My Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Yard
This post will not have spoilers for There Will Be Blood. It will discuss the ending in vague terms, but will not discuss specifics, unless you count a setting too specific for you.
If you have a computer, an internet connection, and a vague interest in movies (and I'm assuming that since you're reading this then all three apply), then you couldn't help notice all the attention paid to PT Anderson's There Will Be Blood and its completely insane ending. Along with No Country for Old Men, The Sopranos, Zodiac (to mention only the popularly mentioned titles), Blood has made 2007 a year for unsatisfying endings. This undoubtedly frustrates some, but for others it shows directors willing to challenge their audience with the unexpected. Whether you like it or not, you must admit that Blood's final scene is utterly compelling, primarily due to Daniel Day-Lewis' utterly over-the-top performance. I personally think the ending fits very well.
The film reflects Daniel Plainview's life and his outlook. It begins without words, with silent gestures and Jonny Greenwood's wailing score to underline how Daniel Plainview's life truly begins. Next Plainview is a well-spoken child lying to his parents (the Sunday family) for a front on his allowance. As the film goes on, Plainview becomes more vocal in his hatred for those around him, like a teenager discovering how cruel the world can be. He grows more cantankerous, and the film starts to see everyone the way he does. Our trust of Plainview's half-brother dissolves throughout his appearance in the film, and the late introduction to Bandy immediately invokes our hatred. Characters introduced later and later in the film are increasingly despicable, and even our view of H.W. is soured. Paranoia creeps over the whole film as it does a man like Daniel Plainview, and madness settles in.
It's clear that the final interaction is Plainview's last hurrah. An old man shut in his house for fear and hatred of all other people, he has no glory left. His days of towering above everything else on the plains are numbered. Now, lying asleep on a bowling alley, there is nothing left for him. When he utters the final words of the film, "I'm finished," there is a melancholy there of a man recognizing that there is nothing more to his life. And so, just as the film opens with Plainview's discovery of oil, the true beginning of his life, it ends with the recognition that the world has no more use for him. His life might as well be over.
The fact that the film's final scene takes place in a bowling alley seems to have drawn a number of people to think that the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski makes for an appropriate way of viewing this scene. My impression based on its location is probably closer to that of Armond White. Though he barely mentions Altman's Secret Honor in his review, and with no relation to the final scene, I found myself thinking of Richard Nixon, who had a bowling alley installed in the basement of the White House. This is by no means a well thought out theory, but it's simply another thought to add to the piles that have written about the movie. The location helps to make the film feel significantly more modern than it had up to that point, and the inadvertent Nixon reference only adds to that feeling. This modernity also helps lend a timeless nature to the character of Daniel Plainview. His sort of success that breeds paranoia and madness isn't new (most notably Citizen Kane), and it will never grow old. But the Nixon connection also takes the film in unexpected directions. After all, we now have Plainview connected to the President. Kane was defeated in the run for governor, and even Noah Cross appears like an outside force using money to control the system. But here Plainview is the system. That is a scary thought, and it makes There Will Be Blood even more intriguing.