Matthew Trask – ‘The Master’ Review The Master “A masterful journey into a scarred veterans psyche doubling as an allegory

for scientology.” Since his 1997 debut, ‘Boogie Nights’, Paul Thomas Anderson has had a reputation for challenging genre conventions and bringing us interesting films that often act as intimate character studies more than narrative pieces. Though Anderson hasn’t always crafted perfect films (‘Punch Drunk Love’ is testament to that) his filmography is generally a glowing example of a filmmaker with a firm grasp on both writing and directing. At first glance his 2012 film “The Master” might seem an overlong, character study that contains an ensemble of self obsessed characters but after second and maybe third viewings, you’ll see that there is more meat to this pie than you first tasted. The film introduces the character of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a navy WWII veteran, as a scarred and sexually frustrated man from the opening moment. The initial sequence of Quell on a Pacific beach during the final days of the war, offers a view of Quell in his most natural surrounding while juxtaposing the environment with his behaviour. The moment where he becomes slightly too intimate with a sand sculpture of a woman is as visually striking as the picturesque views of the American oil fields in “There Will Be Blood”. His character is ultimately flawed and in an almost teenage mentality from the moment we meet him. His character is constructed from a melting pot of ideas of post traumatic stress, sexual frustration, regret (amongst others), and remains interesting as the film progresses but it is in his interactions with Lancaster Dobbs (Hoffman) that we see the film achieve some of its most interesting moments for example a taut encounter where Freddie is ‘Processed’ and inducted into ‘The Cause’ particularly stands out. Many have pointed to the films lack of narrative as a weakness that leads the film astray. I would argue that these reviewers miss the films central conceit, which is to convey the sense of hopelessness felt by these veterans as they are thrust from war back into normal life. To add a narrative to this film would rob it of its frenetic brilliance, which mirrors closely the frenetic frame of mind possessed by its protagonist. It is interesting that following the war the number of cults similar to ‘The Cause’ increased. Anderson proposes in ‘The Master’ that the reason for this is the fact that these men had long found their place to be on the battlefield and are now, with no war to fight, without a place. ‘The Cause’ accepts Quell and provides this place that he craves as many real cults did for veterans following the war. Of course the film doesn’t rest with this idea as Anderson, the writer, toys with the protagonists frame of mind showing that ‘The Cause’ might not have been what Quell is really looking for. It is in the presentation of this scientology-inspired cult ‘The Cause’ and its alcoholic leader that we see the film find some of its most thought-provoking ideas. When a scientist questions Phillip Seymour-Hoffman’s master, Lancaster Dodd, an uncomfortable sense of foreboding builds as Dodd ignores the mans probing interruption “Excuse me”. This line prompts an outburst as Dodd stands

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Matthew Trask – ‘The Master’ Review vehemently behind his the ideology he has created and shows that he is as mentally unhinged as the films central protagonist. The arresting use of the childishly colloquial phrase “Pig-fuck!” is an example of Anderson mixing the characters of Dodd and Quell together to show that they are connected in their characters motivations and mentality. This scenes uncomfortable grilling of Dodd offers seeds of doubt as to ‘The Cause’s’ believability, which is what will leave the audience with food for thought and a topic for conversation well after the first viewing. But the true master here is Thomas-Anderson who uses his camera much like a paintbrush in his work. Here he opts for the wider 65mm lens and then proceeds to fill each millimeter of it with lavish shots of American landscapes and his lead actors sweaty and sometimes naked bodies. His direction is brilliant and unsettling as he coats each frame with a strange green/grey hue that shrouds the events taking place in a strange unreality, as though we are looking back into the past through the mind of an unreliable narrator. ‘The Master’ is a strange beast. It is more character study than movie, though it draws the viewer in with each frame. Not only does Anderson continue his track record of innovative works with stimulating themes, he elevates his directorial status with the use of a simple 65mm filming format that evokes the period setting. With memorable performances from both Phoenix and Hoffman, a visual style indicative of its 50’s setting and a soundtrack that boasts some of the most unsettling and chilling themes of recent times, ‘The Master’ is one of this years best. I just hope the Academy recognizes this at next years Oscars when they dish out those golden statues.

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