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Daniel Plainview seems to have only one real drive; the greed and ambition to grow. As he says, he sees the worst in people, and wants to be away from them. He goes on elaborate lengths to be outstanding, including playing a father for a long time so as to make his business seem more likable. He deceives people, gives good speeches, and cares about image. He values hard work, and he's seen transforming from a man with a broken leg with no one to help in the middle of a desert to an oil tycoon.

Eli was just a would-be reverend in a small superstitious village. Considering how both men were deceitful and dishonest in their own faith—Eli was only religious because it brought him the respect of the normal village folk, and Daniel was a father mostly because of the business—and they saw through the lies of each other, they weren't initially different and they both knew it. Eli moves up a bit too, and he likes the attention, but he's broke.

Why does Daniel pick his most bitter fight with Eli?

It can't be because he saw himself in Eli, because he didn't. Eli became a pitiful broke drinker, while Daniel ended up wealthy, albeit pitiful, and Daniel started to hate him from very early on. He didn't choose him for the blessing for the crowd to see, and he lashed out at him when H.W. was hurt in an accident. Daniel is shown not to take a liking to the superstitious show Eli is putting on early on, so it might be his aversion to religion, though I doubt it, as religion didn't seem to be one of the main focuses in the movie. Lastly, there are others much easier to hate in a movie about the dark side of a man taking over who is in the oil industry. He hates the lot of them of course, but they don't become his arch nemesis; they don't become people he longs to take revenge on years later.

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  • You seem to assume a static situation, but the movie obviously shows the escalation between the two. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_Will_Be_Blood
    – BCdotWEB
    Commented May 31, 2020 at 23:01
  • Sure @BCdotWEB, the final nail in the coffin was Daniel's humiliation in the church, and that was much later in the movie. However, we see Daniel perform any deceitful act without hesitation from right in the beginning, except play a part in Eli's show in the church. My question is, he saw the worst in Eli as he saw the worst in Paul and Abel and every other character. He played along with all of them but Eli. A little show of faith could have earned him people's respect and support more, but he refrained from being associated with Eli at anything. Why?
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 13:00

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Daniel and Eli are both liars and cheats. Daniel portrays himself as a family man but never tells anyone that HW isn't his real son. He lies to Mr. Sunday about what he wants to buy his land for. Daniel wants to win by any means necessary. Daniel even kills a man.

Eli is cut from the same cloth. Eli sees right through Daniel at the first meeting. He knows Daniel is lying. Daniel sees right through Eli's pious act. He knows Eli wants the same thing that he wants. Eli wants to rule people, but he uses religion instead of money.

Their hatred is mutual as they both seek to be the dominant figure in the community. Where as Daniel's business rivals keep a modicum of civility, Eli does not. Eli is a loose cannon who plays by no rules.

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