39. The Master (R) - Runtime: 137 minutes
Starring: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
I absolutely love PT Anderson. I thought There Will Be Blood was the best movie from 2007 and should have won Best Picture over No Country for Old Men (a fantastically great movie, too!). So I was eagerly awaiting his next masterpiece, The Master. The hype surrounding this movie was immense - was this movie about Scientology? And how would Joaquin Phoenix fare, back from his fake retirement? At the time I was watching this movie, I felt immediately betrayed - this wasn't the movie I thought was advertised. In fact, throughout the whole movie I was feeling bitter about the direction it was taking and how slow it was going. But after a day or two and reading more and more about the movie (thankfully The Daily Dish had an exceptional ongoing discussion about the movie), The Master has grown on me. I really did enjoy it, I just didn't realize it at the time.
The movie focuses on Freddie Quell, a veteran of WWII and a lazy drunkard who will find pretty much anything to quench his thirst (at one point there's a flashback to his naval days as he unscrews one of the bombs to get the fuel out so he can drink it). He's a man who only has two things on his mind: sex and booze. One night he stumbles onto a boat only later to be found out by Lancaster Dodd (such great names!), a man who has founded a worldview (basically a cult) that tries to pursue a higher state of being for mankind - The Cause. On the boat, Dodd finds a faithful companion to help him further his goals. The movie slowly (and I mean slowly) follows these two around as Freddie tries to learn from the Master while Dodd himself is trying to gain more validation in the world.
The movie doesn't focus too much on Dodd's Cause, however, one of the best scenes in the movie revolves around Dodd's processing procedure. In this scene, Freddie is asked questions and he cannot blink or hesitate and if he does, the questioning starts over from the beginning (they are as common as what's your name? to have you slept with anybody from your family?). We see him stumble and fail, but immediately get back to answering the questions. It's a compelling scene - Dodd trying to pull something out of Freddie that Freddie does not want to give up. Credit PTA for making this part so riveting. I was frozen in my chair the whole time.
The acting is superb - Joaquin Phoenix is enigmatic - he mumbles and stammers through his lines which is annoying at first, but you understand who the character is much better because of it. And Hoffman is superb - you don't quite understand how this man became this powerful and has everybody under his spell until the scene where he's dancing around singing and clapping. Freddie just sits in the back, watching it all happen and imagines all the women in the room naked. The movie is chock full of this sexual deviancy and there is enough to interpret the movie as sexual fantasy/empowerment.
In fact there's a ton of layers that can be peeled away at the movie - there's a lot to dissect and after watching the movie I recommend reading this small article at Vulture on five different interpretations of the movie. It's incredibly riveting stuff and I highly recommend any movie lovers should watch this. It's a great showcase for some powerful acting and directing. It's truly a bizarre movie that needs to be chewed on for a while and possibly seen a second or third time to really unwrap the whole package.
This is a movie that moves slowly and if you're looking for more of a thrilling drama that dishes on Scientology, this movie is not it. It's a character study and a well-directed film that raises more questions than answers. I won't be surprised if the movie earns a ton of Oscar nomination - it's most definitely deserving of it. I wouldn't call it my favorite movie this year, but it's one of the year's best, no doubt.
Rating: See It!