Film: The Master (2012)
Cast includes: Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator, Walk the Line), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Moneyball), Amy Adams (The Fighter), Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights), Ambyr Childers (Playback), Laura Dern (Jurassic Park)
Writer/Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood)
Genre: Drama (137 minutes)
It’s surreal as the news reaches them. “In just a few minutes the most horrible war in history will be over.” It’s VJ day, and soon the returning sailors will face a new challenge… the post-war world. A psychiatrist shows Freddie Quell the first Rorschach image. Freddie sees pussy. Another image… pussy… a third image… cock and pussy. It’s not surprising that Freddie’s return to civilian life is rough. As a portrait photographer in a department store, Freddie uses darkroom chemicals to make his own booze. Maybe that’s why the job ended so badly. Working with a migrant farm crew, Freddie shares his homebrew with Frank, who dies. “You poisoned him!” Freddie’s escape is mostly a blur. But when he wakes up on a ship, Lancaster Dodd reminds him, “You told me you were an able-bodied seaman looking for work.” Lancaster’s the captain of this ship… at least until it reaches New York. “You’re the scoundrel who made that remarkable potion?” Lancaster wants Freddie to make more.
“You seem so familiar to me…. You’re skulking around because you’ve wandered from the proper path,” says Lancaster, as he invites Freddie to join his daughter’s wedding party. Among the wedding guests, Freddie seems out of place… the haggard face and stooped posture mark Freddie as a man who’s known his share of trouble. “You’ve inspired something in him,” says Lancaster’s latest wife. Lancaster is the Master of a religious cult, called the Cause. In sessions called “processing,” Lancaster takes followers back to past lives. “Our spirits exist in many vessels.” When he processes Freddie, we see that Freddie’s past is dark, but even the Master has trouble drawing it out. The Master not only helps people connect with past lives, he treats illness like cancer. (Shades of Scientology, but that’s not what the film is about.) Not everyone believes in the Cause, and Lancaster’s has run-ins with the law. Lancaster’s wife says, “If we don’t attack, we will never dominate our environment like we should.”
Not everyone wants Freddie around. He’s unpredictable. The Master has problems enough without Freddie’s outbreaks. It’s hard to figure out if Freddie actually believes in the Cause. For that matter, it’s hard to figure out if Lancaster believes what he spouts… or if he’s a charlatan “making it up as he goes along.” Don’t look for this movie to give you answers to the questions or to give you a predictable narrative. In an era when it’s hard to create anything that’s original, The Master is an original and important film. But that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily enjoy it. The acting… especially Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman… is phenomenal. The production design has a surreal 1950s era feeling. The film keeps us engaged even though it’s uncomfortable to watch. “You’ll be my protégé and my guinea pig,” Lancaster tells Freddie. This stunning film about a cult leader and his protégé is already developing a cult following, and it’s not hard to see why.
3 popped kernels
Troubled WWII vet becomes the protégé to a charismatic cult leader
Rated: R (Sexual content)
Distribution: Art house
Tempo: In no hurry
Visual Style: Nicely varnished realism
Character Development: Intense
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought provoking