fears.
PT Anderson’s research and reach toward various sources of inspiration have resulted in one of the best characters in cinematic history.
There Will Be Blood: Analysis of Power
Analyzing how Plainview was created is a master class on character development and writing. Breaking down how Paul Thomas Anderson directs this character takes this a step further. Check out our article in which we break down how PTA directs power struggle in a scene.