I think that in all my years of writing this blog there has never been a film that I've felt less able to review. The story is awe-inspiring, and the acting by the two lead characters, Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano, is overwhelming. The trouble is that it has depths that I'm unable to describe.
The film is about Daniel Plainview, an oilman (the word he uses to describe himself) at the beginning of the 20th Century. After drilling for oil in a few small oil fields, he finally discovers a large oilfield in the land surrounding the small town Little Boston in California. It's poor farming land, so the settlers are prepared to sell cheap, but the local pastor, Eli Sunday, insists on receiving more money for his church, the Church of the Third Revelation. Over the next 25 years a rivalry develops between the two men. The presence of oil in the community leads to greater prosperity in the town, very little money out of Daniel's pocket, but enough to make the townspeople feel grateful. Eli Sunday continues to give the community spiritual blessings.
The film's strength is in the portrayal of the two men. Daniel is a greedy man seeking wealth. As the Bible says, "The love of money is the root of all evil" (1. Timothy 6:10), but he's not purely evil. There are some shimmers of goodness in him, although the good in him fades away as he becomes richer. Eli is doubtlessly a good man who wants to serve God, but he isn't perfect, and it's mostly his relationship with Daniel that brings out the bad in him. Eli is jealous of Daniel's position in the community, and he's also jealous of Daniel's wealth, as much as he tries to suppress it. This comes to a peak in the Great Depression when Daniel is living off his wealth and Eli has lost all his money.
Money and religion. Religion and money. The two are awkward bedfellows. When the two combine there are always problems. Money is necessary to live, as any Christian preacher will admit, but money appeals to the human heart, begging to be loved. The Christian soon loves money more than his God without even realising it. It's not even necessary to be rich to love money. Poor people can love money just as much.
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