The Master

September 26, 2012 No Comments

Rating this film:  9/10

Prepare for a journey.


Take a seat and let the experience of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master wash over you (filmed in 65 mm and screened in fortunate venues in spectacular 70mm.)

Abandon GPS, curiosity about Scientology and a desire for tidy narratives with big red bows.  Those willing to embrace the worlds created by Anderson (where it can rain frogs, if you recall Magnolia) are once again permitted a searing view into our darkest corners.  Although Anderson does not offer redemption, he somehow permits a whisper of hope.

The Master is the story of two men:  Lancaster Dodd (patterned after Scientology’s L. Ron Hubbard and played to perfection by Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman) is confident and charismatic.  We first catch sight of him dancing on a yacht in the moonlight and know he is a powerful force, who delivers his invitation to join “The Cause” to an ever-growing throng.  Freddie Quell (played equally well by Joaquin Phoenix) seems to be Dodd’s antithesis.  Thin and stooped, he seems to split his time between drunken stupor and fits of rage.  The two men are drawn together.  How?  Why?  That is the heart of the film.  Some critics have failed to understand the connection of the two men, calling the premise too theatric and not persuasive.

What draws us to each other or to organizations (for that matter) is always revealing of many layers of complex need, healthy and troubling.  As Anderson builds the relationship between Dodd and Freddie, we are invited to explore the nature of our own psyches.  Although the film unfolds much of itself through the Scientology process, I found myself drawing parallels with elements of psychoanalysis:  both groups seeking to unravel the painful entrapments of the present via better understanding of the past.  Although the processes are different (at least I hope so), there are similarities with the exploration of blind faith of “true” believers drawn in by seductive leaders. Anderson is subtle (he does not really condemn Dodd) but he does offer us a clear view of the human figure behind the curtain.  And the similarities to Freud can be unsettling.

The film is visually stunning. Absolutely stunning. The music is compelling,especially a poignant song that Dodd sings at the end of the film, which unveils the intensity of the relationship between the two men.  Any more details of this film would spoil the experience.  Just go see it.  Amen.    Jolyn Wagner

Must See Movie of the Week

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