Following his discharge from the US Navy after WWII, Freddie Quell is having difficulties adjusting to non-military life partly due to his war experiences in the tropics. He has a violent temper. He is obsessed with sex, which is partly why he can't and won't commit to his teenaged girlfriend, Doris Solstad. And he is an alcoholic, drinking primarily concoctions he creates himself with dangerous ingredients. It is these factors in combination that lead to him being fired from one job after another, from department store portrait photographer to cabbage picker. Wandering one night in 1950 while drunk, he stumbles upon a yacht being used by Lancaster and Peggy Dodd, the yacht aboard which their daughter Elizabeth will get married. Feeling a connection to the stranger, Lancaster invites Freddie to stay aboard to work. In addition to that work, Lancaster indoctrinates him into his cult, named the Cause, which purports to do things as varied as cure serious maladies and create world peace....Written by
What is the nature of man? Is he so depraved and aberrated that he must grovel in his own misery all the days of his life? Or is he merely asleep, bound by the negative emotions of his previous existences, hoping that his perfect nature will be resurrected one fine day? Director Paul Thomas Anderson has long been heralded as a philosopher of the human condition. In his 2012 film, The Master, Anderson employs powerful performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman to readdress themes he discussed in There Will Be Blood (2007).
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.
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