THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS GALORE. If you don’t want to be spoiled, I’ll just say this: If you like challenging cinema, you pretty much have to see The Master. I didn’t say you were going to like it but you should see it. It’s certainly Anderson’s most difficult movie, but come on, it’s Paul Thomas Anderson, one of America’s best directors. Check it out. Or don’t. It’s really none of my business. Now onto the spoilers.
So, hmmm. Uh..welp. Hm.
I’ve spent 4 days thinking about Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and I’m still trying to process what I saw. The Master is confounding and bizarre and strange and beautiful and frustrating and there’s also a scene where a dude farts.
Joaquin Phoenix gives an awesome, shiny bauble-worthy performance as Freddie Quell, a traumatized former sailor in the Navy who spends his post-war days drinking chemicals and brewing up weird concoctions with paint thinner and Lysol and anything else he can get his hands on. (He’s troubled, you see.) After he poisons a co-worker on a migrant farm (co-farmer?), Freddie runs away and stumbles onto a ship housing Lancaster Dodd (the also-awesome Philip Seymour Hoffman), who leads a Scientology-like group called The Cause and blahblahblah you know the plot already right?
Anyway, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but while the film does have parallels with Scientology, it’s about the relationship between Phoenix and Hoffman’s characters, and it’s superbly acted, but damn is it puzzling. It seems like Anderson made the conscious decision to remove any exposition, so half the time I was disoriented by the film’s woozy rhythm. The Master is hypnotic, like a paint thinner bender. Lots of the scenes in the trailers, some of which seem to clue the viewer in more on the specifics of the story, are gone, as if the plot PTA originally came up with became boring to him, and he chose to focus on what really interested him, which were the relationships within the story itself.
There’s also lots of bizarre sexual imagery, with Phoenix imagining (I think) a roomful of naked women and Amy Adams whacking off Philip Seymour Hoffman, among other things. If anything, The Master is one of the top 8 films I’ve seen in which a character jacks off in the ocean.
One thing I’ve wondered ever since watching the film: Who or what IS The Master? Dodd is called “Master” throughout the film by his acolytes, but even he is a pawn in the hands (or hand) of his controlling wife, who is in turn subservient to The Cause itself. It’s a tribute to Paul Thomas Anderson that all of this weighty stuff can be found in the film. It has a lot on its mind but it’s hesitant to tell the viewer about them. If you’re looking to be spoon-fed, do not watch this movie. Check out The Avengers and wait until you’re in the mood.
Anderson shot The Master in 70mm, and I’d love to see it on the biggest screen possible, with Phoenix’s pained grimace glowering down on me. Seriously, give this guy all of the shiny baubles. Hoffmann is great (and I often don’t like him), but Phoenix is extraordinary. Freddie Quell is a tortured, mentally unstable mess, and it all comes through in Phoenix’s performance. Well, that and the dude finger-bangs a sand lady.
One interesting thing: It seems that after Freddie goes through these extensive exercises (based on actual Scientology ritual), he does in fact sober up. At the very least, he’s not drinking paint thinner anymore, so that’s good right? At the very least, it’s shown that The Cause had some benefits, but in the end, it seems that Quell remains an impulsive horndog. So, does that mean The Master was his penis all along? I’m only slightly joking.
SHILL: The Master