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Now Playing: The Master

The Master
dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012, USA

Rating: 9.2

The bottom line: masterful

Opening this Friday in fairly wide release is The Master, the sixth feature film from Paul Thomas Anderson and one that firmly establishes the enterprising 42-year old writer/director as the best at work in America today. No? Then who? Setting aside for the moment the great contemporary American filmmakers who don’t typically write their own scripts (e.g., Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, David Fincher, Kathryn Bigelow, et al.), it’s curious to note how most American writer/directors fall into one of two categories: those who are directors first and those who are writers first. The former category consists of the likes of Terrence Malick, David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch and Gus Van Sant, directors who take an image-based approach to cinematic storytelling and write original screenplays mainly in order to give themselves something to direct. Falling into the latter category are the likes of Woody Allen, the Coen brothers, Whit Stillman and Todd Solondz, directors whose films are primarily screenplay-based and who view the act of directing as essentially an extension of the writing process. This isn’t to say that Paul Thomas Anderson is necessarily a greater filmmaker than anyone named above. But, among the rare American writer/directors who can be seen as equally talented across both disciplines, Anderson now strikes me as having the highest combined average (with his stiffest competition coming from Richard Linklater, Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson). The Master seems to be at once a “quintessential Anderson” film (i.e., one that revisits signature themes and stylistic motifs) as well as one that stakes out bold new territory and pushes the director to the head of his class. He’s now operating at the level of a mid-period Stanley Kubrick and, amazingly, shows the potential of maturing even further. This is a level of mastery that will probably never be attained by, say, Darren Aronofsky, another “Kubrickian” director whom I do admire.

The formidable original screenplay for The Master concerns the rise in popularity of a Scientology-like religion named “The Cause” in the years immediately following WWII. The charismatic guru/con man heading this outfit, and the character for whom the film is named, is Lancaster Dodd, an L. Ron Hubbard stand-in played with great relish by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Interestingly, Dodd is but a supporting character in a scenario that focuses mainly on a new disciple of the Cause, a returning war vet and tortured soul named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix in the performance of the year, any year). Freddie is an incurable alcoholic who clearly suffers from some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder, and the early scenes detailing his inability to readjust to civilian life are straightforward and dramatically compelling. Things become trickier and more structurally unconventional after Quell meets and instantly falls under the sway of Dodd in a series of scenes that feel like something out of a fairy tale: Quell becomes a stowaway on Dodd’s luxury yacht while fleeing a manslaughter charge. The two men form an immediate and somewhat mysterious bond as Quell is admitted with curious rapidity into Dodd’s inner circle. Without giving away more of the plot, I should point out that it is reductive and simplistic to refer to The Master as Anderson’s “Scientology movie,” as many have done, since the film was clearly not meant as an exposé of any specific religion (even though Anderson leaves little doubt that Dodd, while painted somewhat sympathetically, is indeed a fraud). What I think Anderson is up to is something closer to a super-ambitious attempt to show the specific circumstances – psychological, social, historical, political – under which individuals are likely to become susceptible to cult-like self-help religions in general. Or at least that’s how The Master struck me after seeing it in 70mm at a rare sneak preview at the Music Box last month. Leaving the theater, I admired the fact that it was probably the most grandiose, challenging and thematically dense film of Anderson’s career, but I must also admit I didn’t find it as instantly engrossing as There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights or even Punch Drunk Love. (For the record, I think Hard Eight is an auspicious debut, while Magnolia is the only Anderson movie I actively dislike.)

The more time I’ve had to think about The Master however, the greater it seems. While my initial response was to see it mostly as Freddie’s story, I’m now inclined to think of it more as a provocative depiction of the weird, symbiotic friendship between two very different, and in some ways polar opposite, men. Dodd is, in his own words, “a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher” whereas Freddie is the dumbest lead character in any dramatic Hollywood movie in recent memory. Although I don’t share the conviction of some critics that there is anything homoerotic about the bond between Lancaster Dodd and Freddie Quell (sometimes a passionate hug is just a passionate hug), the film nevertheless does present a kind of bizarre love triangle between Dodd, his wife Peggy (Amy Adams) and Freddie. While it’s easy to see what Freddie sees in Dodd (the latter is a typical surrogate father in a series of such characters in the “alternative families” that mark Anderson’s work), the film becomes much richer when one considers what Dodd might see in Freddie. Freddie is a bad boy who lives only for drinking, fucking and fighting, and is therefore unlike anyone else in Dodd’s well-heeled social group. Dodd eagerly drinks Freddie’s poisonous homemade hooch, wrestles with him on the lawn and admonishes him with the phrase “Naughty boy!” in a tone that suggests more envy than genuine resentment. Anderson demonstrates, in a way that rings of psychological truth, how the master needs his servant at least as much as the other way around. If Freddie, then, can be seen as Dodd’s id, it is Peggy who represents the master’s super-ego. She is the Lady MacBeth-like wife, cooing in her husband’s ear while giving him a handjob over the bathroom sink, always trying to spur him and the Cause on to ever-greater heights. Peggy takes the Cause more seriously than anyone, perhaps even more so than Dodd, and thus appears the most wary of the potentially destructive threat that Freddie poses to the group.

Much has been made about The Master being the first narrative film to be shot (almost entirely) on 70mm film stock since Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet in 1996. As one would expect, it is a marvel to watch from the first frame to the last. The images have a breathtaking clarity that remind us of the impending tragedy of the obsolescence of actual film as a result of the so-called “digital revolution.” They also made me grateful that if anyone in Hollywood is going to be shooting in 70mm, it’s Anderson. As a director, he has always been an impeccable visual stylist but I think he really outdoes himself here, probably because it doesn’t seem like he’s trying to. While Anderson’s well-known preference for bravura long takes is still very much in evidence (check out the epic tracking shot that follows a mink-coated model through a beautifully recreated late 1940s department store), they are ultimately done in a lower-key register than, say, the ostentatious I am Cuba homages in Boogie Nights. This is not the work of an angry young man determined to set the world on fire. It is the more relaxed mastery of a family man in his early forties with nothing much to prove, the work of a supremely confident artist following his instincts and producing effortlessly audacious results. As a piece of pure cinema, there is an organic, Kubrick-Malick meticulousness to The Master‘s overall visual design that will amaze even those who are less than satisfied with it on a dramatic level. Like it or not, this is a must-see big screen experience.

I have said that The Master is structured unconventionally and this may be a curse as well as a blessing. There are two scenes in the film as dramatically electrifying as anything I can recall seeing in a movie theater. The first is a mini-masterpiece of psychological seduction involving Dodd’s “processing” (read: auditing) of Quell, while the other is an explosive confrontation between the same men in adjacent prison cells. Phoenix’s performance in the latter scene is so primal, so animalistic, so beyond the bounds of what we think of as traditional movie acting that it will undoubtedly find a place on many highlight reels: not only those showcasing the best work of Phoenix and Anderson but probably those Great Movie montages on future awards shows as well. Somewhat strangely, these Big Acting Scenes both occur in the film’s first half. Upon first viewing, this made it hard for me not to feel disappointed that there was no comparable Phoenix/Hoffman barnburner in the final act to give the film a stronger sense of dramatic harmony and closure. Instead, we are presented with something more ambivalent and restrained (though I fully get the symbolic significance of Quell accomplishing something in the final scene that he’s wanted but failed to do throughout the rest of the movie); it is essentially the opposite of the galvanizing, exclamation point-like ending of There Will Be Blood. For this and other reasons (the fine Amy Adams is arguably semi-wasted in a role that is less fleshed out than those of her male counterparts), I suspect The Master will be a polarizing movie. But it’s also a film that clearly isn’t revealing all of its secrets on a single viewing and so I’m skeptical of all judgements, including my own, until I’ve had a chance to revisit it. The Master is the first new film I’ve seen since Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy that seems to cry out for multiple viewings. I can’t wait to see it again.

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

30 responses to “Now Playing: The Master

  • Miguel Martinez

    The Master left me in a state of numbness when I left The Music Box Theatre last month. It is the film of the year and I hope he gets what he should have gotten for There Will Be Blood.

  • alleyandthemovies

    So, is it one of those films, the more you think about it, the better it gets? I’m ready! 🙂 Great review – I’m so excited to see this film this Friday.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks! It is absolutely the kind of film that gets better the more you think about it. It is also so different from your typical Hollywood movie that no matter what you read about it, you will still probably be surprised when you see it. Feel free to chime in here with your thoughts after you’ve seen it.

  • david

    I never consider PTA as a visual director,but if he has “highest combined average”,and improve in visual style,wow,that would be real great!

    What do you think of Chris Nolan?I think he also showed great talent in his previous films in writing and directing,but it seems he chose the wrong way to go with all those super-hero films,I hope he would make less commercial films and make more films like The Following and The Prestige.

    • michaelgloversmith

      You don’t think of PTA as a visual director? Say what?! What about There Will Be Blood and its stunning 15 minute dialogue-free opening scene? Pure visual storytelling!

      The only Nolan films I’ve seen are Following, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. I must confess I do not understand the appeal.

      • david

        Man,I need to watch all his films all over again,especially There Will Be Blood,I believe my opinions must be quite different after the re-watches.Anyway,The Master is a must-see for me when it hits Chinese cinemas.

  • Scott G

    Sadly, not only am I not able to see this film in 70mm, but Landmark Century is no longer showing 35mm as well. They converted to digital projection only a few days ago. Lousy timing.

    The “Quell accomplishing something in the final scene that he’s wanted but failed to do throughout the rest of the movie” detail is one that I missed. Are you referring to the scene with the English woman? What did he accomplish here?

    • michaelgloversmith

      He had sex with her! Freddie was sexually frustrated throughout the movie; the last scene mirrors the opening where we see him having mock-intercourse with the sandcastle-woman. Then we see him jerking off into the ocean, then we see him try to fuck different women only to fail either because of his drunkenness (as with the mink coat model) or their lack of interest. I THINK the point PTA was trying to make was that Freddie’s state of perpetual sexual frustration (which is also illustrated in the rorschach test scene and the scene where he fantasizes that all of the women around him are naked) is one of the things that made him particularly susceptible to Dodd and the Cause. I think the sex scene at the end of the film (and the fact that he’s drunk again after having just previously sobered up) are meant to symbolize his successful, and presumably permanent, break from the church.

      I’m really sorry to hear that about the Landmark. I’m actually going to see The Master there today with two friends, neither of whom have seen it yet. I wonder if I can find out where it’s playing in 35mm and change our plans.

  • Bherz

    I loved the Master. I read this review after seeing it and I agree I would have picked that scary “don’t blink or we’ll start over” questioning or “processing” of Quell to be one of the best in the movie. What stood out for me was the way Dodd and Quell needed each other and in that way the idea “Who is the Master?” is played out. Dodd keeps telling Quell he needs a master, but Dodd’s cause is so tied to Quell – it needs instinct-showing people or else who is there to cure? Quell is the master of Dodd in this way … Anyway, thought it was a really insightful film. The scene in the jail was so funny.

  • Creepy or high quality? « nancy bishop's journal

    […] However, this may be a film that warrants a second viewing. Michael Glover Smith in White City Cinema says: ”I suspect The Master will be a polarizing movie. But it’s also a film that clearly isn’t revealing all of its secrets on a single viewing and so I’m skeptical of all judgements, including my own, until I’ve had a chance to revisit it. The Master is the first new film I’ve seen since Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy that seems to cry out for multiple viewings.” http://tiny.cc/qblvlw […]

  • Top 10 Films of 2012 | White City Cinema

    […] Paul Thomas Anderson’s sixth feature in many ways plays like a Greatest Hits album for the prodigiously talented 42-year-old writer/director. It revisits familiar elements in terms of both content (addiction, alternative families, strained father/son relationships, a charismatic con man/charlatan character and, in the memorable phrase of Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, a “sex obsessed man-child”) as well as form (a dissonant musical score, bravura long takes, depth staging and elaborate camera movements). Yet much of the film’s greatness lies in the way that, in spite of its familiarity, it was still somehow able to confound; my opinion of The Master was at its lowest immediately after I first saw it due to what I perceived to be Anderson’s awkward handling of narrative structure. But the more time has gone by, the more I feel that it is confounding in the way that only something genuinely new and exciting can be, and what I initially perceived as “flaws” now seem like virtues. There may be no catharsis, for either the characters or the viewer, but this film does so many things right: the 70mm cinematography and period detail are often awe-inspiring, and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix give career-best performances, proving yet again that PTA is the contemporary American cinema’s finest director of actors. Full review here. […]

  • My Blog is Three-Years-Old | White City Cinema

    […] Skin I Live In (Almodovar, Spain, 2011) – 9.1 Upstream Color (Carruth, USA, 2013) – 9.2 The Master (Anderson, USA, 2012) – 9.2 Wild Grass (Resnais, France, 2009) – 9.2 This Is Not a Film […]

  • brad

    The Master is fictional representation of post World War II American society. It depicts a defective political and economic system that is about to dominate the world. Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) portrays the Master. He is a burnt out metaphysical cult leader that is hooked on mind altering substances. Dodd’s master plan to achieve power is based upon a unique “brand” of religion that he plans to market internationally. Peggy (Amy Adams) is Dodd’s picture perfect wife. She always seems to appear pregnant or with a young child, giving the viewer an impression of perfection. Peggy and Lancaster are continuously seeking the financial support of the upper one percent of the population to achieve their goal.
    Dodd appears to be grooming Freddie Quill (Joaquin Phoenix) as his second in command. Quill is a member of the working class. He plays a rebellious former GI, who at times resorts to the use of brute force to promote Dodd’s “religious and philosophical theories.” Freddie appears to be suffering from a form of post- traumatic stress disorder, an addiction to a homemade concoction of alcohol and other substances, and psychological problems resulting from previous relationships with quite a few women( including his mother) that he has not seen or heard from in years. The Master is attempting to mold Freddie in his own image. Believe it or not, the viewer has less difficulty empathizing with Freddie because he continuously finds it necessary to seek the approval of all the other cult members.
    Freddie Quill is depicted as a simple minded former G I who appears to follow orders. Freddie is a tough guy that resorts to physical violence whenever he feels it is necessary to maintain the status quo; however, he comes to the realization that he no longer can live with himself. In the first scene of The Master, Freddie is depicted as a child –like character lying in the arms of a sand sculpture of a nude woman. The woman may represent a religious image or some other form of emotional insecurity that exists within in character’s unconscious mind or possibly in the mind of the viewer. Eventually, Freddie flashes forward to the present and realizes that he is a nonbeliever and can no longer carry out Lancaster Dodd’s’ orders. Freddie quill is ready to reenter post-war American society!

  • krista Peters

    The Master was an intense film with twists, secrets and discoveries. P.T.A has a unique was of using camera movement to create meaning in his work. I liked how in the beginning P.T.A played the drum music; it really set the tone for this type of film. I didn’t see this movie as a religion film. It was more based on a man who had serious sex and alcohol problems. (Freddy)
    P.T.A couldn’t have chosen better actors. Joaquin who played Freddy was tormented by his past and Lancaster played by Phil Hoffman (RIP). Lancaster was a MASTER manipulator, brilliant, charming and in my opinion used Freddy as his gunnie pig. They had a love hate relationship, and as Mr. Smith said in class “Freddie is the son Lancaster always wanted.” I agree completely!
    Freddie was very protective over Lancaster, as if he were his father. For example, when that guy told Freddie about Lancasters book and how it should just be a three page pamphlet instead, he walked him outside and beat him up! Talk about anger problems!
    My favorite scene in the film was when Lancaster was asking Freddy questions, personal questions. I found myself answering them as well. This scene was very touching for me. I had chills through out my body. The looks on Freddy and Landcasters faces were so honest and believable. I found myself not blinking during the time he wasn’t supposed to! I was totally In the moment! I am now a P.T.A fan!

    • michaelgloversmith

      Krista. I’m glad you brought up the scene where Freddie beat up the guy who criticized Dodd’s book. I have the feeling that Freddie’s anger was sparked by the fact that he suspected the guy was right! Hope you get to see all of P.T.A.’s other films. I’d recommend checking out BOOGIE NIGHTS next then working your way forward from there.

  • Alina

    Freddie is a lost soul who stumbles upon Lancaster Dodd and his “noble” Cause. Soon after Freddie hears about The Cause from Dodd, he listens to a tape where Dodd repeats a series of phrases. He says man must go back to the inherent state of perfect repeatedly, in a hypnotic way reminiscent of stop smoking hypnosis tapes. It certainly is likened to brainwashing, which almost all the members of The Cause seem to have experienced. Any “dissenters” are viewed as a threat that requires attacking to defend their principles. Dodd handles criticism terribly, blowing up and doling out emotional abuse to the one who crosses him. Freddie and Dodd have a close, strange relationship, but for the most part are supportive. However, once Freddie turns on him in the jail, Dodd spews out “Fuck you” and tells him only he is the only one in the world who likes Freddie. Dodd is a hypocrite in that he speaks to his followers as if he is enlightened and has mastered his emotions, yet when he feels any sense of disapproval he goes of like a madman. He claims to have all the answers, but is envious of Freddie’s freedom to be wild and erratic.
    The Cause has strange ways of leading to what the followers call free and more productive. One scene shows Freddie and Clark sitting face-to-face insulting each other while Dodd encourages them to emotionally disengage and not respond. Clark proceeds to say Freddie’s lost love, Doris. It seems incredibly cruel to know someone’s most painful memory and throw it in his or her face and expect him or her to not react. People may be searching to become enlightened, but the tactic certainly did not work for Freddie. He explodes with emotion as the metaphorical knife is twisted as Clark repeats Doris’ name. After going on a roller coaster of events, in the end Freddie chooses not to follow The Cause. As Dodd points out, he seems to be the only one in life that can life with no master.

    • Alina

      Freddie is a lost soul who stumbles upon Lancaster Dodd and his “noble” Cause. Soon after Freddie hears about The Cause from Dodd, he listens to a tape where Dodd repeats a series of phrases. He says man must go back to the inherent state of perfect repeatedly, in a hypnotic way reminiscent of stop smoking hypnosis tapes. It certainly is likened to brainwashing, which almost all the members of The Cause seem to have experienced. Any “dissenters” are viewed as a threat that requires attacking to defend their principles. Dodd handles criticism terribly, blowing up and doling out emotional abuse to the one who crosses him. Freddie and Dodd have a close, strange relationship, but for the most part are supportive. However, once Freddie turns on him in the jail, Dodd spews out “Fuck you” and tells him only he is the only one in the world who likes Freddie. Dodd is a hypocrite in that he speaks to his followers as if he is enlightened and has mastered his emotions, yet when he feels any sense of disapproval he goes off like a madman. He claims to have all the answers, but is envious of Freddie’s freedom to be wild and erratic.
      The Cause has strange ways of leading to what the followers call free and more productive. One scene shows Freddie and Clark sitting face-to-face insulting each other while Dodd encourages them to emotionally disengage and not respond. Clark proceeds to say the name of Freddie’s lost love, Doris. It seems incredibly cruel to know someone’s most painful memory and throw it in his or her face and expect him or her to not react. People may be searching to become enlightened, but the tactic certainly did not work for Freddie. He explodes with emotion as the metaphorical knife is twisted as Clark repeats Doris’ name. After going on a roller coaster of events, in the end Freddie chooses not to follow The Cause. As Dodd points out, he seems to be the only one in live that can life with no master.

      Sorry I had a couple grammatical errors that I fixed

  • Nicole Ochal

    The Master

    The master, although was a long movie, was also a good movie. Director of this movie was Paul Thomas Anderson in 2012. This movie really showed the way he loves to use the camera because there are so many different angles and shots taken in the movie. You get the full feel and the full wholeness of the movie with the way he makes his films come alive.
    The movie mainly being about a man named Freddie that left way because of his drinking problem, and couldn’t find a job, except he gets woken one day by a girl that brings him to meet Lancaster Dodd who then typically puts him under his wing. Lancaster Dodd is a man who had some sort of huge almost magic trick where he could convince anyone that he could cure him or her and make them pure again. We know this is made up because some of the things Lancaster said were just down right ridiculous. Lancaster’s son then goes on to say that his father makes this stuff up as he goes, but as a good son should, is always right by his dads side and clearly doesn’t have a problem with the fact that they are basically robbing people.
    The only person that really seemed to be as convinced as Lancaster and his wife were was Freddie. He was a stupid guy that really just needed direction in his life, and the one time someone decided to lead him it was a weird way down it. Not only did Freddie believe everything Lancaster said, but he also participated with the family, he would go to the meetings, they were like his family because he didn’t have one.
    We see Freddie’s weakness when we hear about Doris. Doris seemed to be Freddies number one crush, but when there is a flashback to his past we realize that she was only 16 when he loved her, and that age difference was weird. After years and years he finally goes back to see her and only gets her mom. Doris got married and had been married for 3 years. You could tell how broken up Freddie was about it because there’s a shot in the movie where u see him just at a movie theater passed out. Although I don’t think he was drunk, I still think he was a little sad.
    He finally gets a call from Lancaster and goes back to see him, I think he had no problem doing that because he didn’t have anything else going for him. If he thought he was going to be able to be with Doris when he came back and wasn’t able to do that he clearly didn’t have any other reason to stay there. If he would have known Doris was married I bet he would of stayed with Lancaster the entire time because of the fact that they were just like family, and Lancaster really helped Freddie develop into a man, he really almost taught him things in the sickest way.
    Overall though I thought it was a great movie!

  • Danny

    The Master is a film that lives and dies by it’s actors. If more incapable, less gifted actors had been cast, The Master would fail horribly as a film. The actors are so skilled at what they do and their performances are so compelling that it’s those performances that make the movie a great movie.

    Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson crafted such a complex and interesting story that only the best of the best can bring to life. Joaquin Phoenix gives one of the best performances of his career as Freddy Quell, a drunken, sex crazed, World War II veteran looking for guidance or at least something to preoccupy his time after the war (Freddy clearly suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as well). Giving that guidance is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodds. A thinly disguised stand-in for Elron Hubbard of Scientology fame, Hoffman is convincing in his role of “savior” as well as the fraud that some suspect he is. The comparisons to Scientology are there, but it’s not all that this film is about. The film is about hope. The film is about guidance. Which is why another theme to this film is choice. No character exemplifies this theme of choice more than Amy Adams’s Peggy. Playing a Lady Macbeth-type role, Adams is so supportive of her husband, that it almost ruins them. She sees Freddy for what he actually is, a drunk and insane man. While her husband is so concerned with “saving him,” Peggy being right and knowing the truth about Freddy is something that Dodds can’t see because he thinks of Freddy as the son he never had and loves. When he finally acknowledges that Peggy is right, he casts Freddy out. So basically, Dodds had to choose between his friend, and his wife.

  • Torrance McWhorter

    The Master Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

    I thought the movie The Master was funny in the beginning of the movie, but as the movie went on I found the movie to be sad. It was sad to see the Master playing with Freddie’s intelligence and emotions. This is how the Master got his followers to follow him with common practices they could do on their own without being apart of the Master’s movement.
    I felt that Paul Thomas Anderson wanted to show you in this movie how the Master needed Freddie to react to people that did not believe in the movement. Freddie would get into fights if someone did not agree with the master or question the masters word, because I felt that Master wanted to react to people that questioned his movement but was unable to do it by himself. I think he liked when Freddie would get into fights with other people for questing the Masters word. He made it seem that he did not want Freddie to get into fights and drink but in a weird way he was liking it. I feel Freddie was doing things that the master wanted to do himself but could not do. He had to uphold the law of the movement.
    Watching this movie had a little bit of everything, it had laughter, pain and sexual frustration on Freddie’s part. I would probably not watch this movie again because it hurt me to watch the master manipulate the congregation as they stood around and let the master threat Freddie badly, when they knew some of the stuff the master was saying was bull shit. This goes to show you how easy people can be manipulated and trust worthy for others to guide you in the right direction and I think this is what Paul Thomas Anderson was trying to show you in his movie called The Master.

  • darcy

    I’ve had two days to process The Master, and every time I attempt to decode this film, I come up dry. I’ve seen more confusing films in my life, but I think The Master trumps all of them in terms of ambiguity. Alas, I have to write something, so I’ll take a whack at it and hope that I hope I hit a whack a mole.

    I think it’s difficult to discuss The Master without first discussing the cinematography. Like you said in your review, PTA is an impeccable visual stylist, and if anyone should be shooting in 70 mm print, it’s PTA (so jealous btw that you saw the 70 mm print version!). All the scenes were like a painting, and even though they didn’t have a similar color palette to each other (like Wes Anderson films), the rich colors made all the scenes work well with each other. Some examples are when Freddie and the woman with a fur coat are in the back room, and the darkness and limelight give it a feel of a photography darkroom, the tracking shot of the vivacious party on the ship, which contrasts to Freddie’s loneliness as he is walking by himself, and the shot of Freddy lying on a ship with the rich colors of the ocean moving below him. In class you said that the film was so stylized that the audience could only see what PTA wanted us to see, and I think this was extremely evident in The Master. For example, when Freddie went to fight Mr. Moore in his room, instead of PTA showing us the fight, he kept the camera outside of the door, so all we were able to only hear were the sounds of the fight. This allowed for Freddie to have a moment of privacy in a film where he was so exploited (we could see into his sexual desires, knew about his involvement with his Aunt, etc) and reminded me a bit of the scene in Taxi Driver (sorry I keep comparing things to that film haha) where Travis is on the phone and the camera moves away from him, allowing him some privacy.

    Just like my other class members, I thought of The Master as a comedy as well, and that PTA intended for the audience to think of the film in this way. From the beginning Lancaster is questioned about the authenticity of The Cause, and the dangers of The Cause are exploited, such as having people trust Lancaster to cure them if them have leukemia. By having an outsider question the authenticity of The Cause, we are less “sucked into it”, and view it as something we’re observing more than something we’re partaking in (the Freddie character helps with this as well). This is a sharp contrast to Boogie Nights, where the comedy arose in how serious the porn industry (or, excuse me, adult film industry) was portrayed, and it was meant to come across as serious filmmaking (from the placement of the lights to the debate about switching from VHS to film), and it wasn’t until toward the end of the film where the words “porn industry” were actually used by lawyers and other “outsiders”, and we were able to see the detrimental effects it had on the industry members. This allowed for the audience to be more a part of the film, where in The Master I felt as if I were looking at it from outside of a fishbowl. This isn’t a criticism for The Master, because I think both approaches worked quite well for both situations, and worked well in making the film’s more humorous (I know The Master is technically a serious drama, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be funny).

  • Marguerite Yang

    There are many aspects of The Master film, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, are worth discussing but space allows for only the two aspects of the film that were my greatest take-a-ways: the relationship between The Master (that is Lancaster, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and a post-war sailor (that is Freddie, played by Joaquin Phoenix), and the over the top aggressive sexual nature of the film.

    The developing and final death of the relationship between Lancaster and Freddie are expressed by the director both by actions, dialog, and cinematography. The best example of this is when Lancaster first confronts Freddie when Freddie stumbles into Lancaster’s presence aboard Lancaster’s boat.

    Lancaster sees or senses Freddie’s presence and calls him into his room. The conversation between Lancaster and Freddie is one of confusing hospitality with little anger or fear on Lancaster’s part. There appears to be an instant amiable personal connection between these two characters, despite the extreme obvious differences between the two characters and the situation of their meeting. In the first meeting scene, the director of the film has depicted the differences between the two characters using actions (Lancaster is sitting and Freddie standing), dialog (Lancaster is assertively talking and asking questions using words and tone of an educated man and Freddie is mumbling very short answers using words and tone of a stupid man), and cinematography (the alternating close face shots between Lancaster with darkness around him but light directly on his face and Freddie with light around him but his face in darkness).

    Soon after this scene, Freddie eventually follows Lancaster’s directions and sits at a table facing Lancaster. The scene starts with alternating face shots between Freddie and Lancaster. The action of sitting equally at the table (that is opposite each other and at the same height) and then the back and forth shots as the questioning and answering continues illustrate a growing bond between them. Dialog and smiles indicate a growing friendliness between them. Cinematography seals the impressing of friendship by having both characters frontally lit-up, like the only light in the room is from directly above and between them – no more contrast between them in lighting.

    The over the top aggressive sexual nature of the film did not add to the film story, but was instead a distraction. Freddie’s preoccupation with sex did not need to be so aggressively portrayed, such as his humping a sand structure, all of the women at the supporters house suddenly becoming full frontal nudes, or the excessive wording of the document Lancaster’s wife reads to Freddie during a brainwashing session. As a key part of Freddie’s personality was his sickness, which included his preoccupation with sex, there needed to be frequent reference to sex, but the aggressive use of sex images and words in the film detracted me from the actual plot elements in those scenes.

    Unfortunately, the aggressive sexual nature of this film reduced my interests in this film before Lancaster even meets Freddie – a failing interest that could not be reversed by the spots of great action, dialog, and cinematography.

  • Alex

    The Master is a phenomenal film with themes of religion, science, being a lost soul, and the construction of a cult. With all of this going on it’s a slight challenge to take it all in within one viewing. The main character of this film is Freddie Quell who was a Navy Seal in WWII. Upon coming back from the war he is revealed to have some degree of PTSD and has trouble adjusting back to a civilian life being a photographer. When given a Rorschach test all he claims to see is genitals and sex. Throughout this film it seems to be all this man wants besides alcohol, which he also makes concoctions to get drunk that are just harmful chemicals. Freddie appears to be trying to fill his empty life with anything that gives him a rush or makes him feel as if he has a purpose.
    After Freddie’s jobs as a photographer and a cabbage farmer go belly up, the farming job ended with a murder charge because a man drank too much of his “poison”. He is now a fugitive of the law and runs away from this problem. As he’s running he finds a yacht which he sneaks onto so he can start over somewhere else. The next morning a woman wakes him up and acts very kind to him as she takes him to Lancaster Dodd who introduces himself as the commander of the ship among other things such as a nuclear physicist and theoretical philosopher. So from the introduction of Dodd we are overwhelmed with questions of who this man actually is and why he’s letting a stranger stay with his family for his daughter’s wedding. After their first conversation it would appear that Lancaster and Freddie are now friends.
    The night after the wedding Lancaster processes Freddie while they drink Freddie’s homemade poison. He has Freddie repeat his name over and over, and answering questions that become very personal. There is also a part where Freddie has to answer all of Lancaster’s questions without blinking and this is where he begins to break Freddie down as well as make him feel as though he is a part of something. During this processing there is a part where Freddie breaks wind as a joke and Lancaster says he’s a dirty animal. This is interesting because Lancaster sees the human race as being above all other animals. It can now be seen that Lancaster is keeping Quell as a lab rat for “the cause”.
    The Cause is a movement spearheaded by Lancaster where he has radical ideals concerning being able to meditate in a way and recall your past lives or your spirit. He does this process with many people in his house who believe his ideals. Although he never does it to Freddie, possibly because Freddie would not be able to go along with it like everyone else. As the film progresses Freddie becomes more and more under Lancaster’s thumb as Freddie goes out and assaults anyone who has anything bad to say about Lancaster’s ideals. This shows more of his animalistic side. But Freddie is not the only one who is an animal, as whenever Dodd is questioned he is almost never calm in his reaction.
    The scene where they were playing pick a point with the motorcycle is in my opinion where Freddie was really starting to leave behind the ideals of the cause and Dodd himself as Freddie just kept going as fast as he could with no intent of turning back. That scene truly showed us who Freddie is because after everything he has been through he just keeps going and will continue to keep going. Dodd and Freddie are separated for some time after they are released from jail but Freddie receives a call in a movie theater from Dodd telling him to come to England and bring some Kool cigarettes. It is argued that this scene is a dream but there are also reasons to believe it was in fact reality. For one no other point in this movie was a dream and the fact that Dodd knew exactly where Freddie was could show how his Cause was actually growing and he could have had other Cause members following Freddie around.
    When Freddie makes it to England to see Dodd it is Peggy who does most of the initial talking, telling Freddie he has not changed and he is not good enough for the cause before she exits the room. Freddie tells Dodd that maybe in the next life he’d stay with him and the cause. The final scene when Freddie is in bed with the English girl is one of the most important of the movie. While she is on top of him Freddie tells her to repeat her name over and over, and also answer sets of questions without blinking just as he once did. This shows that he realized that this process has done to him and he tried duplicating it so he could get what he wants from women. In a sense this last scene shows us how the slave becomes the master.

    • Charlie Weil

      Charlie Weil
      Cinema Studies
      7/14/15

      “The Master” (Paul Thomas Anderson, United States/ 2012)
      By: Charlie Weil

      When viewing “The Master”, I found the film to have many themes of religion, scientology, loyalty, manipulation, and brainwashing. The film had exceptional performances, beautiful cinematography, and effective editing. The film is a master- class in acting, with Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams who gave such dynamic and powerful performances that added many levels of natural authenticity. I believe that Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman have given the best performances of their respective careers in this film. They both fully immersed themselves into their roles, so that the audience stopped seeing them as actors and started seeing them as the complex characters of Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd. It was a very engaging and explosive film to watch and I enjoyed every minute of it.

      I found that the director of the film, Paul Thomas Anderson, incorporated many of these themes in order to show the power of joining a cult and the ramifications it had on a person’s psyche. For example, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character, Lancaster Dodd, was a man who brainwashed, manipulated and controlled people with his idea of “The Cause”. He wanted to brainwash people with his idea of “The Cause”. He recruited as many people as possible because he wanted to be powerful. “The Cause”, in reality was completely unproven and unfounded. Lancaster Dodd was a con artist who liked to brainwash and manipulate people on ridiculous facts without providing any credibility or factual statistics to back up his claims. He felt powerful and authoritative when he pronounced these groundless theories because of his very political stance with scientology. In the film, Lancaster knew that he could manipulate and brainwash Freddie Quell due to his irrational, self- destructive and unpredictable nature.

      In Joaquin Phoenix’s brilliant portrayal of Freddie Quell, he gave the audience a portrait of a broken, emotionally damaged man, with a propensity towards violence, anger and deep emotional turmoil. Freddie also was an alcoholic, womanizing scoundrel who did just about anything he could do in order to self- destruct and numb the pain in his life. Freddie’s unpredictable behavior, his emotional detachment with people, his temper and his alcoholism could all be attributed to the traumatic experience he had when he fought in World War II. In 1950, where the film took place, there was not a diagnosis for Freddie’s emotional troubles. However, now in 2015, it seems clear that Freddie suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Therefore, it was easy for Lancaster Dodd to manipulate and brainwash the protagonist, Freddie Quell to become a member of “The Cause”. He did it in order to motivate him to change his unhealthy lifestyle and quit his erratic, alcoholic ways.

      The film also brought to light the issue of religion. This film talked about scientology and its hypnotizing affect on people. It was clear throughout the entire film that everything Lancaster was proclaiming was completely nonsensical and lacked any statistical data. In the film, when Freddie was looking to Lancaster for his guidance, Lancaster’s son, who was a participant of “The Cause”, thought it was ridiculous. He told Freddie that everything his father said was untrue. Throughout the film, his son acted as if he was enthralled by his father’s so-called “wisdom”, but deep down he knew that his father was a fraud. Even though, Lancaster was a nuclear physicist, a best selling author and a PHD, all of his theories had absolutely no credence or factual evidentiary support. Whenever someone in the film confronted him that his theories did not make any sense, Lancaster would quickly get defensive and lose his temper. He hated it when people challenged his theories and make him explain his reasoning behind them. The audience clearly saw that he did not always believe in what he was proclaiming. Due to Lancaster’s insecurity, he would start to lose his temper. The film did not specifically state that the theme of the film was scientology but it was very much implied. The film had a very ambiguous tone and left it to the audience to interpret.

      The performances in this film were very powerful and enthralling to watch. Joaquin Phoenix gave the best performance of his to date, as a man so hell-bent on self- sabotage; he would do anything to eradicate his pain. His performance as Freddie Quell was so believable that it became almost painful to watch him endure his difficult experiences. The audience felt compelled to sympathize with Freddie because he seemed to be completely directionless in his life. This caused him to become susceptible to being brainwashed and controlled by Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a cult. Freddie did, however, proved not to be a victim, but to be his own man. His out-of-control, unpredictability was what fascinated Lancaster about Freddie, which was why he personally took him under his wing. The audience wanted Freddie to ultimately succeed and get out from under Lancaster’s control.

      Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams also gave phenomenal performances as well. Specifically, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who also gives one of his best performances, as the cult leader of “The Cause”, Lancaster Dodd. Philip Seymour Hoffman was such a versatile actor that his legacy will continue to inspire generations of thespians for many more years to come. In his interpretation of the antagonist, Philip Seymour Hoffman brought many things to the table. He was manipulative, narcissistic, calculating, ruthless, mysterious and vulnerable all in one. Even though, he believed he was helping Freddie fix his life and his clients. As an unlicensed doctor, he honestly saw Freddie as the son he always wanted. He saw a little bit of himself in Freddie, which he tried to exploit out of him, to no avail. He also liked Freddie because, ultimately, he was not responsive to Lancaster’s brainwashing because he had his own original, authentic ideas. Lancaster had more respect for Freddie than he did for his own son or his son-in-law because they were completely submissive to him; whereas, Freddie ultimately proved he was the opposite of them.

      Amy Adams also was spectacular in her performance as Lancaster’s current wife and co- leader of “The Cause”, Peggy Dodd. The audience could clearly tell that Peggy was under the control of Lancaster’s brainwashing of “The Cause”. She also proved to have her own mind. Peggy, in many ways, had more control over her husband than he did of her. She also was very manipulative, ruthless and conniving like her husband and had clear disdain and jealousy towards Freddie. Peggy saw Freddie as a threat to sabotaging “The Cause” and would have done anything to keep him from demolishing it. She also saw Freddie as a threat to her already deteriorating marriage. Peggy controlled many aspects of her husband’s life in the film and she made many decisions regarding what stances the cult should make to any outsiders who were skeptical of Lancaster’s unconventional methods. In many ways, Peggy dominated her husband in every sense of the word and proved to be just as conniving, domineering and ruthless as her husband, if not more so. In every intimate scene she was in with her husband, she was either emasculating him or threatening him in some way. She had her husband “whipped”, so to speak. In fact, whenever someone challenged Lancaster’s ideas regarding “The Cause”, she would suggest they attack outsiders because in her twisted mind, the only way they could defend themselves and their stance was to attack people emotionally and physically. She saw no other alternative. Peggy became this way because she was manipulated, controlled, and brainwashed by her husband and her husband’s ideals. It was a captivatingly powerful performance from Amy Adams, where she once again proved that she is just getting better with age.

      In conclusion, I thought the film was incredibly powerful and effective. I loved the film because Paul Thomas Anderson incorporated many themes of religion, scientology, loyalty, manipulation, and brainwashing. I also enjoyed the film because of the exceptional Oscar-nominated performances from: Joaquin Phoenix as the protagonist, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the antagonist, and Amy Adams as the antagonist’s wife. The film was ambiguous on many levels that kept the audience literally on the edge of their seats, enthralled and encapsulated with their uncertainty. Overall, the film was a deep, psychological drama that dealt with many controversial themes that kept the audience questioning things at every turn. It was an astonishing feat by one of the best directors working today: the one and only, Paul Thomas Anderson.

      (A Better Edited Version of the paper)

  • Charlie Weil

    Charlie Weil

    7/14/15

    “The Master” (Paul Thomas Anderson, United States/ 2012)
    By: Charlie Weil

    When viewing “The Master”, I found the film to have many themes of religion, scientology, loyalty, manipulation, and brainwashing. The film had exceptional performances, beautiful cinematography, and effective editing. The film is a master- class in acting, with Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams who gave such dynamic and powerful performances that added many levels of natural authenticity. I believe that Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman have given the best performances of their respective careers in this film. They both fully immersed themselves into their roles, so that the audience stopped seeing them as actors and started seeing them as the complex characters of Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd. It was a very engaging and explosive film to watch and I enjoyed every minute of it.

    I found that the director of the film, Paul Thomas Anderson, incorporated many of these themes in order to show the power of joining a cult and the ramifications it had on a person’s psyche. For example, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character, Lancaster Dodd, was a man brainwashed, manipulated and controlled people with his idea of “The Cause”. He wanted to brainwash people with his idea of “The Cause”. He recruited as many people as possible because he wanted to be powerful. “The Cause”, in reality was completely unproven and unfounded. Lancaster Dodd was a con artist who liked to brainwash and manipulate people on ridiculous facts without providing any credibility or factual statistics to back up his claims. He felt powerful and authoritative when he pronounced these groundless theories because of his very political stance with scientology. In the film, Lancaster knew that he could manipulate and brainwash Freddie Quell due to his irrational, self- destructive and unpredictable nature.

    In Joaquin Phoenix’s brilliant portrayal of Freddie Quell, he gave the audience a portrait of a broken, emotionally damaged man, with a propensity towards violence, anger and deep emotional turmoil. Freddie also was an alcoholic, womanizing scoundrel who did just about anything he could do in order to self- destruct and numb the pain in his life. Freddie’s unpredictable behavior, his emotional detachment with people, his temper and his alcoholism could all be attributed to the traumatic experience he had when he fought in World War II. In 1950, where the film took place, there was not a diagnosis for Freddie’s emotional troubles. However, now in 2015, it seems clear that Freddie suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Therefore, it was easy for Lancaster Dodd to manipulate and brainwash the protagonist, Freddie Quell to become a member of “The Cause”. He did it in order to motivate him to change his unhealthy lifestyle and quit his erratic, alcoholic ways.

    The film also brought to light the issue of religion. This film talked about scientology and its hypnotizing affect on people. It was clear throughout the entire film that everything Lancaster was proclaiming was completely nonsensical and lacked any statistical data. In the film, when Freddie was looking to Lancaster for his guidance, Lancaster’s son, who was a participant of “The Cause”, thought it was ridiculous. He told Freddie that everything his father said was untrue. Throughout the film, his son acted as if he was enthralled by his father’s so-called “wisdom”, but deep down he knew that his father was a fraud. Even though, Lancaster was a nuclear physicist, a best selling author and a PHD, all of his theories had absolutely no credence or factual evidentiary support. Whenever someone in the film confronted him that his theories did not make any sense, Lancaster would quickly get defensive and lose his temper. He hated it when people challenged his theories and make him explain his reasoning behind them. The audience clearly saw that he did not always believe in what he was proclaiming. Due to Lancaster’s insecurity, he would start to lose his temper. The film did not specifically state that the theme of the film was scientology but it was very much implied. The film had a very ambiguous tone and left it to the audience to interpret.

    The performances in this film were very powerful and enthralling to watch. Joaquin Phoenix gave the best performance of his to date, as a man so hell-bent on self- sabotage; he would do anything to eradicate his pain. His performance as Freddie Quell was so believable that it became almost painful to watch him endure his difficult experiences. The audience felt compelled to sympathize with Freddie because he seemed to be completely directionless in his life. This caused him to become susceptible to being brainwashed and controlled by Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a cult. Freddie did, however, proved not to be a victim, but to be his own man. His out-of-control, unpredictability was what fascinated Lancaster about Freddie, which was why he personally took him under his wing. The audience wanted Freddie to ultimately succeed and get out from under Lancaster’s control.

    Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams also gave phenomenal performances as well. Specifically, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who also gives one of his best performances, as the cult leader of “The Cause”, Lancaster Dodd. Philip Seymour Hoffman was such a versatile actor that his legacy will continue to inspire generations of thespians for many more years to come. In his interpretation of the antagonist, Philip Seymour Hoffman brought many things to the table. He was manipulative, narcissistic, calculating, ruthless, mysterious and vulnerable all in one. Even though, he believed he was helping Freddie fix his life and his clients. As an unlicensed doctor, he honestly saw Freddie as the son he always wanted. He saw a little bit of himself in Freddie, which he tried to exploit out of him, to no avail. He also liked Freddie because, ultimately, he was not responsive to Lancaster’s brainwashing because he had his own original, authentic ideas. Lancaster had more respect for Freddie than he did for his own son or his son-in-law because they were completely submissive to him; whereas, Freddie ultimately proved he was the opposite of them.

    Amy Adams also was spectacular in her performance as Lancaster’s current wife and co- leader of “The Cause”, Peggy Dodd. The audience could clearly tell that Peggy was under the control of Lancaster’s brainwashing of “The Cause”. She also proved to have her own mind. Peggy, in many ways, had more control over her husband than he did of her. She also was very manipulative, ruthless and conniving like her husband and had clear disdain and jealousy towards Freddie. Peggy saw Freddie as a threat to sabotaging “The Cause” and would have done anything to keep him from demolishing it. She also saw Freddie as a threat to her already deteriorating marriage. Peggy controlled many aspects of her husband’s life in the film and she made many decisions regarding what stances the cult should make to any outsiders who were skeptical of Lancaster’s unconventional methods. In many ways, Peggy dominated her husband in every sense of the word and proved to be just as conniving, domineering and ruthless as her husband, if not more so. In every intimate scene she was in with her husband, she was either emasculating him or threatening him in some way. She had her husband “whipped”, so to speak. In fact, whenever someone challenged Lancaster’s ideas regarding “The Cause”, she would suggest they attack outsiders because in her twisted mind, the only way they could defend themselves and their stance was to attack people emotionally and physically. She saw no other alternative. Peggy became this way because she was manipulated, controlled, and brainwashed by her husband and her husband’s ideals. It was a captivatingly powerful performance from Amy Adams, where she once again proved that she is just getting better with age.

    In conclusion, I thought the film was incredibly powerful and effective. I loved the film because Paul Thomas Anderson incorporated many themes of religion, scientology, loyalty, manipulation, and brainwashing. I also enjoyed the film because of the exceptional Oscar-nominated performances from: Joaquin Phoenix as the protagonist, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the antagonist, and Amy Adams as the antagonist’s wife. The film was ambiguous on many levels that kept the audience literally on the edge of their seats, enthralled and encapsulated with their uncertainty. Overall, the film was a deep, psychological drama that dealt with many controversial themes that kept the audience questioning things at every turn. It was an astonishing feat by one of the best directors working today: the one and only, Paul Thomas Anderson.

  • Adrian Pollard

    The Master Screening Report

    It is often said that another man’s trash is another man’s treasure. It can also be said that another man’s happiness is another man’s downfall in this harsh world. Why is it that we are sucked in by cliques or groups? Maybe it has to do with an emptiness we feel within ourselves that seems to get filled when there is acceptance by a person or persons. Either way, the social factors that often lead us to assemble in our beliefs opens us up to people that preys on and controls us. The film, The Master, gives us a dark but comedic take on the subject of cultism.

    The Master, directed by the unconventional Paul Thomas Anderson, kind of pokes fun while also allowing the subject of stylized cults to humiliate themselves through offbeat and extreme ideas of what it means to achieve higher purpose. The main character, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), is a poison drinking naval vet who is very animalistic and focused on sex and intoxication. When his commander Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) offers him a “job” on a ship he becomes more of a psychological experiment and pet to the cult known as The Cause. Lancaster often states that humans are not animals but he seems to be obsessed with the idea of converting Freddie’s animalistic nature into what he believes is the correct way of achieving the highest form of human existence.

    The director glides effortlessly through scenes that are very awkward. Paul places markers as to show you who these serious but mentally crazed characters are such as in the opening scene where we see Freddie humping and fingering a sand woman at the beach while also he finishes off with masturbating in the ocean all while in the open surrounded by people. We see the extent of how important The Cause is by Lancaster’s wife Peggy (Amy Adams ) when she masturbates her husband while he is at the mirror in his bathroom reminding him that she is the tamer and concealer of his animalistic thoughts. Finally we get to grasp the breaking of the leash when Freddie decides to leave after he is taken out to an open desert to ride off on a motorcycle and not return.

    Lancaster accepted Freddie’s animalistic nature but only has a selfish means of controlling something that he also bore within himself. Peggy was constantly threatened by Freddie for this exact reason partially it seems because she herself was more involved in The Cause due to her being a behind the scenes control freak. This controlling triangle was a very sickening but balanced view of the social factors that cause us to enter into such intense beliefs or situations due to people trying to fulfill their purpose in this world. Arguably one of the best films made and definitely the most intelligently used explicit cinematography to paint human nature and the groupings we form within.

  • LuLu

    The Master is an American film that first premiered at the 2012 Venice Film Festival. This film was directed, written, and produced by Paul Thomas Anderson who is known for being a master himself on the moving camera. He is great at taking elaborate tracking shots this can be seen throughout the film and all throughout the movie the scenes were very clear. I really like the repeated scenes of the water I love how all the different shades of blue looked and the bubbles of the foamy water. All the scenes were pristine and look as if they were calibrated. I found his method of collaborating with his actors really interesting; they all did an excellent job acting their roles.

    I was really impressed with the acting done in this film. This film reminded me of what a great actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman was and his ability to take on different roles. He really immersed himself in his role of Lancaster. I thought his face expressions were hilarious every time he would take a drink of Freddie’s homemade alcohol mix. He really left his mark behind in the film industry. Joaquin Phoenix did an excellent job as well his portrayal of playing an alcoholic was very realistic. My favorite scene in The Master was with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix when both of them were locked up in the jail. From the arguing to Freddie breaking the toilet my eyes were glued to the screen to see what would happen next. That scene was really intense and both actors used a lot of emotion.

    In class we discussed how wildness was a theme in The Master and I definitely agree! From Freddie’s crazy hook-ups to his toxic drinks and fights he is the definition of wild. Freddie Quell however was not the only wild one, the Master a.k.a. Lancaster Dodd was wild in his own beliefs. The Cause (his belief system) that he came up with was crazy and silly. He was an excellent manipulator who had the ability to brainwash people into believing in this system that was all a sham (even his own son knew). The “followers” of The Cause all seemed so mesmerized by all of Lancaster’s preachings they seemed to hold on to every word he said. I agree with my classmates that maybe Lancaster created The Cause to help himself deal with his own troubles and relied on it to help him get through life.

    Overall, The Master was an interesting film that included a variety of themes such as religion and being a self-made man. The plot was a little confusing at times, however the acting done in this film was great. I think that is what stood out to me the most. I like how it was filmed and how clear the images looked.

  • Mia

    The camera work in The Master was spectacular. You can really see how much thought Anderson put into it. The shot of the ocean water was one of my favorite visuals. While the artistry of the film could be praised over and over in several areas, it’s the characters and situations in the film that leave the audience in astonishment and wonder. As an audience member, I had a few theories about The Master.

    First off, I believe Lancaster was attracted to Freddy because he saw himself in him. Even though Lancaster seems to portray this cool, unbothered wise man, there are points in the film where you see a sliver of his “Freddy-ness.” For example, when he screamed “pig fuck!” at a man questioning him and when he screamed at one of his followers just because she was curious as to why he changed “recall” to “imagine.” He also seems to enjoy “boozing” as his wife would call it, and I think his wife became worried he would fall back into his old ways, thus she decided to sexually manipulate him into sobriety. Lancaster’s wife even said her husband had a history of other wives, which tells me he was impulsive and out of control when making important decisions, like marriage.

    Similar to the theory that psychologists become psychologists because they’ve dealt with their own psychological malfunctions in the past, I think Lancaster is trying to help Freddy be more like Lancaster. It would be interesting to see the prequel to this film and see more of Lancaster’s background.

    At the end, I think it’s interesting how Freddy uses what he learned from the cause and tries to apply it to the English woman he just had sex with. Even though it seems humorous and light, I believe laughter does lead to seriousness. Lancaster mentioned a discovery that was very serious, laughter. I think I now know what he meant by that. Something could start off as very innocent and fun and slowly grow into something serious, like a cult. If you can imagine this, sometimes people need a drink before they can start talking about serious, personal things. Laughter is similar in that it makes someone feel very un-serious and loose, and it is at that moment that they are comfortable enough in their happiness to face the seriousness of their lives with less pain.

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