Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Master has arrived, a review

Are we humans really a part of the animal kingdom? Can we get to a point where our emotions never cloud our decision-making? Can you control someone who appears not to be ruled by anyone? Someone who abides by his own rules and refuses to repress his animalistic urges? The Master, aka Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), is about to find out whether or not loner, drifter Freddie Quell can ever be saved. His wife (the always wonderful Amy Adams) has already decided that it's impossible. As for Freddie himself, perhaps he doesn't believe there's anything there to be saved.

Still, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) strikes a close friendship with Lancaster, albeit a short-lived one. Two men: master and apprentice, constantly at odds with each other yet amused by each other. The question isn't what Lancaster sees in Freddie, that's obvious: Freddie is someone Lancaster might be able to help, to completely justify his philosophical and religious teachings (The Cause, for which he is the leader of). Lancaster thinks he can tame Freddie's animalistic outbursts, that he can turn him into a perfect man. He tries this by a number of different methods, none of which prove to be particularly useful. Freddie confounds him and in many ways Lancaster is repelled by him, but it's those things that repel him that makes Freddie that much more attractive to him. Lancaster really does not want to give up on him, he feels a connection to him, he feels they've met before either in a past life or the present one.

But what does Freddie see in Lancaster, that's what I ask myself. Does he merely see him as a friend? Someone who can supply him with work? With Freddie, the relationship may be much simpler. Here is a directionless drifter, a former sailor and WWII veteran, unable to hold a job for any period of time. Freddie happens upon The Cause when he wanders onto their boat. Immediately, Lancaster thinks he can help Freddie. Freddie appears to merely go along for the ride. He participates in Lancaster's question-and-answer sessions for the fun of it. Perhaps he's flattered by the attention Lancaster provides him. Despite the fact that Freddie often questions Lancaster's philosophies and methods, he vehemently defends the man at every turn, unwilling to hear any dissenters.

The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson's sixth film, is Anderson at his most dream-like and also at his most riskiest. I can't imagine another American filmmaker more willing to take the types of chances that PT takes with this film. Whether it's shooting in 65mm, or the subject matter, or the inevitable backlash that may come from it... PT goes for it. In many ways, this isn't really about Scientology at all. It really only is on basic terms. The film really boils down to its characters and ultimately the relationship between Lancaster and Freddie. Then again, the film does raise some interesting questions, not specific to Scientology either. There are those who are lost that claim to be saved by religion, but what about those who simply can never be saved? Or, better yet, what do they need to be saved from? Someone like Freddie, is he wrong for the way he acts? Can he change? My answer is yes. Freddie Quell can absolutely be changed. He's a static character only in this movie, but he can be changed. The only problem is that Lancaster Dodd can't help him. Dodd's strategies and methods could never work on Freddie. They're just not practical on someone like him. What Freddie responded to, when it came to Lancaster, was love.

Love is really what The Master is about. Freddie isn't searching for a master to rule over him, he wants to be loved. Whether it's through affection, through sex, Freddie's wild behavior really appears to boil down to him being deprived from sex. Here Lancaster Dodd is trying all these complex ways to try to heal to him, but Freddie's mind doesn't need to be healed. It's his soul, his heart. Freddie wants to love and be loved, that's what he longs for. The reason why Lancaster and Freddie could never continue their friendship is because Lancaster ultimately cannot accept Freddie for who he is no matter how much he interests him. For Freddie goes against everything Lancaster's been striving for... perfection. But alas, human beings can never be perfect. We aren't wired to be perfect, despite Lancaster's insistence on the opposite. Therefore, someone like Freddie who wears his flaws on his sleeves is simply too human for Lancaster.

For Joaquin Phoenix, this is a performance of a lifetime. Not having been in a feature film since 2008, he comes roaring back in The Master. He's completely sucked into this role, embodying Freddie Quell in every fathomable way. Phillip Seymour Hoffman also does a superb job as Lancaster Dodd, giving him humanity and charm, making it really hard for you to dislike the man even if you disagree with his philosophies. Lastly, Amy Adams nearly steals the show with her quiet intensity and there's a scene between her and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in particular that you will never forget.

Like There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson has done it again for me. This film has consumed my entire brain and it might be doing so in deeper ways than with There Will Be Blood. The Master doesn't have any answers. It defiantly remains devoid of answers. Because of that, it leaves me with so much to think about, to ruminate over, that this will be a film I'll need to go back to numerous times. I will happily do so also because The Master is so rich in so many areas. The acting, the cinematography, the shot composition... PT Anderson is in full force here. He has topped himself yet again. We often expect truly great films to end with an exclamation mark, but it's funny, they almost never do. The Master is relentlessly compelling and original. There won't be another film this year that will even come close to its audacity. I believe in The Master.

Grade: A+


Justyn said...

Great review Ken! I can't stop thinking about it either. I have to see it again and SOON! I couldn't sleep last night and I think The Master had more than a little bit to do with it. Is that strange? Haha. Nice work.

Novalee55 said...

I can't wait to see it!