A review of The Master

September 23, 2012 

Freddie Quell is a drunken sailor with a combat related stress disorder and a drinking problem played by Joaquin Phoenix.  He returns from World War II after a stint in the South Pacific unable to hold down a steady job drifting on a course of self destruction.  He washes up on a boat sailing from San Francisco to New York under the direction of Lancaster Dodd founder of the Cause a sci-fi cult doctrine espousing time travel back to former lives to cure current ills.  The character Lancaster Dodd was inspired by and loosely modeled after Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.  While The Master is supposedly Quells story Dodd’s equally compelling biography competes for top billing.

Dodd seems to believe he and Freddie Quell share a past and manages to endear himself to the misfit.  While Quell is initially skeptical of the charismatic Dodd’s teachings he remains open and submits to a “Processing” a first step analyses.  The Cause “process” is eerily similar the Scientology Dianetics, L Ron Hubbard’s belief that individuals can free themselves of mental disorders and phobias by facing the traumatic incidents or “engrams” that block one’s mind.  Quell grows into a believer indeed a Dodd protector and bodyguard until the son Val Dodd (played by Jesse Plemons) exposes his father as a fraud.  Dodd sets out to cure Quell of his alcoholism or perhaps more to brain wash in an attempt to gain complete submission to the Cause.

Freddie Quells passes time as a member of the cult family but his manner and actions come into frequent conflict with others.  Quell’s loyalty to Dodd seems conflicted despite his violent defense of the crackpot.  Wracked by the memories of a youthful romance Quell finally realizes Dodd is con-man and stages his escape from Dodd’s hold.  He participates in a motorcycle game driving off into the Arizona sunset failing to return.  Years later Dodd tracks Quell down from his newly established London school and beckons Quell to join him.  Upon arrival Dodd as The Master demands Quell’s complete submission to the Cause.  The film climaxes with two men competing free wills clashing before departing.

It’s a complex surreal tale with Quell’s sexual libido frequently surfacing.  The cinematography, costumes and sets are superbly and amazingly authentic and true to the 1950s era.

The Master was written, directed, and co-produced by Paul Thomas Anderson.  He has written and directed six feature films: Hard Eight (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), and There Will Be Blood (2007). He has been nominated for five Academy Awards, There Will Be Blood for Best Achievement in Directing, Best Motion Picture of the Year, and Best Adapted Screenplay; Magnolia for Best Original Screenplay; and Boogie Nights for Best Original Screenplay. Anderson has been hailed as being “one of the most exciting talents to come along in years” and “among the supreme talents of today.”  The Master had its premiere at the 69th Venice International Film Festival.  Anderson compared Phoenix’s commitment to that of Daniel Day-Lewis for his level of concentration stating that Phoenix got into character and stayed there for three months.

This is the first film of 2012 receiving Oscar buzz due a large part to the Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Both may contend for Oscars as best actor and best supporting actor.

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