Sep 28, 2012
THE MASTER: A MOVIE REVIEW Grade: A+
I almost chose not to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master because I’d heard it centered on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, about whom and which I know and care little. But the core cast convinced me I should go: Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic leader of a philosophical, faux-scientific, theological group that probably deserves the label of cult; Amy Adams as his wife and probably his brain, his Lady Macbeth; Joaquin Phoenix as Freddy Quell, the disturbed, violent, needy stranger who rode into town.
Are we humans merely animals or special beings? That query is worth consideration on its own terms. And we need to know and care nothing about Scientology to be to be entranced and frightened by the main characters in The Master, all of whom live on one or another kind of psychological and moral ledge. The movie is far more about these characters as humans than any doctrines of cult, philosophy, or religion. These fine actors hit every note perfectly.
An additional miracle in the characterization is that such extreme psyches manage to involve us so completely. Maybe we too, without fully realizing it, live on ledges and edges, pulled toward people, organizations, and ideas we don’t entirely understand, much less trust. We are herd animals, and if we are starving, we follow a leader and his organization. That’s almost a working definition of political, theological, and moral danger.
Or maybe it’s like going to the zoo. These characters are so other, and so fierce, that we forget we might be staring at important aspects of ourselves. Whom and what do we follow out of needs that are quasi-rational at best?
Even if the characters were less gripping, we’d probably be carried through the 2.5 hours by the visual intensity of The Master. Practically every moment of every scene overflows with still photographs so splendid that masters of the camera are humbled.
The final two scenes offer an ambiguous verdict on the condition of Freddy Quell (Joaquin Phoenix’s drifter). Is man an animal or a superior species? Is isolated man anything more than a walking illness, a danger? Yet how much help was there, is there, in the comfort of the group? The movie leans toward answers, then withdraws; ambiguity is part of its power throughout, including the final images, and that prevents a simplistic assessment of all we’ve been witnessing.
Posted by Banjo52 at 11:31 AM