The Master (2012)

There are some movies that I admittedly don't fully appreciate while I'm watching them. There were moments that pulled me in during "The Master", but for the most part I wasn't sure exactly what I was watching, and had trouble understanding most of it.  However, once I was able to step back and absorb what I'd seen, I started to grasp more and more.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a Navy veteran without much direction in life. He drinks, he fights, he associates with loose women; all around, not the kind of guy who can really succeed in the 1950s. He happens upon a meeting of "The Cause", a pseudo-religion led by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd takes an interest in Quell, and brings him into the group's inner circle.

There are many parallels between "The Cause" and Scientology. Things are based more on science than faith, the leader lashes out at those who question him, and the entire thing seems tenuously close to breaking. Director Paul Thomas Anderson acknowledged the inspiration, but as yet the church hasn't addressed it directly.

The film doesn't have a direct story, instead using a number of vignettes to show how the connection between Dodd and the rest changes. The style made it a bit hard to watch, as the time between scenes could jump anywhere from months to hours to days, without many clues as to how much time had passed. It was a bit disorienting, but once I stepped back and considered things, they started to make more sense and reveal a really great movie.

Philip Seymour Hoffman shows why he's considered one of the greatest actors of this generation. Phoenix also gives an amazing performance, completely losing himself into his character to the point you nearly forget he's acting. Director Anderson seems like he's trying to put a story in front of you without telling you how to react. A lot of directors would lean towards one side or another, but Anderson really appears to just tell a story, showing both sides without favoring either, and letting the viewer decide.

If I was judging this while I was watching, it would have scored a bit lower.  The time I've taken to step back and contemplate things (which sounds so pretentious) actually made me enjoy this much more.



On the [Celluloid Hero] scale, "The Master" gets an 8 out of 10.


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