Daniel Plainview is a fictional oil tycoon and the protagonist of 2008's There Will Be Blood. He is loosely based on the character James Arnold Ross, the antagonistic oilman of Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil! (who in turn was inspired by oil baron Edward Doheny, infamous for his involvement in the Teapot Dome Scandal). He is portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, who won an Academy Award for the role.
Originally from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Daniel Plainview was born to Ernest Plainview. His mother's name is not mentioned but it is known Ernest was having an affair with a woman named Marion Brands. He has a sister named Anabelle. Prior to events shown in the film, Daniel worked for the Geological Survey in Kansas.
There Will Be Blood
The film starts with Plainview as a silver prospector in California. He is digging alone in a silver mine shaft and breaks his leg in an accident. Undeterred, he literally crawls out of the mine shaft and across the rocky plains with some of the silver he discovered. Some unspecified time later, he has turned his attention to oil, working with a small crew and has digged a well. After finding oil, one of the crudely designed digging apparatuses breaks and kills a worker. Plainview reluctantly takes the deceased man's orphaned son, HW, as his own. This proves to be useful to his future sales pitches, as he uses HW to play up people's sympathies.
Some time later, after a string of sucessful oil wells, a stranger named Paul Sunday tells Plainview (at a price) of a town called Little Boston where there is a large amount of oil. Plainview takes up on Paul's offer but not without threatening him that if he is lying he will have him murdered. Paul concedes and is never seen in the film again.
Daniel and HW travel to Little Boston under the guise of hunting quail. Plainview approaches Paul's father, Abel, with an offer to buy his land. Paul's identical twin brother, Eli, is wary of the bargain and confirms Plainview's true motivations, that the land is rich with oil. He demands a higher price but Abel is persuaded by Plainview to sell at a greatly undervalued cost.
After this Daniel quickly buys up the rest of the land, with the notable exception of a large portion owned by a man named William Bandy. Plainview arrogantly dismisses Bandy and insists the farmer come to him first. As he brings a large crew to build an oil derrick, Eli, who is a faith healer and leader of "The Church of the Third Revelation" (which Plainview reluctantly agreed to give money to), requests he be able to bless the well and wants Daniel to introduce him. Plainview agrees but at the opening of the derrick he blesses it himself and brings up Eli's sister Mary instead. He also intimidates Abel into not physically abusing Mary for not praying (which he heard about from HW, who has become close to Mary).
The derrick has two accidents, the first kills a man, the second causes the entire derrick to set on fire and to injure HW, which causes the child to go deaf. Initially Plainview is delighted that the "whole ocean of oil" has finally surfaced but later he is deeply troubled by HW newfound disability. When Eli demands money from the grief stricken Plainview, the latter savagely attacks the preacher and angrily mocks him for being unable to heal his son.
Daniel then is approached by a man named Henry Brands, who claims to be his half brother. Initially baffled, Henry produces proofs of identity and certain Plainview family knowledge. Brands politely asks to work for Plainview, to which he agrees. The two share a contemplative conversation in which Daniel expresses his bitterness at other people and how while he wishes he could become rich and self reliant by himself, he realises he needs other people's help (most likely based on the silver mining incident) to achieve this. HW, after observing Henry's diary, attempts to set fire to Brand's bed but fails in his attempt. Daniel, increasingly frustrated over being unable to communicate with or control his son, decides to send him to a school for the deaf. He dupes HW into getting on a train set for San Fransisco, feeling that he is needed in Little Boston more to secure a transportation contract.
Daniel meets with Standard Oil to negotiate the selling of certain derricks. Already resenting Standard for cheating people on shipping costs, one of the agents, Tilford, draws Plainview's ire when he suggests that selling off all the wells will give time to Plainview to look after his boy. Daniel takes this to mean he has done a poor job at raising his son, and threatens to murder Tilford. He instead signs a deal with Union Oil, despite still not owning the Bandy property. While celebrating, Daniel becomes suspicious of Henry for not being aware of a presumably common local joke in Fond du Lac. Later, deep in Bandy's vast woodland property, Daniel holds Henry down at gunpoint and begins quizzing him about geographical details about their hometown. Henry folds under questioning and admits he is not actually Henry Brands, but rather a friend of Daniel's half brother, who has since died of tuberculosis. Despite promising to leave and never return, Daniel shoots him in the head, killing the impostor, and buries him. Daniel gets very drunk and cries as he reads through Brands diary.
He awakes the next day to find William Bandy over him, who implies he is aware of the murder committed. He agrees to lease out his property for a pipeline (and to keep quite about the murder) on the condition Daniel join the Church of the Third Revelation. Plainview, a staunch atheist, agrees with a great deal of reluctance and is put through a brutal initiation by Eli, who delights in having his revenge. After repeatedly striking Daniel as part of "removing the devil", he also forces Daniel to admit to abandoning his son.
As the final parts of the construction through Bandy's land are put through, HW arrives back again with a sign language teacher. Daniel is overjoyed to have HW back again but quickly dismayed by the fact that he can't communicate with HW at all (and seems to refuse to learn sign language). He gloats over Tilford and Standard Oil about his success but simmers with resentment at Eli, who leaves Little Boston to do missionary work. Isolated and with wounded pride, Daniel is seen to be drinking much more than usual.
Many years later Daniel is shown to be living in an enormous mansion (as he told Henry he always wanted), but seems as unhappy as he was when he had nothing. He spends his time continuing deals, drinking heavily (as he has now become an alcoholic) and shooting his posessions in boredom. He misses HW's wedding (to Mary Sunday), who later approaches him with the request that he be released from their partnership so he can start a company in Mexico. Visibily hurt, Plainview sardonically and cruelly berates HW (including mocking his deafness) and finally tells him he was not actually his son. He disowns HW, dismissing him as nothing more than a "bastard in a basket". HW finally leaves, saying he's glad he's not related to Daniel.
Daniel later gets drunk, apparently regretting the bad turns his relationship with HW had taken and is woken up in his bowling alley by Eli. The preacher admits that he has become financially ruined over the Great Depression, and begs Daniel to enter a partnership with him to drill out Bandy's property (and to get the money Daniel owed him years ago for his Church). Daniel initially agrees but only on the condition Eli be put through a humiliating ordeal of having to admit that there is no god and that Eli is a charlatan. After making him say this repeatedly he finally anounces that Bandy's land is useless as all the oil under it has been taken because Daniel has drilled into all the land around it, thus the oil under Bandy's has been sucked out by the surrounding derricks. Crestfallen, Eli begins to cry while Daniel harshly mocks and verbally abuses him, finally getting to Eli's Achilles Heel by telling him that Paul is an immense success. Daniel, in a near state of insane rage, chases Eli across the bowling alley and finally beats him to death with a bowling pin. His flabbergasted butler comes down the steps, asking if everything is all right, to which the exhausted Plainview tells him "I'm Finished".
Plainview is in many ways a stereotypical representation of the robber baron. Ruthless, unabashedly greedy and not above lying to get what he wants; Plainview is a product of Second Industrial Revolution. Yet despite these negative qualities he is shown to be hard working, pragmatic, somewhat honorable man who is shown to despise hypocrisy (particularly that of organized religion) and protective of children.
A key aspect of Plainview's character is his misanthropy, which he repeatedly expresses in words and actions. He bitterly claims that he sees no good in people and desires to one day be wealthy enough that he would never have to deal with people again. Despite this he is shown to have a need for at least one person to be with him; initially his surrogate son HW and then his alleged half brother Henry Brands, both of whom he treats as soundboards and dogsbodies but shows great, unspoken affection for.
His isolation seems to make him believe that only people directly related to him by blood can be trusted. He disowns HW for wanting to go his separate way and seems to convince himself that young man could never be trusted because he wasn't a blood relative. When Henry does appear claiming to be his brother, he takes the stranger under his wing without needing much convincing. He also admits to dreaming about one day having lots of children to run around his stately manor. Family is a concept he focuses on frequently.
Daniel's determinaiton for obtaining oil seems partly based on wanting to become rich and partly out of an obsessive fixation. He is shown to do very little with his money aside from buy a large house and expand his business empire. Even in his mansion he sleeps on a wooden floor, much like how he did when he was still on the up and coming. Business competitors offer to make him a millionaire half way through the film but he refuses, asking "what else would I do with myself?" His insistence on working could be chalked up to a lack of interest in other things like a relationship (he is never shown to have any interest in women) or in any other activity.
Along with being emotionally withdrawn and gruff, Plainview also harbours an incredible competitiveness and is prone to bursts of violent uncontrolled anger. He adamantly opposes Standard Oil because he feels they cheat people on the shipping costs and don't "dig around the dirt" themselves. His opposition turns into competition when one of Standard Oil's men, Tilford, accidentally offends Plainview's sense of family. Plainview threatens to kill Tilford and later, after he has struck a lucrative deal with Union Oil, gloats and embarasses Tilford in front of his friends. Plainview's rage extends to two counts of murder; Henry Brands, for lying about being his brother, and Eli Sunday, who put him through a traumatizing initiation into the Church of the Third Revelation. Neither are premeditated and are easily uncovered.