Top 100 American Movie Quotes of the 21st Century: #54

The actor:Daniel Day-Lewis
The character:Daniel Plainview
The film:There Will Be Blood
The line:“Now, my straw reaches across the room and starts to drink your milkshake. I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!”

How do you spell that sound that Day-Lewis makes between “I drink your milkshake” and “I drink it up!” IMDb and Wikiquote both wimp out: “sucking” and “slurping.” There’s an intake of breath before the sound begins, one of the reasons why Day-Lewis’s performance is so good. He is an old man now, older inside than out, wheezing his way through this conversation and running out of breath by the time he reaches the sucking slurping. What comes out after he gets that little gasp, maybe the last human thing that Daniel Plainview does in this picture, is, as far as I can make out: SCEEECCCCCEEECCCE.

A little bit of research tells me that the milkshake is about as recent as you’d expect. Malted milks, which started off as a kind of cure or treatment, got popular because they tasted better than whatever the heck people were going to drink back in the 1880s. It’s said that the first true milkshake was made at a Walgreens in 1922, when ice cream got added to a malted milk, although the term itself probably dates a little bit earlier. This scene in the film, which takes place in 1929 or 1930, is set in the heyday of the milkshake; if they had set this movie in 2010, Daniel Day-Lewis would have been obliged to say something more like “I drink your Four Loko!”

As it is, the milkshake metaphor is a pretty good one. Eli has abased himself by coming to Daniel for a handout after walking away from him the man on the high ground, but in this extended and increasingly uncomfortable moment of penury, he goes back. What he doesn’t know is that the store of oil in the ground that he believes he will be able to milk for money is all gone. Eli has a false God for whom he is a false prophet; Daniel has real oil that he sold for real money. The knowledge that Eli has in regards to that false God is functionally useless in this moment, knowledge that has no basis in the ability to turn a profit. The knowledge that Daniel has makes him canny even in his shaking age. He knows the way that oil moves when it begins to be extracted, an understanding that Eli has never bothered to take in despite living on top of all this oil for the foundational years of his ministry. Oil is a fluid like any other in this film, equally appropriate for humiliation and baptism and bathing and bleeding. Why shouldn’t it also be a milkshake? Daniel’s straw reached all the way across the room and started to drink Eli’s milkshake years and years ago. The slant rhyme here is that Daniel has long since taken the candy from the baby sitting in front of him now curling up with desperation.

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