Bryan Caplan  

Randian Scene of the Year in There Will Be Blood

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I just saw There Will Be Blood, and I can't stop thinking about it. The best scene is amazingly Randian for a movie based on an Upton Sinclair novel.

Set-up: Daniel Plainview, the atheist oilman played by Daniel Day-Lewis, needs one last piece of land to build his pipe-line. But the owner is a holdout - he'll only sell if the atheist oilman agrees to get baptized in the church of the faith-healer he despises.

The scene: Plainview tries to escape with lip-service at the baptism, but the faith-healer won't here of it. He keeps demanding more. Plainview goes along at first, and finally breaks down, confessing his sins at the top of his lungs: "I abandoned my child! I abandoned my child! I abandoned my child!" (As one critic wrote, "[I]t’s a pleasure to be reminded, if only once every four years, that subtlety can be overrated.")

Imagine Gail Wynand doing a Maoist self-criticism for Ellsworth Toohey to save his media empire, and you've got the flavor of the scene. It's horrifying beautiful. Don't miss it.


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COMMENTS (11 to date)
Scott W writes:

I just saw the movie too. I was waiting for the socialist twist or rant somewhere, but I didn't see it. Did I miss something? Surprising for an Upton Sinclair-based movie.

Daniel Day-Lewis dazzles. He's as good in this movie as he is in "Gangs of New York" (The Butcher is one of my favorite performances of all time, so the comparison is saying a lot).

TGGP writes:

I've never read any Rand, but this critique of Roark and the Randian conception of intellectual property is pretty good. Kind of hard to imagine anyone took what Rand wrote there seriously.

Troy Camplin writes:

Haven't seen the movie yet, but my wife and I want to. Lewis in the previews is incredible -- I can't wait to see how he is in the rest of the film.

Scott Scheule writes:

I was also waiting for the socialist twist. Later, I found out that the movie was only "inspired" by the novel, not based on it. If you compare the plots of each, you'll note the one barely resembles the other.

It's a great scene, but I don't see how it's Randian. Wouldn't Rand have had her hero refuse to submit, a la Galt when he's getting electrified?

Taimyoboi writes:

"Kind of hard to imagine anyone took what Rand wrote there seriously."

Hmm. I've found her writing to be a pretty strong undercurrent in a lot of the thinking of libertarians that I know. Anecdotal, but I'm not so sure that she is the black sheep in the libertarian crowd.

Bryan Caplan writes:
Scott Scheule writes:

I was also waiting for the socialist twist. Later, I found out that the movie was only "inspired" by the novel, not based on it. If you compare the plots of each, you'll note the one barely resembles the other.

It's a great scene, but I don't see how it's Randian. Wouldn't Rand have had her hero refuse to submit, a la Galt when he's getting electrified?

Rearden gives in to blackmail in Atlas Shrugged. But the key is not whether the character compromises, but the presence and nature of the temptation to do so.
Morgan writes:

I see that commenting negatively on the Sainted uber-heroine Ayn Rand is crossing the line. It really is a cult.

Steve Sailer writes:

The movie is remarkably apolitical and leaves out vast amounts of lurid real-life events in the story of oilman Edward L. Doheny (the grandfather of sci-fi writer Larry Niven), such as Teapot Dome and the unsolved 1929 murder-suicide death of Doheny's son and his son's secretary in the biggest mansion in Southern California.

Randy writes:

Morgan,

It seems to me that it is the anti-Randists that are the cult. I've only read Atlas Shrugged (several times), but to me the points she makes in it are just common sense.

Scott Scheule writes:

Bryan,

Ah, I'd forgotten. You're right and I'm wrong.

liberty writes:

TGGP,

It is very difficult to analyze philosophy (or worse, philosophical/economic literature) third or fourth hand. Particularly when it is any good.

I recommend reading some Rand before you assume its all nonsense. She riled some people up, she has a lot of fans and not a few enemies.

It is worth reading a full book before becoming critical, and make sure you understand what she's trying to say first. I suggest reading (in its wordy entirety) Atlas Shrugged.

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