There Will Be Blood

Update: My wife informed me this morning that lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar last night for best actor for his performance in this movie. While I don’t know who he was up against, he certainly did an outstanding acting job in this movie.

This being my last weekend here in Scotland, I decided to take a break from working 7 days a week and go see There Will Be Blood, the “oil movie” I have heard so much about. Yes, I know this movie has been out for a while. But it just came to Aberdeen.

Spoiler Alert

Don’t read this section if you haven’t seen the movie. Just go see it.

First off, I have been misled about this movie. I had heard it was the story of an oil man and his rise from poverty to wealth and power. I saw it differently. I saw it as the story of a cruel psycopath, who happened to be an oil man. I can tell you that some oil men are actually not psychopaths. I can just see some who watched this movie and could picture this playing out in various parts of the globe: The ruthless oil man moves in and runs roughshod over everyone. Now, I know that those kinds of things have happened, but this is not normal. And it certainly isn’t normal in this day and age (although exceptions can always be found). Your typical oil man also doesn’t shoot people in the head, nor do they bludgeon people to death with bowling pins, as did the main character Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis (who did some very fine acting). His character was described in a recent news story as “a raging, conniving, acquisitive petroleum pioneer caught up in California’s oil boom of the early 20th century.” Plainview’s psychotic behavior had me tense during the entire movie. You never knew when he was going to go off on someone unpredictably, and he held grudges for a long, long time.

What I did like about the movie is that it gave a good historical perspective on the early years of the oil industry. This is an inherently dangerous industry, and you saw that in the movie. You have guys out there trying to provide a living for their family – and bringing something to the market that the world depends upon – and dying in the process. And despite the fact that we have come a long, long way since then, people still die each year in this industry. This is a major reason that we have safety beaten into our heads constantly. (It can be quite a shock to go into another industry and contrast the safety precautions with those in the oil industry. In the oil industry, for instance, besides the “big stuff”, we have things drilled into us like how many people die falling out of chairs or falling down stairs each year – therefore don’t lean back in your chair and always hold the hand rail. I get several safety alerts like that every week).

Back to the movie (for a second), I constantly felt like something bad was going to happen to Plainview’s young son. I try to avoid movies where kids get hurt or killed, because I have a hard time shaking those things off. And of course something bad did happen to him, and I spent the rest of the movie thinking about tragedies involving children. I am still trying to shake off last week’s Minnesota school bus crash in which 4 kids died.

Not to get completely off topic, but is anyone else here wired like that? I noticed that once I had kids, I really had to be careful watching the news, as I found myself again and again strongly empathizing with victims and their families. It’s especially bad when I am separated from my family as I am now. The first time I really noticed this was when my daughter (first born) was only about a year old, and the Oklahoma City bombing occurred. I kept imagining the heartache everyone was going through (made worse because I am from Oklahoma and had a daughter almost exactly the same age as Baylee Almon, killed in the bombing), and it affected my sleep for a long time. After that I was always really affected by bad news involving kids – and I can rattle off one story after another. (And the reason for this digression, is these are the places my mind went after the scene in which Plainview’s son was hurt).


Anyway, after that depressing digression, I recommend the movie. See how this industry started. It is disturbing, and the psycopath angle aside, is probably an accurate reflection of the selfish and monopolistic behavior of the time (some of which carries on to the present). Of course I don’t even know if the movie is still playing widely in the U.S. It can be a while before movies from the U.S. spread around the globe. Next up, I am hoping to see Citizen Kane, followed by Gone With the Wind. Heard they are also pretty good, and looking forward to them making their way across the pond.

17 thoughts on “There Will Be Blood”

  1. Watching kids get hurt in movies or tragedies in real life is difficult and I have the same tendency to transpose events back and forth from the outside world to our personal life.

    Our youngest had severe epilepsy as a baby with many tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures from 7 months to 2 years or so. I remember 9/11/2001 because he was 4 and seizure free for almost 2 years but in the hospital overnight with a severe fever and dehydration due to a virus of some kind. I remember having this premonition of something bad when I left for work that morning. It turned out that my kid was fine, New York was not so fine. The two events are permanently intertwined in my head.

    I find it even worse with animals in movies. In Open Range the bad guys come around the campsite and I could understand killing the guy guarding the site and running off the herd, but did they have to shoot the dog? I’m still upset about it.
    My dog.

  2. the ageing process[maturing, some would say] is accompanied by an increased sensitivity to “our vulnerabilty”. this is one aspect of life’s wisdom that increases with age, among others, which is too often discounted by “youth”.

    may your future [matureing/ageing] be rewarding. ageing like the remainder of life is one helluva series of tradeoffs.


  3. Thanks for letting me know what the movie was all about. I will probably never see it anyhow. Your short history on early oil was also interesting. I once read that Henry Ford had a choice of going oil or electric. I guess because oil was gurgling out of the ground in Pennsylvania and gushing in Texas the choice was easy. A word from Grampa. Take a trip home early and often to see them. They grow faster than cornstalks.

  4. I detested the movie. I felt like I was being bludgeoned for the 3 hrs it took. At least the preacher character got to die.

    Beyond that Plainview is a psychopath at the beginning of the movie and at the end 40 years later. That is not what I would call character development. If the Standard Oil guys were supposed to be evil, they looked saintly next to Plainview.

    BTW, in the movie time frame, Standard Oil could not be the old monopoly which had been broken up by then. One of its pieces, Standard of California is now part of Chevron.

    Apropos of the quote above. (“I drink your milkshake. I drink it up!”) Perhaps an oilman can enlighten us. I thought neighboring land owners who owned part of a reservoir that was drained by a well were entitled to their share of the royalties.

  5. I thought neighboring land owners who owned part of a reservoir that was drained by a well were entitled to their share of the royalties.

    That depends. Rules vary between jurisdictions. The basic principle is the Rule of Capture — if I produce the oil from my well, it is mine. Then you can move into spacing rules & lease line agreements. Ultimately into the huge legal & technical minefield of Unitization, where owners trade their individual rights for a share of the total pool.

    Generally, in order to be given a share of a Unit, each owner will first have to prove that he has oil on his lease — by drilling one or more wells. Which brings us back to the Rule of Capture.

    The issue of oil fields extending into multiple leases occurs around the world, not just in North America. Lawyers have got rich dealing with unitizations in the North Sea. Even Kuwait & Saudi Arabia have a Partitioned Neutral Zone along their borders, where they share oil revenues.

    These disputes can come to blows. Saddam Hussein justified his invasion of Kuwait on the basis that Kuwaiti wells were draining Iraqi oil fields. Looking down the road to possible future conflicts, many geologists argue that Qatar’s super-giant offshore North Field (source of much of the world’s LNG) is the same reservoir as Iran’s giant offshore South Pars field.

  6. Unfortunately, watching just about any Hollywood movie of recent times feels like being bludgeoned to death.

    Depravity and violence seems to be good box office though.

  7. Robert – the film was released in NY and LA on Dec. 26 so it would be considered for an Academy Award. Its wide release was on Jan. 25, and it is still in theaters. Likely it will remain a few more weeks as Lewis is nearly a lock on Best Actor and the film likely wins Best Picture.

    The film was loosely based on the 1927 Upton Sinclair novel Oil!. Sinclair was a socialist and populist who clearly hated big business, and big oil in particular.

    As far as the depiction of safety in the cable tool drilling days, that isn’t far off. Were early oil men all psycopaths? No.

  8. The wife and I used to watch the Oscars, but haven’t since American Beauty won the best picture.

    Large corporations, oil companies, church goers and the clergy are almost always portrayed negatively in movies these days. In There Will be Blood you get all of that.

    To me it would be much more intersting to show an oil company as the good guys with journalists and environmental NGOs as the evil forces in a movie. I have some experience in this area.

    In nearly 30 years the most unethical behavior I’ve ever encountered personally came from Enron (no surprise there), journalists, and environmental NGOs. I’m not really free to talk about it now, maybe someday.

  9. To me it would be much more intersting to show an oil company as the good guys with journalists and environmental NGOs as the evil forces in a movie.

    Remember “Ghostbusters”? The bad guy (stupid & incompetent, rather than evil) was the bureaucrat from the Environmental Protection Agency. And it is a reasonable bet that “Ghostbusters” sold more tickets than “There will be blood” ever does. There is a market for just what you describe — a big market!

  10. Remember “Ghostbusters”? The bad guy (stupid & incompetent, rather than evil) was the bureaucrat from the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Same actor, William Atherton, played a bad-guy journalist, in the first 2 Die Hard movies. Maybe we can get him.

    I can only think of one movie that showed oil companies positively, the John Wayne movie Hellfighters.

    Talking about kids getting hurt in movies and oil companies, remember Syriana? Matt Damon’s son in the movie dies and then Damon leverages his death into an oil deal. That is Hollywood’s opinion of people who work in the industry.

  11. I happen to be reading Moby Dick. Guys risk their lives far away from home to bring back whale oil for lamps. It has always been thus. The oil industry put the whalers out of business.

  12. RR,

    “The oil industry put the whalers out of business.”

    Well, peak whales also had something to do with it.

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