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The Master– Movie Review

Submitted by on September 22, 2012 – 9:16 am4 Comments

After seeing Paul Thomas Anderson‘s latest film The Master, a friend said to me she wished she could have stopped thinking about Scientology while watching it, and just taken in the movie. Indeed, the comparisons between the real-life group and the one portrayed in the film are distracting; get past them, and you can appreciate it as a tense, unpredictable portrayal of a man adrift and damaged by war, drinking, and life in general. You can also see how truly weird the movie is, even without the cancer-curing time travel.

The movie follows Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) just after his naval service during World War II. He spends time in a military mental hospital, then drifts from odd job to odd job, drinking alcohol, industrial chemicals, and even diesel fuel all along the way. When he stumbles into the boat of a charismatic pseudo-scientific-spiritual leader known as The Master (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), he becomes the man’s close confidant and muse.

This really is a film about Freddie, not The Master or his organization. Anderson keeps the camera tightly on Phoenix’s lined face and lean body (which he holds hunched and contorted) for much of the film. As Hoffman’s “Dr.” Lancaster Dodd grills and heals his flock, we watch Freddie’s bemusement, fear, anger, and even hope.

Both Hoffman and Phoenix are brilliant. Hoffman’s Master is no con man, he really believes what he preaches and struggles with his work.

But as the film passed the 90 minute mark with almost another hour to go, it got hard to tell where it all was headed. Freddie’s primal lust and violence are clearly juxtaposed with the Master’s efforts to transcend our animal instincts (and his claim that these urges are even against our natural “perfect”). And the film smartly questions which of the men is closer to what makes us human. A beautiful, awkward image that returns repeatedly shows Freddie huddled on the beach, with a giant naked woman molded out of sand, showing his sexuality as a return to something earthy. But I don’t know if these ideas really developed or were just repeated, in increasingly graphic ways.

Did you see The Master? What did you think?

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