Paul Thomas Anderson has been one of the most talked about writer-directors since he came onto the scene with Hard Eight. Since then, his movies have been must-see theatrical experiences. But none more so than There Will Be Blood. When There Will Be Blood burst into cinemas it was a tour-de-force of acting, directing, cinematography, and musical scores.
People came from all over to watch Daniel Plainview be consumed by greed and play god in a small western town. And today, we'll focus on the screenplay. We'll dissect the There Will Be Blood script PDF and talk about some screenwriting lessons you can take away from the script and There Will Be Blood's meaning.
Let's dig for that screenwriting oil... and other terrible metaphors.
First, Download the There Will Be Blood script PDF Here! (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only)
Understanding the Protagonist: Daniel Plainview
Every great screenplay works in some epic character development. Daniel Plainview is the protagonist of our story. we know from the very beginning that he's a contemplative man. A digger who prefers solitude and has a will to survive and to win. As seen in his epic crawl back to civilization after injuring his leg.
As the story progresses, we see Daniel Plainview's rise to prominence. Not only as an oil man but as a father. Although these things are forever intertwined. As we get to know Daniel Plainview we also get to see the full spectrum of that determination and greed. He came from nothing but became a rich man. He wants all of it now.
Paul Thomas Anderson had this to say to DGA Quarterly about the film:
“I was trying to find something that was 100 percent straightforward, old-fashioned storytelling...I definitely tried to mimic that approach. My natural instincts as a writer may be more scattered, so in an effort to be more traditional I used a book, just like they did. Sierra Madre is as direct as you can get—nothing clever, nothing structurally new or different—and I mean that as a high compliment. It’s harder than anything else to be completely straightforward.” —Rediscovering Treasure
Journeys like this are not simple to map, but we have a tool I like to follow called the Story Map that can help chart who a character becomes and what they do over the course of a movie. For Daniel Plainview, we're mapping someone who becomes so obsessed with work and money that he systematically takes out the people who have come into his life along the way.
His son leaves, he kills his "brother," and he even murders his rival at the end.
Although this is not strictly the hero's journey, this character arc is almost circular. From solitude to solitude.
I think Plainview's main attribute is winning. Once he finds the oil he wants all of it. And he spends his life getting it. He stays alive just long enough to let his tormentor know he won, and when he utters "I'm finished" I think it's just him realizing his life has come full circle, but he's exited on the other side atop the mountain no one thought he would climb.
There Will Be Blood Analysis
As far as screenplay analysis goes, this movie adheres pretty specifically tothe three-act structure. There's an inciting incident, the mention of the Sunday farm. A midpoint when the brother arrives, and we've already discussed the epic closer. Though this movie is a bit longer, it takes its time in the second act. It lets tensions unfold as we see what happens to the Plainviews as things get tougher and the money gets bigger.
In an interview with Cinephilia & Beyond, the writer has this to say about There Will Be Blood:
"While it certainly has some strong elements of both, There Will Be Blood is first and foremost a straightforward, bone-chilling story of America, of the very foundations the country was built on, of the hypocrisy of its self-proclaimed noble intentions and the sobering truth behind their “exploring the wilderness” postulate so often repeated throughout history. Daniel Plainview is as American as film characters can actually get: a self-made man who started poor and, through hard work and zealous dedication, succeeded in transforming himself into one of the richest people in the country. His never-ceasing quest for wealth, accompanied by innate competitiveness and visible disdain for other people, makes him a living realization of the American dream, a personification of typically American individualism and a true champion of capitalism."
I think we can generally take from this that even though There Will Be Blood is set in the past, and adapted from an Upton Sinclair novel, it still has topics relevant to today's world. The themes and characters connect so much with the audience because they are timeless. I know that in my own Hollywood journey I have come across a few Daniel Plainview-esque characters. And you have to build your world up to make sure you don't become one.
When taking inspiration from this screenplay, ask yourself if what you're writing is for the moment now. What are the lessons readers will get if they look at your work, no matter the time period.
There Will Be Blood Meaning
Every movie has a deeper meaning. Every movie is "about" something. While the quotes above make this generally about what you lose in true pursuit of the American dream, I think There Will Be Blood is actually about family. While you can take the title as an ominous foreshadowing of violence, I think you can also take it as a literal reference to Plainview's adoption of a son, acceptance of a brother, and the ultimate ruination of his name when all that comes crashing down on him.
My main argument for this theory is that we see how Plainview built his business into a family business. He was a loner but realized most people trusted a family man. Even when he lost his son he was okay with bringing in his brother to keep that use alive. While Plainview ultimately mortgages his family for money, he is constantly confronted with ways he could have embraced expanding his family.
Ways like supporting his son's engagement to Mary Sunday, being the paternal figure that Eli Sunday needs and is not getting from God, and actually challenging the sanctity of family when his brother shows up to get money.
Instead, we're treated to a guy who finds a way to abuse his blood over and over again to make a buck.
His "bastard in a basket" freakout can be viewed two ways. He's a man who knows what a terrible person he is, and he wants his son to have a better life without him in it...or this could be vintage Daniel Plainview, pushing away love and blood because he feels better and safer only relying on himself. As he did at the very beginning of the movie.
Either way, I see the "blood" in the title to be about what sacrifices you have to make in order to chase the American dream. Not just blood, sweat, and tears, but also your family and your family's lives.
What's next? Read the Pulp Fiction Screenplay!
After Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino needed a hit. He had come onto the scene as a brash and independent thinker but he set his sights on the ultimate prize. He wanted to be Hollywood royalty, a legendary director. He wanted people to listen and to see the Los Angles he saw every day: the underbelly, the slick and degenerate criminal world. He locked himself in a hotel room with Roger Avary, and they cracked Pulp Fiction.
Leave your favorite parts of There Will Be Blood in the comments!