The Master is the latest work from director Paul Thomas Anderson. The film looks at a disconnected wayward soul who wanders into the path of an enlightenment preacher and self-help guru.
The Master, in my mind, can only be described in one way: it’s beautiful chaos. Joaquin Phoenix plays the wayward soul Freddie Quell. Freddie is very much an alcoholic and makes his own hooch in 1950s America. He is also quite sexual and disallows any notion of getting personal with anyone.
Freddie’s existence completely hinges on being no one from nowhere. He meets a man named Lancaster Dodd, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Dodd is a charismatic leader of a group only known as The Cause. The Cause promotes the idea that a human being can recall his or her past lives and become empowered and even enlightened by those memories. Freddie ends up working for Dodd as the muscle behind The Cause. He protects Dodd when people doubt his methods, but it remains unclear whether or not Freddie believes in the ideals that Dodd thinks society should live by.
The Master is essentially about two human beings who have no direction. Freddie Quell has no direction because he’s an alcoholic sexual deviant. Lancaster Dodd has no direction because he is a fake hiding in plain sight, working to feed his family through his work as leader of The Cause. This film is also about control. Dodd controls Freddie by trying to get him to buy into The Cause. Freddie controls both women and his environment through his creation and use of homemade hooch. Freddie can’t be controled, so the fun for the audience becomes in trying to guess what he’ll do next, and how that will affect The Cause.
The main strength of The Master, outside of the acting from Hoffman and Phoenix, is the cinematography. That’s right, I said it. How the film is shot is a selling point of the movie. This film is absolutely gorgeous. The ironic thing is that most of the beautiful scenes in the movie aren’t shot outside; rather, they are conversations that include close-ups of people’s faces and steady shots involving motorcycles speeding through open desert land.
While this film may be confusing for some narratively speaking, something the audience can grasp onto is how beautiful it looks throughout.
My main problem with the film is that we never see Lancaster Dodd admit to his failings during the creation of The Cause. He never admits that what he is trying to teach others and build for himself is not working. I suppose that represents the integrity of the American spirit: trying to push on when no one else believes in what you do. I wanted Lancaster Dodd’s faith to be shaken.
The Master is a film that deserves multiple viewings. It should definitely spark conversation between moviegoers, and that’s what makes going to the cinema worthwhile.