Archive for September, 2012


It’s challenging to explicitly articulate how I feel about Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest experiment, The Master, after just one viewing. With its estranged set of characters and languid structure, the film crumbles the concept of clarity, and it yearns for multiple viewings in order one to gain an understanding of Anderson’s thesis. However, his deliberate aimlessness archives the true beauty of cinema, and he successfully illustrates the frustration we as humans can harbor when we are forced to explain ourselves.

The Master contends emptiness against self-actualization when Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a volatile, misguided alcoholic falls into the confident hands of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour-Hoffman), a theatrical philosopher who also revels in drunkenness. Dodd is the father of “The Cause”, a religious movement intended to give members peace by spiritually connecting them with their souls through simple yet intense thought exercises. Although these exercises appear to be fruitless, their repetitive executions persuade people into thinking they have been healed. With this confidence, Dodd believes he can raise Freddie from his savage, primordial state to a higher plane of humanness.

Slowly, Freddie learns about the insincerity of “The Cause”. Dodd’s own son, Val (Jesse Plemmons), somberly states that “He is making it all up as he goes along,” and dissenters make rational invectives that this religious group is nothing but a cult. Even Freddie’s primitive perspective notices how pointless Dodd’s exercises and speeches are.

Dodd and Quell’s relationship staggers between friendship and mutual hatred. The two are ostensibly counterparts to one another; Quell is an unleashed animal incapable of being tamed, while Dodd is a puppeteer who has mastered the art of conversation. However, their altercations display how alike they are as men; by relying on the bestial technique of yelling and cursing to secure their points, Lancaster and Freddie automatically lowers themselves to primates, becoming equivalent for a few awful moments.

Freddie and Lancaster play their roles particularly well. However, their relationship doesn’t allow them to be themselves completely. Lancaster cannot simply talk his way into healing Freddie. His exercises are all ideal, but they don’t provide concrete improvement. Lancaster’s repetitive processes of spiritually guiding a person into his or her past are frustratingly intangible, and the overall vagueness never truly cleanses anyone; it’s not until Freddie takes it upon himself to physically encounter his past that he finally gets some sort of catharsis. Freddie is certainly guided by “The Cause”, but Lancaster misses several crucial elements to completely cure him.

At times, Anderson misses some opportunities in The Master too. He has several characters aside from Lancaster and Freddie to play with, but they simply melt into the background. PTA started his career with major epics, Boogie Nights and Magnolia, two films that featured an array of strong, unique characters. He progressed by keeping the lens on just 1 or 2 people with Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood. This film could have been a perfect amalgam of his past and present, but he doesn’t really develop an arc for anyone besides Lancaster and Freddie. The emptiness is however filled by the gorgeous cinematography and alluring score. Together, they create an unsettling tone that bleeds with tension and despair.

I’ve been thinking about The Master for about a day and a half, and I still haven’t established a strong opinion on where the characters end up. It’s funny that Lancaster’s “Cause” implies that we are never quite where we ought to be anyway. We simply have trails that can lead us to happiness, and only he can take us there. Hopefully, more viewings will lead me down a trail of understanding (only Anderson can lead me there). Until then, I’ll have to just think about it all.

8.5 out of 10


Read Full Post »