A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future - until he is tantalized by the Cause and its charismatic leader.A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future - until he is tantalized by the Cause and its charismatic leader.A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future - until he is tantalized by the Cause and its charismatic leader.
Freddie Quell (Phoenix) is a Navy WWII veteran with an insatiable lust for sex and alcohol. After accidently producing a batch of liquor that kills a man in Salinas, he flees and hides away aboard a boat captained by Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman). Dodd is the leader of a budding cult which appears all too similar to L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology. Over several months and multiple "processing" sessions Dodd hopes to cure Quell of his "animal" tendencies. The film spirals as it begs to resolve who will be the master and who will be the slave.
Anderson offers a honest vignette of humanity, painting fleshly desire and moral rationalism plainfully for all to see. The Master's audience walks away in fear, identifying their lowest self with Dodd's actions. The film's emotional response is greatly in part due to Phoenix and Hoffman's explosive chemistry. The duo delivers possibly the greatest scene of dialogue in the last 50 years. Anderson, who also wrote the screenplay, perfectly crafts the film's hypnotic and symbolic interchanges. Every frame is visually striking thanks to Mihai Malaimare Jr.'s cinematography. Often, more than not, more can be gleaned from scenes' blocking than actual words or action. Characters appear larger when they are in control and symmetrical shots are largely abandoned to display who is the scene' subject.
The Master is a film for thinking. No viewer is allowed to be numb during its showcasing. This principle likely played to a drop in its commercial success, but it reminds us that there is still room in the world for gorgeous shots, heavy subtext, and low concept plots. The Master, along with There Will Be Blood and Inherent Vice, has printed Anderson's name in the annals of brilliant filmmakers.
- Feb 18, 2019