By Vlad Popescu
PTA took character evolution to another level and made us experience growth, downfall and recovery on screen. The flow of each of his stories is character driven, and it all starts from a search. It can be a search for control, like in “The Master”, a search for career and fame, like in “Boogie Nights”, or one for family, like in “There Will Be Blood”. If I have to generalize, I will say that what all of his characters want to obtain is a meaning and human relations.
The complexity of PTA’s characters often makes viewers misunderstand them and judge them by a facade image. “There Will Be Blood” ‘s Daniel Plainview is an often misunderstood character who incorporates most of the inner struggles of other PTA protagonists, and I would like to mainly look at him throughout the next part of the essay.
Daniel’s façade is that of a greedy man who does not care about anything else than his own wealth and success. But even underneath his hatred for humanity, there lies emotion which is mainly fueled by his son and business partner (as he presents him) H.W. What always leads me to that conclusion is the way he is found sleeping on his bowling alley after their fight towards the end of the movie.
Another character through which Daniel can be analyzed is Eli, the town pastor. We know that Daniel has no regard for religion whatsoever, acting as his own God. But between Eli and him there are similarities, so when he meets him his battle with religion starts, battle after which he has to finish on top.
To conclude the structure, we are presented a main story of a greedy competitor in search for oil, and two other stories underneath this one: one is about family (through H.W.) and one’s about religion (through Eli), both being crucial life themes.
My personal favorite scene of “There Will Be Blood” is the ending one, which at first sight seems to wrap it all up in a very simple way. But I believe PT Anderson found the perfect way to end the main story and the two back-stories at the same time through the sentence “I’m finished!”.
If we look at his 2012 work “The Master”, we will notice that even though he takes us through a world full of control, he conveys the same character evolution, this time ending in a more upbringing note. A story told through the eyes of a war veteran who needs nothing more than somebody or something to obey to. What I find truly amazing in this story is that the dominant/submissive relationship of Freddie Quell, the protagonist, and his “master” is not filled with toxicity, instead it helps Freddie grow and develop more and more of an independent spirit.
As I mentioned before, PTA’s characters want to find meaning. Freddie finds it through obedience followed by freedom, as opposed to Daniel Plainview, who tries to find it through family and religion.
Many of Anderson’s works are still overlooked due to the failed attempt of audiences to find their meaning. What his work is all about is putting all the important life themes, debates, and subjects through a complicated process that somehow hides them, making them not so obvious anymore. Nevertheless, his storyteller side is a fantastic one, putting all of those thoughtful and hard meanings alongside catchy narratives that comprise friendships, interesting historical periods, and even romance.
In the end, I can truly see why he did not have the reach of directors like Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino. Simply put, there was not just a story to follow, but also some thoughts to be revealed. But I hope this writing piece opens the appetite of audiences to give some thought to those meanings too.
*The author of this essay is a high school student to Tallulah Falls School, GA