Paul Thomas Anderson holds the story wrapped in his hands, uncovering the pain and confusion of a family and showing it to us like a reflective opal. “Make of it what you will,” he says. The scenes are presented slowly, unfolding with little music: no emotive commentary on how we should feel, or what we should know about the characters. It’s all just happening. What can you, the viewer, do but take it all in?
The film culminates in a balance between drama and humor that is reminiscent of certain scenes in The Shining. Perhaps the comparison to Stanley Kubrick is apt: every symmetrical shot feels expertly lit and lovingly crafted, a small attempt at perfection.
Of course Daniel Day-Lewis holds the movie down with confident voice and charismatic presence without ever revealing the character’s real intentions, beyond what he shows in a few troubled, lingering shots of his face, all unflinching eye contact and a hateful, stubborn smile.
Paul Dano balances between soft-spoken assuredness and shrieking, animalistic chaos, while holding a gravity of emotion and truth that makes his character mesmerizing to watch and of such importance it is difficult to explain.
Perhaps that is what the whole film is, or any Paul Thomas Anderson movie might be: a presentation of people, as they are, simply stated but extraordinarily difficult to pin down or succinctly describe. There is pain and sarcasm and beautiful imagery, deceit and lies and power, oil and family and God. Make of it what you will.