Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Recantation of Eli Sunday

Plainview: "I see the worst in people. I don't need to look past seeing them to get all I need. I want to rule and never, ever explain myself. I've built my hatreds up over the years, little by little, Henry... to have you here gives me a second breath. I can't keep doing this on my own with these... people."
We watched There Will Be Blood tonight. It's an absolute shoe-in for best picture, I am certain. Even if it doesn't win best picture, I guarantee you all (this is the day before the Oscars) that Daniel Day-Lewis will win best actor.

This is all an aside. Before proceeding, here's my warning: I'm giving away a massive confrontation at the end of the film. If you don't want to lose the surprise, don't read this. I'm assuming if you're reading that you've seen There Will Be Blood or that you don't mind spoilers.

In the film, the two opposing characters are Daniel Plainview (a pragmatic, irreligious, greedy oilman) and Eli Sunday (a young, deceptive, two-faced, charismatic preacher sharing a strong resemblance to Benny Hinn and company). Throughout the film, the two characters clash in violent and emotionally revealing ways. At one point in the film, in order to make a land deal go through, Daniel agrees to be baptized in Eli's church The Church of the Third Revelation (seems like a cult to me). During the baptism, Eli the preacher forces Daniel Plainview to reveal painful and embarrassing sins to the church (and by extension, to the community).

Many years later (approximately 10), Eli comes to Daniel (now a fabulously wealthy oil tycoon) asking him for financial assistance because the church has fallen on hard financial times. Daniel takes the opportunity to belittle Eli and insult him
Plainview: "You're just an afterbirth, Eli, slithered out from your mother's filth. They should have put you in glass jar on a mantlepiece."
The ultimate indignity comes, however, when Daniel demands that Eli admit what Daniel has known all along - that Eli is a false prophet. Essentially, we the viewer have known it all along, as well. However, Daniel takes things a step further and demands that Eli not only confess that he is a false prophet, but that God is a superstition. After mumbling his confession, Daniel finally coaxes Eli into selling his soul for Daniel's help.
Eli: "I am a false prophet and God is a superstition! I am a false prophet and God is a superstition!"
Now, of course, I don't condone what Daniel forces Eli to say, completely, since I do not believe that God is a superstition. But for Daniel, God is a superstition, and Daniel knows that the greatest indignity that can be foisted upon this false prophet is for him to have to admit the lie which he has been keeping from everyone for years upon years.

Possibly the most powerful confrontation I have ever seen in any film, this scene in the film transcends physically violent confrontation. For once, I felt I had seen something more devastating than violence in a film. It is painful to physically hurt someone, but what can be more soul-wrenching than forcing someone to confess a lie dealing with one's ultimate worldview?

The tagline for the movie is "When Ambition Meets Faith," and this scene of clashing personalities could not have delivered more rewardingly on that promise. Ultimately in this showdown, we don't learn anything about God's existence so much as we learn about the two men who are saying these things. Eli clearly chooses materialism over principle. His affection for financial gain was greater than his affection for God, and therefore he denounced Him. Earlier in the film, Daniel's desire for financial gain was greater than his desire to maintain his integrity, and therefore he made a false profession of faith and was baptized by Eli.

From both sides, greed won the day. Principle took the back burner. I feel a little guilty saying it, but it was rewarding to see this Benny Hinn-type figure get his just desserts (not that Daniel Plainview was any better; he was a very selfish and evil man). I have had few times when I felt so much pleasure while watching a movie. I guarantee you, I'll be thinking about this movie for many many days to come.


  1. And I was right. Daniel Day-Lewis did win best actor, just as I confidently predicted. The only big upset for me is that I was absolutely certain that the Coen brothers would win best director, but that ultimately, There Will Be Blood would win best picture.

  2. I too thought about this movie for a long time. It truly is a study in total depravity. A lot of this years nominees dealt with the depravity of man. Check out what I had to say at my more recent postings. I might add, i will be putting up something about depravity in recent movies.

  3. I might add, Diving Bell was nominated for best director, not best movie. And as I wrote in my blog, Once should have been nominated as well. But 300 deserved a nod for best adapted screenplay.

  4. Adam,

    here is another blog post that I think takes a different look at this than you.

    Check it out. It may be worth responding in a new post. Or maybe not.


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