I've been thinking about the characteristics that make a great villain and think that Daniel Day Lewis, who imo is above reproach as an actor,
embodies the most perfect example of a villain that has ever been depicted on film in his character Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood.
On the surface, no one can deny that Daniel Plainview is an evil, brutal, mercenary man. His crimes include two murders, conning poor farmers out of
oil rich land, and disavowing his only child. He is a self-proclaimed misanthrope. The movie closes on Plainview, covered in blood of the man he
just murdered, casually saying to his butler "I am finished."
But a closer examination of Plainview's character shows enough nuance (and very subtly I might add) to make him human, almost pitiable, with an
extremely complex and (might I say it?) ethical core. Or not. And the fact that intelligent debate can be had over the man's true character, with
both sides presenting reasonable arguments, is a testament to the genius of DDL's acting.
Some scenes that show the better side of Plainview's character:
-The opening scene depicts a man who is driven to succeed despite all adversity. We see him get horrifically injured in a mine, only to drag his body
to safety (while carefully carrying the silver he had found- can't let an injury get in the way of profit). From this scene, we can understand a bit
of his drive, and see that he is not above doing hard/dirty work in the quest for the dollar.
-Daniel adopts the orphaned child of his dead colleague. We see him care for the child as best as he can, and his instinct is to comfort the babe.
Some think he used the boy in order to depict the image of a family man but I argue that there is plenty of evidence of Daniel's love for HW. I would
also posit that Daniel couldn't possibly have had that image in his mind the moment he chose to take care of the orphaned child.
-Plainview takes in the man he thinks is his brother and shares his home, resources with the man. He also opens up to his "brother" about his inner
being and his desires.
-He wishes to improve the area surrounding his oil well and the quality of life for the farmers/homesteaders who live nearby.
-Plainview has an intense distaste for hypocrisy, and he is a man of his word. (I think-would have to watch a second time to see if he followed
through on all of his deals).
One of the prevailing factors in Daniel Plainview's character and actions is his painful isolation. He is almost entirely alone in the world (mostly
self-imposed, but perhaps much of this comes from his dislike of human hypocrisy and folly) and his innermost desire appears to be having a family of
his own- more than the drive for money or success. The lonely shots of the plains, the unnerving soundtrack, a few key scenes DDL nails all add to
the bitter isolation of Plainview. Here's an incredible scene that show Plainview's longing for kin:
I'd like to add that I'm convinced that Plainview's first murder (of the man fraudulently claiming to be his brother) was because he believed the
imposter murdered his real brother. (Along with the crippling disappointment to find he has no living kin). When Plainview grilled him about his
true brother, the imposter said (after swallowing a lump in his throat) "He wasn't harmed, wasn't killed, nothing bad,"--one has reason to be
I was amazed by the scene in which Daniel figured out his "brother" was an imposter. They are sitting on the beach, after a swim.. the brother slips
up and cracks appear in his narrative.. the look on DDL's face is incredible. Pain, vexation, a slight hardness, all combined in a hard crease
between the eyes.
I could go on and on about this character. I find it to be pure genius, the best character ever portrayed on film. I'd love to hear your opinion on
DDL, on Plainview, or on who depicted a better villian and why.
edit on 2-2-2017 by zosimov because: (no reason given)
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