A psychologically troubled novelty supplier is nudged towards a romance with an English woman, all the while being extorted by a phone-sex line run by a crooked mattress salesman, and purchasing stunning amounts of pudding.
Paul Thomas Anderson
Philip Seymour Hoffman
A traumatized veteran, unafraid of violence, tracks down missing girls for a living. When a job spins out of control, Joe's nightmares overtake him as a conspiracy is uncovered leading to what may be his death trip or his awakening.
Returning from Navy service in World War II, Freddie Quell drifts through a series of breakdowns. Finally he stumbles upon a cult which engages in exercises to clear emotions and he becomes deeply involved with them.Written by
Alan Young, edit Hal Issen
Paul Thomas Anderson premiered the film in a surprise 70mm screening at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles in August 2012 following a 4k restoration of The Shining (1980), almost a full month before the official world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Those in attendance were told before the start of The Shining (1980) that there would be a special free screening after the film, but did not reveal that the screening would be the world premiere of this film. See more »
When Lancaster Dodd is challenged by a skeptic, the shadow of a boom microphone is visible on the wall behind Dodd. See more »
What do you do?
I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher. But above all, I am a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you.
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The DVD special-features menu has a reversed image of Joaquin Phoenix's face. You can tell by the scar above his lip. See more »
Critically-Acclaimed Film with Outstanding Performances Left Me Surprisingly Cold
This is one of those films which the critics were nearly-unanimous in offering universal praise and yet audiences seemed to be relatively dismissive. (The film didn't quite make back its money at the box office.) The performances of Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Hoffman, and the rest of the cast were outstanding, along with the dialog which seems perfectly suited to its characters. Even the sets of the late 1940's and early 1950's were superb. And there are a number of surprising moments in which you don't know where the story is headed. However, by the film's end, I felt like there was something missing, as if the filmmakers were reluctant to take a risk with the material and say something about their subject through the story. About the last half of the film, the story meanders and never finds again its pace or goal.
The film is about the obsession of cult groups which try to answer life's riddles for troubled people. In this case, the group and its leader appear very loosely inspired by Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard, called "the Cause" whose leader is Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman). Although Hoffman plays the title role, the story is really about an ex-naval officer Freddie Quell (Phoenix) who is suffering from PTSD as a result of his involvement in World War II. After the war, he is a lost soul roaming through life with a series of misadventures, such as attacking a customer when he works for a department store as a photographer, or accidentally offering a poisonous drink to a migrant worker.
At his lowest point, he wakes up on board some kind of small yacht and meets a strange man, Lancaster Dodd, who informs him he's aboard his ship at Quell's request, although our protagonist can't remember having boarded. Quell learns about Dodd at their first meeting who states "I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher, but above all, I am a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you." He also says people attack him for his "dangerous" ideas. Slowly, Quell learns that Dodd is head of some kind of an underground movement combining philosophy and pseudo-science and publishes books on some far-fetched ideas which probably have no scientific basis. Dodd is often referred to as simply "Master" by members of this group. Dodd and his group believe the way to "heal" troubled people is by cleansing their souls through a hypnotic process which attempts to heal injuries inflicted during past lives.
Probably the most compelling part of the film is the first half, where we as the audience learn about Dodd and the Cause through the eyes of Quell. The most captivating moment is when Dodd is accused of not only illegally accepting a large donation from a philanthropist through a foundation, but practicing medicine without a license. I thought the film would focus on these accusations, but then the film leaves these indictments far behind. Afterwards, the film meanders, a bit like Quell at the beginning. The film becomes an episodic montage of interesting moments which are rather disconnected. By film's end, I didn't feel much more was revealed about Dodd and his Cause than when Quell first joined during the first third of the film.
Although all the acting is right on the money including outstanding performances by Hoffman and Phoenix, and the script dialog was absolutely true the characters, the entire film was kind of dissatisfying. We as the audience are given hints of the politics of Dodd and his inner circle but often these ideas are never fully developed. Also, much screen time was devoted to many of the "past life" sessions conducted by Dodd, but I think at some point it became wasted screen time. After 3 or 4 sessions, I pretty much understood the idea but instead countless others are offered without giving much insight into Dodd and who he is. By film's end, "The Master" was more like a character study than a story. A noble effort that wasn't quite there for me.
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