It is not a secret Paul Thomas Anderson has achieved that Kubrick status where everyone is excited for his next release, always expecting something out of the world of ordinary. Some may even argue that he is Stanley's contemporary clone in cinema. I for one disagree, but the case still remains. The Master felt like another winner for Anderson from the beginning. A film with a stellar cast that tackles the roots of scientology. Once released, the film has imaginably stirred controversy while gaining praise from both critics and regular moviegoers. Some were even determined to rank it as the best picture of the year without even caring for other future releases. That could have been a bit of a rush, though that simply shows where people have started to place PTA in the world of cinema. However, unlike in the case of There Will be Blood, the controversy behind The Master made the Academy turn a blind eye to the film and avoid rewarding it with any nomination besides the ones for leading and secondary performances. In the end, this did not harm the film at all. It was exactly the contrary. Many critics and moviegoers were infuriated with Academy's choice of kicking PTA's film directly in the but. Where The Master will head from this day on... only future could tell us. But the question is; is Anderson's mastery worthy of such legacy?
Well first we have to try to understand what this film is about. Is it about Scientology alone? More or less. The story is there, it's built on that architecture but it's not a main focus. Then what is it about? Well, what was There Will Be Blood about? The Master goes into spaces and juggles with themes that allows it to be a poetic and cerebral experience any film fan will enjoy. It becomes personal on so many levels yet it's not pushy, it doesn't suffocate with over-the-top emotional or scientific acoustics. It's hypnotic in it's craft and challenging in it's nudity. I would dare to say that besides the obvious concept behind the Master which leads to many trails, the film is pretty much a story about love. Such love PTA never made a film about. It's about that innocence and intimacy shown in films like Kubrick's Lolita.
You have this rusty and nervous character in Freddie Quell that once he comes from the war, he has a hard time finding himself or finding a proper place for himself. He's not just a lost soul, he's a scoundrel that ends up magically in God's boat. He's asphyxiated by the idea of not being near his Doris which he left before the war with a promise that he'll come back. However, something made him to not go after her as soon as he landed on American soil. Was it shame? Was it frustration? Was it fear? Was it his own foolishness? Or was it his condition? Whatever it was, it was painful and he had to live with it. This is where his character makes a turn to Forrest Gump. He is that vulnerable and insecure, his social impotence is devastating. However, he's clearly brave enough to face his own failures, to accept them, and to be honest about them. We're shown that he might develop a sense of who he actually is while talking to this Lancaster Dodd character which everyone is calling "The Master" in the film. Lancaster Dodd is the commander of the God's boat I was talking about. He wears the same clothes as L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology. Him being a perfect representation of Hubbard doesn't matter that much. He sees in Freddie inspiration so he lures him into his den. Getting back on track, I believe Freddie always knew who he was. Dodd only uses Freddie's insecurities against him. However, during this process, the relationship between them becomes a replica of a father-son relationship. Dodd is not only a God-like figure but a father-like figure for Freddie now. And this is another story of love; parental love and a child's love for his father. A slice of love that's expressed in a demonic kind of way. Dodd is nothing more but a dictator. He illustrates the existence of free will but there is none existent in reality. This love is conditioned even though it comes out in a natural form and there are feelings involved. The book of love is completed by the pompous wife/husband relationship between Lancaster and Peggy Dodd. Anderson tackles the love theme in a smart way, placing the innocent and childish love against the fragile and forced love. It's a nomenclature of feelings that result in moments of joy and torture. The Master might also indicate simply to the character of Dodd. Portraying a sterile system of beliefs and lecturing on solitary brainwashing. It goes into showing how vulnerable a fragile mind and heart is in front of a Master's lies. He's a hypocrite as he's dedicated to one convenient idea, he's not following his own rules yet he commends others to follow them. He's ruthless and doesn't accept challenges. Just as in the case of Freddie he is obviously mentally unstable, only his insanity is not expressed physically. He's not violent, he avoids wild behavior, he likes to sit above that crowd. Freddie's madness is out in the open. And the hilarious part of it is that he acknowledges it. Is this making Freddie look less insane than Dodd? There's surely an argument there. I believe he is.
"Good science by definition allows for more than one opinion. Otherwise, you merely have the will of one man, which is the basis of cult." What is the will of Freddie Quell and the science behind him? Who is Freddie Quell? I believe this is where The Master talks about Freddie's bravery and will to not just survive but also live and experience pleasure. Freddie is the Master of his own dreams and reality. He may not always know what he wants but he always knows how he wants to feel, so he knows how to prepare that special drink that will send him to familiar or unknown places. He is the master of melancholia and nostalgia. Quell and Dodd are the pillars of this master concept and Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman are insanely good. Phoenix's spontaneity and cruel way of handling tears is heart-wrenching. Hoffman's patience and expression of the delusional is both comical and therapeutic. Amy Adams puts the cherry on top with her nuanced 'witchy' behavior. With it's infinite talent, perfect design, and crisp details, the film goes into more intriguing and questionable places. While it is not as complex as There Will Be Blood, it is as infectious and it is probably as hard to describe. For this Anderson did not brought out just his inner-Kubrick. He took a direction he never took before. He emulated the new-wave french cinema. There's a lot of Godard's Contempt in The Master. The solely expression of one person's ambiguity and mystery, the sense of duality, and even the unconditional love. Anderson's films are so effective because they make you think about stuff and they resonate on so many levels with you that you can't simply ignore them. They are powerful tools of character analysis. They could be disease-curing for all that I know.
There's this scene that screams Eyes Wide Shut. What is the meaning of that scene besides the obvious? I have yet to find another. The beauty here is that there could be no other meaning. The way Anderson builds his films is irresistible. The cinematography here handled by Mihai Malaimare Jr. is simply astonishing. It brings out the nostalgic element and it communicates much more even than the dialogue itself at times. The 70mm use gives the film it's unique identity, expanding it's scale even though the action takes place in a seemingly small world. The returning of Jonny Greenwood is also with huge effect. His music has dreamlike qualities and mimics the jumpy sounds of Miles Davis and Gypsy Kings. Thing that dresses well the idea of a wanderer through life and the concept of time travelling. However, there's a downside to all of this. I feel the film might become too cerebral and cynical at times. I feel the film has a sickness of it's own, and maybe that was intended, but it can become a bit too overwhelming. The emotional core is also there, it's strong, you're sometimes completely invested in it, but the end result is that you're still somehow seeing all of this through a window. It also craves for specific narrative complexity yet it's too straightforward that it becomes confusing at points. I'm sure this all has a meaning because I know PTA won't indulge his audience with cheap aesthetics and fabrics. It just didn't work for me at all times.
Was it all just a dream? Was it a time travel? Or was it just us, there, as servants for a master? Whatever the answer may be, Anderson is responsible for one of the most sentimental yet opaque character journeys in years. Free winds and no tyranny for you Anderson, sailor of the seas.
This was a very different DVD set and it even came with a picture postcard of Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his Lancaster Dodd persona! Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie a WWII naval vet who appears to have PTSD or what they used to call "shell-shock." He is fascinated with a sand castle made to look like a naked woman and he has weird fantasies. He is examined by the Naval shrink then sent to a Naval hospital then sent back to the states. He takes a job in a department store photo … more
Star Rating: I would guess that Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master would be just as intriguing, just as mysterious, and just as unnerving if there had never been a writer named L. Ron Hubbard or a religious organization called Scientology. The film most certainly draws inspiration from both subjects, going so far as to take place in the year 1950, which is only two years before Scientology was founded. Even then, never once does it feel like a veiled commentary … more