It’s 1898, somewhere in Southern California. A grit-encrusted silver miner works in his pit, scrabbling for a find. In wordless scenes, in the middle of nowhere — set to a queasy sweep of strings — we see this man fight with nature to get at her resources, sinews bulging as he hacks away with a pick, the earth shuddering as he blows a hole with dynamite. When an accidental fall leaves him with a broken leg, the sudden find of a hunk of silver — and oozing, trickling oil — motivates him to crawl back out of the pit, inch by painful inch.
What does the pit do to a man? We’re only 10 minutes into Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood,” but we’ve already got an idea: It makes him harder than the rock he’s tearing through, and it gives him a tactile, almost personal relationship with the shale that callouses his hands, the oil that covers his skin. This isn’t some abstract commodity he’s selling; this is his. It’s entered his pores, lodged in his cells.