The Master Review: Helps Us Find a Kindred Spirit in a Lost Soul

An original idea, a great Writer-Director at the top of his game, and an actor trying to find his way back into prominence. Need more?


I picked a doozy for a first film review, wow. I'll do my best to describe the level of craft and Mastery that is P.T Anderson's latest, I'm not entirely sure words can. Alright here goes, have you ever been so lost in a work of art, or anything thought provoking, that you're not quite sure how to react afterwards? Was what I've seen really as awe inspiring as I think it was? It helps to have someone else there to confirm it, and in this case luckily I did and they more than reaffirmed what my own eyes told me. It wasn't just the person that was sitting next to me in the theater that convinced me either. An original idea, a great Writer-Director at the top of his game, and an actor trying to find his way back into prominence. Allow me to indulge on a movie-going story a little. My expectations were high, higher than I ever like them to be. I knew it something to do with scientology some cult-like organization a few years after WWII. I knew Joaquin Phoenix wanted back to his normal, non-rap career oriented, actor self. I knew P.T Anderson's previous work in There Will be Blood, one of the most stark, gritty and gripping character pieces on film. So, it is easy to see why my expectations were as large they were. The trailers, score and subsequent images/posters only added to the hype. On to the actual story on screen: Joaquin Phoenix, who will almost certainly receive an oscar nod (and deserves to take it home), plays Freddie Quell a Naval Seaman returning from the Pacific at the end of WWII. He finds solace continually at the bottom of the bottle, any bottle, whether it be liquor or paint thinner and liquor or gasoline and liquor. Clearly he is, shall we say, detached and isolated from everyone else. After leaving his ship for good, he goes from paycheck to paycheck from department store photographer to lettuce farmer. Until by chance he discovers Lancaster Dodd, a superb Philip Seymour Hoffman, a man who says he can change him for good. We want to believe in Dodd's tall statement because we really truly do want Freddie to get better, but how far will Freddie fall into the charismatic cult-leader's spell? Literally from the first image of water turning in the wake of a battleship, clearly Freddie is adrift, and the first notes of the Johnny Greenwood's overture strings played, I was immersed. From start to finish I wanted Freddie to overcome and triumph over both his inner demons and the puppeteering of Dodd. Just from his expressions and manners, we know Freddie has been through hell. Which is why this Dodd-based cult is such an inviting prospect for him. He is finally accepted into group of people, he can interact freely without fear of ridicule or rejection. There is a great scene with Dodd and Freddie during a "processing" secession, the first steps in becoming part of the organization, in which Dodd probes deep into his would-be follower. It is a moment of intense emotional release for Freddie, the only way thus far he had been able to vent was through violent outbursts, and a rare catharsis for him. In that instance, he probably would've given Dodd his soul to feel that way again. It is a common theme in Anderson's work: that we are the products of our blood family, of course, but we are defined by the family we create for ourselves. That is the scary part of cults, they really can become second family with all the support and care of a true family. So, for people like Freddie whose home life was broken and destructive, it is more appealing than anything we can possibly imagine. No one else was willing to give him the help he needed to recover from his struggles. So, unlike last year's indie darling Martha Marcy May Marlene, this group is in fact helping the main character with his emotions. Channeling his disillusionment and confusion into something constructive, a man who knows exactly what he wants out of life. Though the question subtly and subversively is at what price? What is most intriguing and the heart of the film are the two interactions occurring simultaneously. One being between the beaming cult-leader and the poor lost soul. Their dynamic is near flawless, they each need one another just as much as the other as it turns out. The second interaction is between the Director and his audience, like all the great masters of cinema the real star of the film is P.T Anderson's invisible hand manipulating our sight. For just as Dodd hypnotizes Freddie, puts the audience into a trance of being completely invested in the outcome of Freddie. In the beginning, the lengths he goes to quench his obsessive drinking is laughable because we believe haven't been with him long enough to know the extent of the problem, but as the story progresses we find no joy in the alcoholism no matter the ludicrous methods. Do me a favor when viewing this in theaters: If you can turn yourself from the screen look at the audience members at various times, I bet you'll see the look of great concern on all their faces. It is this transfer of emotions and thoughts that makes this movie a near-masterpiece. A perfect companion piece to There Will Be Blood, in which the main character, Daniel Plainview (an oscar winning turn for the Great Daniel Day Lewis), was completely disconnected with everything and everyone except his capitalistic endeavors. We want to see the downfall of this inhuman sociopath. While here with The Master we are invested emotionally in Freddie because he wants to be a part of something greater, he just doesn't have any of the tools (a universal struggle to be sure) to do so. Another brillant Anderson touch was shooting the entire film in 70mm. Seeing this work of art in crisp, beautiful and vibrant 70mm film stock was an utter joy. That width back in the old days were used to shoot large sweeping landscapes, while here it is used to perfection in detailing the faces and expressions of all the actors. Every crease and groove can be seen the way it was supposed to, Joaquin's face is tired and leathery in opposition to Hoffman's smooth and inviting features. Needless to say this is one of the year's best, one of the best in Anderson's rising career and contains the best single acting performance of the year sure to be rewarded come awards season. The Master is an experience not to be missed under no circumstances. The Master opens in the UK on November 2, 2012.

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