Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Laura Dern, Jesse Plemons, David Warshofsky, Lena Endre
Distributed by: The Weinstein Company
After returning from the Second World War, having witnessed many horrors, a charismatic intellectual creates a faith based organization in an attempt to provide meaning to his life. He becomes known as "The Master". His right-hand man, a former drifter, begins to question both the belief system and The Master as the organization grows and gains a fervent following.
It’s been the oddest thing. Lots of critics have now seen The Master, yet there seems to be almost no deep conversation about it. And the couple of pieces I have found have been written with such flowery, non-specific language (regarding intent, not the story) that it feels very, very safe.
So tonight, I saw it… the way it should be seen. In 70mm, yes, but more so, in a big theater, full of people.They were literally wrapped around the block for this sold-out engagement.
And now, I feel like I understand the near-silence.
What is The Master?
Well, there is lights out acting, beautiful images, and raw, undeniable emotions.
But what is all of this in service of… what’s the point?
I think people are a little afraid to stick their noses out and find out In a few weeks that they were “wrong” or don’t match the inevitable consensus. I know that I am looking to a second screening for greater clarity.
But with one look, this is what I think. It’s Fight Club.
I know this doesn’t make logical sense. This isn’t Momento, leaving you to try to rebuild the narrative in your head. It’s poetic. And Freddie Quells is Lancaster Dodd’s youth/id… the man he was before he met his Lady MacHubburd-ian wife… all the things that Dodd has created an entire quasi-religion to – ahem – master.
To not put too fine a point on it, this is, I think, a story of a man becoming master of his own domain… if he doesn’t want to acknowledge that it’s really his wife who is driving the train to something greater.
Dodd lets his inner Quells out more than once in the film. They share affinities for naked women and moonshine-like alcoholic concoctions. And Freddie seems to want to be “better,” but he doesn’t have an Amy Adams and his youthful love is long gone.
There are a LOT of scenes that are all Lancaster & Freddie… even when others are around. Dodd loves Freddie in a way that is both deep and immediate. Who doesn’t love their inner scamp… especially when it’s being held in check.
I don’t want to spoil the movie in any way. You should all have your own experiences of it. But that is my first take. I can’t really come up with anything else that makes sense. Is it just a slice of life? I guess it could be. But PTA is a million times smarter than that.
P.S. This movie has almost nothing to do with Scientology in a literal or even metaphoric way. The film does have a leader who is coming up with ideas to help clean/ease/manipulate the minds of others. And we watch him shift and adjust and rewrite those notions. But that is truly just a backdrop. None of the central Scientology things – aside from opening with a personality test – are in the story. Non-issue.