With the book now closed on 2012 films and awards season in full swing, we thought this would be a good opportunity to dive a little deeper into one of our favorite films of last year, Paul Thomas Anderson’s most recent opus, “The Master.” Though not your typical awards bait, the film has nonetheless managed to rack up an impressive number of accolades including the title of Best Film of 2012 by Sight & Sound, Rolling Stone and the Village Voice among others.
The production had a long (and well documented) road to the screen but we’ve yet to really dig into exactly how much the film changed from that rough draft we read back in 2010 to the version that landed in theaters this past September. The Weinstein Company recently posted the WGA nominated script on their FYC site and though it bears only a few noticeable differences from the earlier draft we reviewed back in 2010, it is significantly different from what ended up onscreen. Since “Punch-Drunk Love,” Anderson has become a more confident storyteller, allowing his films to evolve as he’s making them. Joaquin Phoenix described the process back in September saying, "Paul will write many, many scenes that won’t make it into the movie," adding that Anderson doesn't worry about continuity, is open to improvisation and often scenes that might take up one-eighth of a page can shoot for a day and a half.
Though many have noted how much of the footage from the teasers & trailers didn’t make it into the final film -- an intentional move by Anderson and editor Leslie Jones to give of the flavor of the film without actually spoiling it -- the screenplay also takes significant detours from the final film with entire deleted sequences, subplots and dialogue that radically alter the DNA of the piece. And while the film is ultimately a more compelling effort, it’s fascinating to compare the two versions. We would guess only about 60% of what’s on the page ended up onscreen so if you’re at all curious, the screenplay is definitely worth reading as a literary companion to the cinematic offering. While some moments in the screenplay now seem extraneous, by excising certain scenes Anderson has changed the nature of various relationships between the characters and obscured certain aspects of the story that were made clearer in the text as you’ll see below. Since we already highlighted many of the overt Scientology connections in our script review, we won't dwell on them here. Needless to say they are there if you're looking for them, many were scaled back for the final cut.
We’ve broken down the script into sections to note the film’s biggest deviations from the text and needless to say, there will be major spoilers so you should only read on after you’ve seen the film. Before we dig into the big changes, we thought would be worth pointing out that in the screenplay Freddie Sutton (not Quell) is described as being 28 years old (as opposed to the 38 year old Phoenix) and Peggy (Amy Adams) is called Mary Sue though we’ve referred to her here as Peggy to avoid confusion.
One of the most striking sections of the film is the opening 10 minutes featuring Freddie on the beach at the close of WWII, drinking his special brew out of a coconut, humping a sandwoman and explaining to his shipmates how to get rid of crabs. The first thing you'll notice when opening the screenplay is that absolutely none of this is in the script. Instead, the screenplay opens directly with Freddie being given a psychological exam by an army doctor in a scene similar (though not identical) to the one in the film.
After this, in the script, Freddie escapes from the hospital leaving a note that says “I’VE GONE TO CHINA. SEE YOU AGAIN SOMETIME. THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP.” This moment can be glimpsed in a deleted scene from the film and helped to thematically tie The Master’s choice of song at the end of the film, “(I'd Like To Get You On A) Slow Boat To China,” back to this moment. Subsequently Freddie visits a gambling club and gets mugged outside before we finally arrive with him at his job at the department store and the text matches back up with the film.