NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by EEM who says..."The movie is worth the price of admission just for Daniel Day Lewis. Not enough can be said about his performance. It simply sucks you in."
The movie starts on 1898. Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis) is doing solo work as a silver miner. One day, to break up some rocks, he places and lights a stick of dynamite. He climbs out of the mine and tries to pull up some of his work material with a pulley. He doesn't do so in time, and the dynamite goes off. Daniel goes down to check on things, but the ladder (now weakened) gives out, and he takes a fall. Daniel awakens struggling to breathe and with a broken leg. However, his work is a success. He finds some silver and manages to climb out of the mine.
Three years later. Daniel is working with some men on a new site. When a pike accidentally strikes the ground, oil starts to come out. The men get excited and dig a shallow pool to place all the oil. While on break, one worker holds his infant son. Daniel and the man go down to fill buckets that the others pull up. While trying to move some other materials, a pulley fails, and debris comes crashing down the well. Daniel is fast enough to cover his head, but the other man isn't and dies. We next see Daniel on a train with a baby. The audience suspects it's the dead worker's child, but this isn't answered until later. Daniel seems loving, although a bit clueless at times, giving his infant a taste of alcohol.
Several years later, Daniel and his young "son and partner", H.W. Plainview, travel around the country, looking for new sites to start drilling. Daniel hones his skills as a salesmen. At a town meeting, the people aren't too fast to accept him, afraid of selling out too short. Daniel ducks out of the meeting and goes on to the next site. His pitch involves talk about the fact he has a family business, and that he will do the best job of cutting out the middle man. Daniel and H.W. next go to a small family with a potential site. The mother asks where H.W.'s mother is. Daniel tells her she died in childbirth. We can see that H.W. is a wonderful selling tool. Daniel and his men get the contract and start a new and successful site.
One night, Daniel and his associate, Fletcher Hamilton, are visited by a young man named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano). Paul wants to sell him information about another potential site. Daniel tries to coax the information out of him, but Paul doesn't fall for it. Eventually they agree on $500 with a bonus if it's a success. Paul tells them about his father, Able. The Sunday ranch is located in a town called Little Boston. Before Paul leaves, Daniel sternly warns him that he had better not be lying. He leaves and we don't see Paul for the rest of the film.
Daniel and H.W. go to Little Boston and ask the Sunday Ranch for permission to camp on their land. Able is more than welcoming and offers them water, milk, and potatoes. Able's other son, Eli Sunday (also played by Paul Dano) comes by with some wood and introduces himself. While hunting for quail, H.W. discovers some oil on the ground. Daniel covers a twig in it and lights it. He determines it must be oil loosened by an earthquake. Daniel gets ambitious, wanting to take the oil to the sea by using a pipeline (avoiding shipping costs), then possibly making a deal with Union Oil.
During supper at the ranch, Daniel talks business with Able and Eli. Daniel wants to buy the land, but don't mention the oil. However, Eli stops the talks, since he knows how valuable the oil is. Daniel downplays the oil, but Eli doesn't fall for it. After some negotiating, Eli and his father agree on $5000 for Eli's church. He is a minister for The Church of The Third Revelation. Eli tries to hold hands with Daniel and H.W. to pray which humorously makes Daniel uncomfortable. Daniel goes to a real estate office and starts to ask about buying land around the area.
At train station, Daniel bumps into some old competitors. Daniel exchanges pleasantries but tells them they're too late and they should go east. While Daniel and Fletcher are scoping out the land, H.W. bonds with the Sunday's daughter, Mary. We learn through H.W., how religious the Sundays are, beating their children should they fail to pray. Back at the real estate office, Daniel learns everyone around the area is willing to meet except one holdout: William Bandy, who lives with his grandson. Daniel postpones going out to talk to him, since it would come off as desperate. At the town meeting, things goes well. Daniel promises the town will flourish, should they find oil. During construction, Eli learns that the start of drilling will be a public event. He goes to Daniel's office and asks that he bless the well. However, Eli's request comes off more as a demand. We can see an ego in him (calling himself "The proud son of these hills"), making the upcoming blessing more of a stroke for his own ego.
At the event, Daniel address the town. He names the site after Mary Sunday and forgoes the blessing and simply says "God bless these honest laborers and God bless you all". H.W. starts a machine and the public applauds. Eli doesn't seem thrilled about being left out. While Mary and H.W. play, Daniel stops her and lovingly tells her that her life will be better and she'll stop being hit. He does this in front of Able, to his chagrin. At night, Fletcher comes by to tell Daniel they lost a man down the well (the incident was similar to the death earlier in the movie). Daniel handles the situation and goes to the church the next morning to let Eli know, in case he wants to speak at his funeral. Before their talk, we see Eli in a very theatrical sermon. He casts out the demon causing an old woman's arthritis. After the sermon is over, Daniel lets him know about the worker. Eli claims this could have been avoided if he had blessed the well. Daniel wants to hear nothing of it. He is agnostic at best. The next scene is of Daniel watching production at his site, and Eli watching his new church be constructed.
One day, H.W. is lounging at the oil well/platform when an oil gusher occurs. The burst knocks H.W. back and through his point of view (with no audio) we can tell the blast has deafened him. Daniel and Fletcher rescue him and place him in the office as the site is showered with oil. A fire erupts and the sky is lit up. Daniel makes orders to get production to stop and the site destroyed (in order to stop the fire). Although they'll have to build again, Daniel is ecstatic at the amount of oil they've found. However, he doesn't know how to deal with H.W.'s new condition. Throughout the next few scenes, H.W. is more distant and uncooperative throughout the day. Eli comes by a few days later, asking for his payment. Daniel angrily slaps him around and throws him in the oil. He screams about the fact he's asking for money, but hasn't come around to "heal" his son. At supper an angry Eli screams at his father, calling him stupid for trusting Daniel.
The next day, Daniel is visited by a man calling himself Henry Plainview (Daniel's half brother). He shows him identification and asks for a job. Daniel is cautious but Henry assures he isn't there to leech off him. At night, the two set up a fire and catch up. In a captivating but chilling scene, Daniel vents his emotional demons. He sees the worst in most people, and wants no one in the world to succeed but himself. He wants to make enough money to get away from everyone. We can start to see Daniel lose his decent humanity. Since he can't communicate with H.W. anymore, he admits that Henry is all that he'll really have left. That night, H.W. continues to act out, and lights his bed on fire. The next day we see Daniel and H.W. on a train, ready to depart. Daniel claims he'll be right back and gets off. We see the train start to move, and it's obvious he's sending him away. H.W. tries to get off the train, but Fletcher is there to stop and escort him away.
Daniel and Henry meet with H.M. Tilford and Standard Oil (Union Oil's competition). Daniel willingly sells him his old property, but not his property in Little Boston. Tilford tells Daniel he can make him rich so he can spend time with his son. Daniel feels like he's telling him how to raise his son and gets angry. He irrationally tells him one night he will cut his throat, and ends the meeting. Back at his office, Daniel makes plans for his pipeline. We learn that the property the pipeline will run through belongs to William Bandy, the holdout from before. Daniel and Henry go to the Bandy residence. He isn't home, so the two scope out the land anyway. Daniel makes the deal with Union Oil to build the pipeline, with the assumption that they'll be able to get permission from Bandy later.
Daniel and Henry celebrate by swimming in the ocean. The two talk for a while about their childhood. Henry says they should get something to eat and meet some women. Daniel says they should take them to The Peach Tree Dance. This is a reference that evidently Henry should have gotten. He's slow to react, and Daniel goes back to the water. The next shot is of an intense and suspicious Daniel. That night the two go to a brothel, where a drunk Henry asks Daniel for money. Later that night, Daniel wakes him up at gunpoint. He asks "What was the name of the farm next to the Hill House?" (another family question he should know) Henry doesn't know confirming Daniel's suspicions: They aren't brothers. Henry confesses that he met Daniel's real brother who died of tuberculosis. He read his diary and took his story. Henry apologizes, but Daniel shoots him through the side of the head and buries him in a shallow grave. Daniel cries, looking at his real brother's diary, and drinks himself to sleep.
The next morning he is awoken by William Bandy. Bandy knows what Daniel wants and isn't fooled by his smooth talk. Daniel offers him $3000 to build the pipeline on his land, but William wants something different. He wants Daniel to be baptized at the Church of The Third Revelation. Daniel counters with $5000 (which drew a big laugh from the audience). However, William hands him Daniel's recently fired pistol (he must have dropped it), insinuating he knows what he did. Daniel has little choice and goes with him to church. At Eli's new church, Daniel "confesses" that he wants to be washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. Daniel wants to get through it quickly, but Eli makes a very theatrical scene out of it. He makes Daniel go down on his knees and scream out how he is a sinner. He slaps him around ("casting out demons") and makes him repeatedly scream "I have abandoned my child". Part of all this is to make the baptism a fantastic scene, but the audience can tell Eli was also getting a bit of payback--it's an intense but somewhat humorous scene. After the baptism is over, Daniel shakes Eli's hand and says something inaudible (we can tell it wasn't pleasant).
Construction of the pipeline occurs, and Daniel reunites with H.W. His son is now trained in sign language and is accompanied by his teacher. At first he isn't thrilled to see his dad, still angry at him from before. The two go to lunch, where they run into Tilford, having lunch with some other men. Without talking to him directly, Daniel mocks and insults him, bragging about his deal with Union Oil. Tilford won't take the bait, so Daniel angrily walks up to him. It isn't enough for Daniel to win, he must embarrass Tilford (though it simply does more to make Daniel look crazy). He also reminds him of the threat about cutting his throat. In the next scene we see H.W. being taught by his teacher. He also once again grows close with Mary. She even starts to pick up the language.
Fast forward to 1927. H.W. gets married to Mary Sunday. The two plan to move to Mexico and start their own oil business. H.W. goes to Daniel's new mansion. Daniel lives alone with his butler and dog (finally getting enough money to get away from everyone). H.W. goes to his father to say goodbye to him and get closure. Daniel feels abandoned by his partner and calls him the competition. H.W. says he wants to keep him as a father, rather than a partner. It's here where Daniel reveals what the audience suspected all along: H.W. isn't Daniel's son. He doesn't believe it at first, but Daniel assures him there is none of himself in H.W., calling him lower than a bastard. He also claims that the only reason he raised him was that his cute face was a good selling tool. He mocks H.W. and his interpreter by his side. H.W. says he's glad he has none of Daniel's blood. While leaving, Daniel repeatedly screams at him that he's a "bastard from a basket".
Daniel wakes up by his bowling lane. He just had his supper and drink on the floor and had passed out. His butler comes by to let him know he has a visitor. In walks a well dressed Eli Sunday. Eli lets him know that William Bandy has passed on, and his grandson (an aspiring actor) wants to sell the land. Eli wants to go into business with Daniel into drilling into the land. Daniel agrees on the condition that Eli admit and repeat "I am a false prophet and God is a superstition". Eli refuses at first, but gives in after the two agree on a $100,000 signing bonus, plus fees due to him from before. Daniel makes him say it over and over again, as if it were his sermon. At it's peak, Daniel fills him in on some info...
The land is already dried up. He explains that he's been able to drill deep and long enough to take the oil from Bandy's land without ever drilling on it. A defeated Eli admits that he is in financial trouble. He admits that he has committed many sins and has made bad investments. He practically begs him to take the lease anyway. Daniel repeats the fact it is dried up, using the analogy of drinking Eli's milkshake with a long straw. Daniel tells Eli that Paul Sunday is the smart one, the real prophet. He lets him know he paid Paul $10,000 and he now has his own successful company. He mocks Eli and calls him worthless and simply the afterbirth of Paul. Eli continues to beg for the money anyway. At the height of his disgust Daniel throws Eli down the bowling lane and starts to throw balls towards him. Eli cowardly runs around and Daniel starts throwing bowling pins at him, calling himself "The Third Revelation". He also shouts "I told you I would eat you up" (probably what he said at the baptism). He catches up with Eli and knocks him out. While down, he smashes Eli's head twice with the pin.
Daniel's butler comes down calling his name, after hearing the commotion. Daniel cheerfully responds "I'm finished"!
Title and End Credits to an upbeat orchestra.
NOTE:Some people believe that Eli and Paul Sunday are the same person (a multiple personality). However, director Paul T. Anderson has said in interviews that the two parts are written as separate people. I've heard some insist that it's meant to be ambiguous.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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H.W. marries the Sunday's little girl and they decide to move to Mexico.
Upon hearing that his son would be starting his own oil business in Mexico, Daniel (Daniel Day-Lewis) becomes vicious. He tells his son that he was a bastard that he found in a basket (which was true) and that there was no part of him in his son. His son leaves by saying "I'm glad there is no part of you in me." Daniel gets drunk and passes out on his bowling alley.
Eli (Paul Dano)comes to see Daniel and wakes him up after much effort. Daniel begins speaking with Eli and is asked about a possible business deal. Daniel makes Eli agree that before he will do the deal Eli must admit that he is a false prophet and that God is a superstition. Eli agrees and does so because he was a false prophet. He was only in it because it gave him prestige in the village and business leverage. Eli was an extremely bad character because of the way he treated his family with his leverage as a healer and the way he treated Daniel; humiliating him in front of his congregation.
After this, Daniel becomes enraged over a comment Eli makes. He chases him around the bowling alley, throwing pins at him. Daniel hits Eli with a pin, knocking him down. He then strikes Eli's head twice with the pin, crushing it. Daniel lies in the pool of blood as his butler walks in.
Daniel's final words are "I'm finished!"
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