The silent opening sequence is an unholy baptism in the black gold welled from the hellish underground of the earth, hinting at the battle of wills in the Hell of Greed to come later on. There’s an overhead shot of a pool of black death reminiscent of the birth sequences from David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), sublimely punctuating the dank torment in an otherwise dry desert. When the conflict reaches its higher points later, this baptism in the riches of oil and its associated evils in a burgeoning industrial age becomes first a baptism in the dregs of black shit, then a more traditional washing tainted with power politics, the outward product of both being humiliation.
Daniel Plainview, the evil bastard who sees the worst in people because he sees the worst in himself, started out just like you and me, scraping and clawing hard for “success,” that vague little thing we’re told will make us content. He fell head over heels into greed, and all that was left on the other side was hatred (and your milkshake).
P.T. Anderson utterly impresses here, particularly with his signature use of sound and silence, and with this flick cemented himself as one of the best American directors of the decade 2000 to 2009.