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REVIEW: "The Master" Is Enigmatically Beautiful

Dian Qi |
September 17, 2012 | 2:13 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell. (Screenshot)
Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell. (Screenshot)
Of the jumble of thoughts that comes to mind after watching Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" (in theaters now), the first and most fitting is that it is enigmatically beautiful. It is certainly a movie that needs to be watched more than once to be fully comprehended. The story drifts from one place to another, never really holding fast to a secured objective, but perhaps that is the point--that there is no certainty or perhaps even objective.

The film revolves around the desperate, miserably psychotic nymphomaniac and alcoholic Freddie Quell, (played marvelously by Joaquin Phoenix) one of the countless psychologically damaged veterans that wandered from place to place in post World War II America. Straying from one job to another, Freddie stumbles across a burgeoning movement known as The Cause, which is led by Lancaster Dodd (played equally astounding by Philip Seymour Hoffman), otherwise known as The Master. 

Many have speculated that the film is loosely based on the origins of Scientology. In actual Scientology, there is a type of counseling known as auditing, during which an individual is encouraged to discover and "free themselves" of their past. In the film, a similar practice called "processing" is centrally utilized by The Cause. The basis of Dodd's Cause is constantly addressed and questioned in the film, once when Dodd's own son even says to Freddie about Dodd, "He's just making it all up as he goes along."

The relationship that blossoms between Freddie and Dodd is one that can be classified in many ways: father-son, master-disciple, or even love story. The two could not be more different, but are strangely attracted to one another, despite often violent verbal squabbling and even a long period of time apart. The reason as to why this is might be that Freddie (though he might not like to admit it) seeks for meaning, self-realization, and perhaps also a person to place his loyalty in, and Dodd not only pities him but is drawn to the influence he can have over Freddie. Freddie's brutish and explosive yet heartbreakingly vulnerable personality is, outwardly, a foil for Dodd's seemingly collected and in-control persona. However, we do see that Dodd internalizes his issues, and as the film progresses, we see his frustration bursting at the seams of his usual external composure.

Anderson often uses close-up shots of the individual characters in dialogue, capturing every extraordinarily played emotion that crosses the characters' faces. The film is shot in 65 mm film stock--something that is not often used in modern filmmaking, but is stunning to look at and also harkens back to the widescreen films of the early '50s during which the film is set. 

"The Master" paints an ambiguous picture of its two main characters, but accurately illustrates an existential time of crisis in American history that can only be described for characters like Freddie--and even Dodd--as lost, seeking something that brings meaning to the evasive yet ongoing nature of life.

Check out "The Master" trailer below.

See what critics and audiences are saying here. Find movie times here.


Reach Staff Reporter Dian Qi here.



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