Posted by Alia Haddad on September 24, 2012 at 9:40 am
The one comment that I think will arise with overwhelming ease as audiences leave Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, The Master, is that this film was not what most had expected. Rumored, marketed, and promoted as a loose biopic of L. Ron Hubbard and the beginnings of Scientology, The Master was definitely not this explicit (if at all), prompting even my parents to half-jokingly call me from Los Angeles on their speaker phone while making their way out of the theater to ask me for their money back after I has mistakingly called it (before I had seen it) a film about the popular cult leader and a devoted follower.
While Scientology was at the basis of The Master, it was not the center of the film. Instead, the reoccurring motifs of water, memory, false-memory, imagination, and past lives that all point to Scientology were used to illuminate the incredibly complex relationship between Master/Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and troubled devoted follower/Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). And it is this relationship, the true focus of the film, which made The Master so good.
To say that Joaquin Phoenix went above and beyond probably all expectations would be an understatement. So committed to this role that it was almost reminiscent of his last role, his two-year faked breakdown in Hollywood and the public eye for the part documentary, part mockumentary, I’m Still Here. What a hell of a movie and role to come back with after we were all convinced for so long that he had lost it. I cannot stress enough the level of craft that went into Phoenix’s portrait: if you see The Master for only one thing, then it should be for Phoenix’s excellent performance, one that will probably win the Oscar (that is if Daniel Day-Lewis’s Abe Lincoln isn’t even better). The rest of the cast was similarly excellent. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams particularly shined, quite expectedly.
As famed director and writer, Paul Thomas Anderson’s intentions were clear, albeit incredibly complex. The whole film felt like an Anderson project, from the repetitive imagery to the sublime factor of each wide shot. While The Master was not what I had expected going into it, it seems silly upon reflection that I would face thought that Anderson would have delivered a straight forward biopic. And thank God he didn’t.
SEE IT (and see it again).