Sep 28, 2012

THE MASTER: A MOVIE REVIEW



THE MASTER:  A MOVIE REVIEW                        Grade:  A+

It’s the weekend.

The Main Art Theater


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. 


13 comments:

-K- said...

I don't have much to add to this except to say that I don't want many contemporary movies but I intend to see The Master.

And becuase of this I rented "Punch Drunk Love," also by Paul Anderson. I could only get thru the first 30-40 minutes. I just could not watch Adam Sandler for another minute. Curious casting decision.

Banjo52 said...

K, judging by your photos, you might like (or hate? or at least respond to?) the movie's angle on religion or "religion." I don't think I saw Punch Drunk; I'm not usually a Sandler fan, tho' he did one dramatic role that surprised me favorably. Have you seen There Will Be Blood? I can see some basis for comparing it to The Master.

TheChieftess said...

I came over via Jean's paintings...and have seen you on Altadena Hiker and Pasadena Daily Photo to name a few...just so happens that I've been wondering about this movie!!! The cast is what has drawn me as well...
thanks for the review!!!

altadenahiker said...

Huge Phillip Seymour Hoffman fan. One of those guys like Maggie Smith and Woody Harrelson I could watch as they buttered and ate toast for an hour.

Banjo52 said...

Chieftess, welcome. All 3 actors are at the top of their game. (Laura Dern shares their top billing, but her role's a lot smaller).

AH, me too on PSH. I'd never have thought of Maggie and Woody in the same anything, yet I see your point. Same for Amy Adams for me.

altadenahiker said...

We should do an Eat Toast actor series. I've planned to, but haven't gotten around to it. Jason Robards belongs there, maybe Tommy Lee Jones. Would be curious to know some of your picks.

Stickup Artist said...

I'd follow P.T.A. anywhere he wanted to take me, (cinematically that is). Love your movie theater photo. Aren't those movie theater carpets the best??

Brenda's Arizona said...

Wow, I have never heard of this movie. Thanks for the intro. to it.

Banjo52 said...

AH, not sure just what an Eat Toast series is. But for superior acting (in the U.S. [let's not try to compete with the Brits] I'd start with PS Hoffman, maybe Dustin too, and Streep of course. James Earl Jones? Brando? Glen Close maybe, tho' the TV soap she's on now doesn't thrill me. Not DiNiro. Not Tommy Lee for me. Those two keep playing the same role movie after movie. Maybe Claire Danes? I've seen Lauren Ambrose being awfully good on TV, but haven't seen her new flick. Charles Wilkinson, if I have the name right? And the older guy who played Nixon. Kevin Spacey. Paul Giamatti. Laura Linney!!! I bet I'm leaving out some obvious ones . . .

Stickup, yes to wild carpet. I'm pretty sure our big chain theaters are less interesting. This is a fairly small art theater.

re: PTA: Should I try Boogie Nights? I'm pretty sure I've not seen it.

Brenda, good. No, wait. Now we say, "It's all good." Fist bump?

Ken Mac said...

that carpet reached out and grabbed me !

Banjo52 said...

Ken, me too. It was an idle gesture as I tried to figure out a new cell phone with bells and whistles. Makes me wonder how much longer cameras (as we know them) will be around.

Jean Spitzer said...

If anything, the skill of the actor can make bad writing even more excruciating to sit through.

I also love PSH, but that doesn't mean I can happily sit through every movie he has appeared in.

Maybe live theater, though.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

The other day I opened up Face Book to discover a friend ranting against the movie "The Master" After that, the only reason I could think of seeing it was because it IS based on the story of L Ron Hubbard. It's a favorite of mine because it's genesis is in Pasadena. Cal Tech, Jet Propolsion Laboratory, Artists, the occult, Jack Parson, Aleister Crowley etc Rich material and the dark side to Pasadena's image of roses and conservatism

As for actors, I think Kelly MacDonald is the one to watch. I've been following her for awhile. Damian Lewis is the other

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