Anyway, turns out Plainview hated them all, too. He says so later.
To rub in this sentimental view of the rich and powerful as spiritually barren—cigars, mansions, private bowling alleys, and yet they cannot love!—Plainview has to acquire and reject some family members. He gets hold of an adopted son, H.W. (Dillon Freasier). At first he does seem to love the kid with an almost creepy fervor. There’s this scene where they’re both on the floor after the boy is deafened by an explosion, and Plainview is sort of pawing and mauling the kid’s head while the kid goes "Mrrrraaawww!!” I’m not quite sure what that was, other than the only preparation the audience is going to get for Plainview baying "Draaaaiiiiinnnnagggge!!" later in the film. Incoherent yelling’s a sort of motif in this movie.
But a loved and lovable son won’t fit the plotline that leads to the mansion-raving at the end, so Plainview has to cast him off. This is helped along by replacing the adorable gnome-like boy playing young H.W. with an adult changeling who in no way resembles the earlier H.W. in looks, voice, manners, gait, rhetorical style, anything. The whole point of the casting seems to be how unalike they are, as if to suggest this couldn’t possibly be the real H.W., sort of like the imposter character earlier in the movie turned out not to be Daniel Plainview’s long-lost brother Henry. You might be tempted to try to make something coherent out of this, but don’t. Because that’ll lead directly to pondering the identical twin brothers, Paul and Eli, both played by Paul Dano—are they really supposed to be twin brothers, or is there something far more mystical/metaphorical going on here? That’s just one of the questions being pondered on the fansite idrinkyourmilkshake.com, which is dedicated to discussing "PTA’s magnificent new movie." Check under the subheading entitled "Theories of Paul."
There are all sorts of things like this in the movie that get your attention but don’t seem to signify anything or go anywhere and that can’t even be plausibly shrugged off with that reliable filmmaker’s-helper, the appeal to realism: "That’s how it is in real life, man, it’s messy, it’s random! People change all the time, they don’t make sense, they yell out shit like ‘I drink your milkshake!!’ Look AROUND, man!" Luckily PTA isn’t shy about the use of meat-cleaver editing to get him out of a narrative jam, clumsy cuts usually followed by an intertitle telling you it’s nine years later. The Monty Python comedy troupe discovered the same technique for their TV show, realizing that when a skit’s going off the rails, you shouldn’t bore and baffle your audience by trying to round it off gracefully, just cut, then intone, "And now for something completely different."
Anyway, there’s some more plot. Plainview’s nemesis is tiresome young preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), for reasons which are never entirely clear unless you like your themes rendered so big and symbolic they require no explanation. Now we can add Religion into the mix of Capitalism, Greed, Money, Love, and Happiness, and the thing seems to be getting more profound every minute. Surely this movie is telling us everything we’ll ever need to know about America—wait, hell, it’s bigger than that—about The Human Condition. Let’s double-check with the critics and see.
Yep, Manohla Dargis of the New York Times confirms it: "…[T]he film is above all a consummate work of art, one that transcends the historically fraught context of its making….[T]he window it opens is to human consciousness itself."