There are few directors that make mesmerising films about absolutely nothing like Paul Thomas Anderson. Itâ€™s for this reason that itâ€™s very difficult to describe exactly what The Master itâ€™s about. But at the same time, there are no hidden meanings. Thereâ€™s nothing to â€œgetâ€. Everything is laid out for the audience to interpret. Itâ€™s like a good novel. And just like a novel, you are tempted to revisit it every now and then.
The Master is probably the most novelistic film of the year, that never really breaks away from one manâ€™s imagination. It doesnâ€™t really reach a climax like a traditional film either, more of a breaking point. With Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) we have just two men trying to make sense of a world still only just managing to recover from the horrors of World War II. And they discover that there is no real master, just two sides to a very complex coin. And both sides are looking for answers, even if they donâ€™t quite know what the question is.
Naval veteran Freddie Quell arrives back home in America after fighting in the WWII. Heâ€™s very unsettled and doesnâ€™t really know what his future is, so he just stumbles around for a while waiting for something to happen. Then he meets Lancaster Dodd, known for a large part of the film as the master in question. Heâ€™s the charismatic leader of The Cause, a rather interesting sect that Freddie becomes tantalised with.
Joaquin Phoenix brings a superb edge to the character of Freddie Quell. Itâ€™s like heâ€™s read his lines, noted what emotion or reaction is needed, and shuffled them. Itâ€™s not entirely a work of genius, but for the most part Phoenix is totally unreadable, and is the unlikeliest of heroes. For people who find this king of storytelling dull, Phoenixâ€™s performance should be able to keep their attention. We really do have no idea how heâ€™s going to act from scene to scene.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is really the biggest surprise here as Lancaster Dodd. He shows a new side to him that we havenâ€™t really seen in his previous work. Heâ€™s funny, charming, and enthusiastic. When Dodd and Freddie are together, you can feel a real clash of egos. Itâ€™s a tension that really drives the film. There is more than a gentle hint that Lancaster feels a little emasculated by his wife Peggy (Amy Adams). Sheâ€™s very tough and business-like. There are many occasions when it seems if anyone can be described as a master, itâ€™s her.
This is one of the real beauties of Paul Thomas Andersonâ€™s film. Each scene is left wide open for the audience to interpret. It certainly will be a great film for audienceâ€™s to talk about, partly because of the presentation of Doddâ€™s cult The Cause. It looks and sounds like Scientology, and Anderson thinks thatâ€™s okay. Heâ€™s intelligent enough to admit that while many of itâ€™s activities are unorthodox, or even illegal, it does work for some and thatâ€™s good enough for him. He certainly doesnâ€™t paint Dodd as some maniac, or Freddie a brainwashed innocent. Anderson thinks if you want to come to that conclusion, you should reach it yourself.
While The Master is a film open to many forms of interpretation, that doesnâ€™t mean that it canâ€™t have a big impact. Some scenes are so memorable and powerful that they will stay with the audience for a long time after they leave the cinema. Dodd and Freddie continue to collide with each other, possibly because theyâ€™re trying to cope with an inconvenient truth; it really is impossible to recover from the past.
Itâ€™s naturally being tipped for Oscar glory, and deservedly so, if only the audience saw it that why. When it opened in the US it was met with a rather mixed response, with some people probably feeling a little alienated by Paul Thomas Andersonâ€™s style of storytelling. The conclusion of the film certainly disappoint some people expecting a crescendo. Never the less, The Master is poetic, beautifully made, and is the boldest movie to come out of the US in 2012.
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