Ghoulardi Film Company
137 min., dir. by Paul Thomas Anderson, with Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams
Considering the clamor and commotion behind everything Tom Cruise (or any celebrity) says in regards to Scientology, it is obvious that the religion is being put under a microscope like never before. While The Master does contain a story birthed from writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s research into the religion’s genesis, it’s not the specifically aimed scathing finger of judgment some believe it to be. Rather, The Master is a searing letter of disappointment for a world emerging from a war that aimed too high in attempting to heal itself.
Battered and twisted at the end of World War II, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) struggles to adapt to a normal life. As he skips from day job to day job, the only constants in Freddie’s life are his dangerously concocted alcoholic drinks and thoughts of getting laid. Drunk and running from yet another problem, Freddie stumbles onto a ship as it leaves shore with an affluent party ensuing on deck. Awoken with no recollection of how he got on the ship, Freddie is greeted by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the enigmatic head of a group know as The Cause. Known as The Master to those who follow his beliefs, Dodd attempts to help Freddie overcome the past that’s haunting him. What follows is the turbulent relationship of two men lost in their own worlds.
The Master explores the dichotomy of these two personalities caught in a burgeoning world ready to repair itself from the worst conflict man has even seen at that point. It’s the perfect time for new forms of soul-searching to rise up and cure the suffering of a nation. Misguided and mischievous in nature, Dodd sees the opportunity to save Freddie and turn him into the son he always wanted. His current brood consists of one unbeliever and a son-in-law as blind as all the other sheep. Beneath all of his unbalanced madness, Freddie is a man of conviction, something Dodd’s current underlings lack. There is no way these two can save each other – they both look past the basic needs they both possess, instead wrapping their lives into a ball of backhanded antics. One has lost his way running from what he’s afraid to face, and the other is lost in a world where reality is slipping away.
Few film makers today have such a distinctive style like that of Paul Thomas Anderson. Shot in 70mm, Mihai Malaimare, Jr.’s cinematography under Anderson’s direction is a glowing strike of masterful brilliance. Accompanied by Johnny Greenwood’s neurotically soothing score, set and costume designs that scream authenticity, and solid performances from Hoffman and Amy Adams topped by Phoenix’s tortured brilliance and defined features, The Master is unlike anything else out there. What exists on the screen for all of its 137 minutes it true beauty.
Scientology may be the base for the film’s cult followers, but The Master harkens back to time when an entire nation lost itself amidst the brink of its greatest victory. The Master calls out any religion, institution, charlatan, or kind-hearted person who reached out a hand to help those they weren’t capable of healing. Individuals need care tailored specifically for them, not a mass movement that lumps all problems into one category – all this leaves is a band-aid on the wrong wound.