Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: Joaquin Phoenix Gets His Stoner Detective Groove On In Trailer For Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Inherent Vice’ Watch: Joaquin Phoenix Gets His Stoner Detective Groove On In Trailer For Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Inherent Vice’ David Fincher Will Direct The Entire First Season Of HBO's 'Utopia' In 2015 David Fincher Will Direct The Entire First Season Of HBO's 'Utopia' In 2015 Brad Pitt Says 'Fury' Co-Star Shia LaBeouf Is "One Of The Best Actors I've Ever Seen" Brad Pitt Says 'Fury' Co-Star Shia LaBeouf Is "One Of The Best Actors I've Ever Seen" First Look: Kristen Stewart & Nicholas Hoult In Drake Doremus’ Sci-Fi Film ‘Equals’ First Look: Kristen Stewart & Nicholas Hoult In Drake Doremus’ Sci-Fi Film ‘Equals’ John Cusack Says Hollywood Is A "Whorehouse" That "Eats Young Actors Up And Spits Them Out" John Cusack Says Hollywood Is A "Whorehouse" That "Eats Young Actors Up And Spits Them Out" New Image From 'Inherent Vice,' Paul Thomas Anderson Completely Changed The Ending From Thomas Pynchon's Book New Image From 'Inherent Vice,' Paul Thomas Anderson Completely Changed The Ending From Thomas Pynchon's Book Why 'You're The Worst' Turned Out To Be The Best TV Show Of The Summer Why 'You're The Worst' Turned Out To Be The Best TV Show Of The Summer Watch: Ellen Page And Kate Mara Are 'Tiny Detectives' In Hilarious 'True Detective' Parody Watch: Ellen Page And Kate Mara Are 'Tiny Detectives' In Hilarious 'True Detective' Parody New Look: Reese Witherspoon And Joaquin Phoenix In Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Inherent Vice' New Look: Reese Witherspoon And Joaquin Phoenix In Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Inherent Vice' Review: David Fincher's 'Gone Girl' Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Kim Dickens & More Review: David Fincher's 'Gone Girl' Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Kim Dickens & More 10 Female Directors Who Deserve More Attention From Hollywood 10 Female Directors Who Deserve More Attention From Hollywood Miles Teller Says Role In 'Divergent' Made Him Feel "Dead Inside," And He Took Movie "For Business Reasons" Miles Teller Says Role In 'Divergent' Made Him Feel "Dead Inside," And He Took Movie "For Business Reasons" While You're Waiting For 'Interstellar,' Here's Over 100 Behind-The-Scenes Photos From 'The Dark Knight' Trilogy While You're Waiting For 'Interstellar,' Here's Over 100 Behind-The-Scenes Photos From 'The Dark Knight' Trilogy First Look At 'The Dying Of The Light,' Paul Schrader Quits Film Over What Nicolas Winding Refn Calls "Artistic Disrespect" First Look At 'The Dying Of The Light,' Paul Schrader Quits Film Over What Nicolas Winding Refn Calls "Artistic Disrespect" New Images From 'Interstellar' Arrive, Christopher Nolan Says The Film Is A "Mirror" Of 'Inception' New Images From 'Interstellar' Arrive, Christopher Nolan Says The Film Is A "Mirror" Of 'Inception' Watch: Have A Threesome With Very NSFW Clip From 'Maps To The Stars' With Julianne Moore & John Cusack Watch: Have A Threesome With Very NSFW Clip From 'Maps To The Stars' With Julianne Moore & John Cusack The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes

Review: ‘The Master’ Proves A Brave, Sensual Yet Detached Triumph For Paul Thomas Anderson

The Playlist By Charlie Schmidlin | The Playlist August 17, 2012 at 7:32AM

Even amongst its most wrenching scenes of unfettered anger and broken loyalty, a volatile sensuality nonetheless invades every frame of Paul Thomas Anderson’s arresting “The Master.” Populated by characters certain in their sexual and loving instincts yet stubborn in claiming responsibility for them, the film holds an unseen, persuasive force just off-screen to keep each on edge, never fully comfortable in their own skin. However, while the film’s narrative may point to faith as a cause and cure, the end result focuses instead on the reverberating pain in one’s past, and the oblique, often-maddening ways it manifests in the present through incredible performances and direction.
25
The Master Joaquin Phoenix

Even amongst its most wrenching scenes of unfettered anger and broken loyalty, a volatile sensuality nonetheless invades every frame of Paul Thomas Anderson’s arresting “The Master.” Populated by characters certain in their sexual and loving instincts yet stubborn in claiming responsibility for them, the film holds an unseen, persuasive force just off-screen to keep each on edge, never fully comfortable in their own skin. However, while the film’s narrative may point to faith as a cause and cure, the end result focuses instead on the reverberating pain in one’s past, and the oblique, often-maddening ways it manifests in the present through incredible performances and direction.

For Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, a truly unnerving revelation), both his faith and pain lie with women, and every smell, image, and suggestion that’s to do with them. When we’re first introduced to him, posted on WWII naval duty along a beachfront, he alternates between graphically discussing STD treatment tips, fashioning an anatomically correct woman in the sand, and masturbating into the ocean in plain view of his shipmates. As he returns home to California, apprehensively released by his superiors to 1950s California, the film carries this obsession as well, poring over every female body and word with the gaze heaped upon them. Aside from chasing women and picking up odd labor jobs, he is also an amateur alchemist, stealing paint thinner along with a variety of other substances to craft a bevy of homemade liquor. After an experiment during a Salinas work shift leaves a man poisoned, Freddie is run out of town by the other workers, and after a day’s drunken journey onto a luxury ship boasting a glamorous party, he finds himself in the company of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), known to his community of secretive followers as “The Master.” As Freddie listens to Lancaster deem himself a nuclear physicist and theoretical philosopher, but above all an inquisitive man, he laughs, but Freddie notes within the exaggerated claims the conviction he so desperately lacks. “Come join us,” Lancaster beckons, ushering him aboard to meet his wife (Amy Adams) and son (Jesse Plemons), “but your memories aren’t invited.” And with that, the ship doors are closed, the men grow closer, and Freddie finds slow solace in Lancaster’s words that have gathered many already.

The Master Philip Seymour Hoffman

Memory indeed plays an integral part of Anderson’s narrative, as Freddie seeks to run from his tortured past (his father died from alcoholism, while his mother was institutionalized) while also wanting to repair it, but the emphasis is placed not so much on the events that the characters remember, but the charged emotions behind them. Of course, it’s inevitable that comparisons to “There Will Be Blood” will be made, since both films focus on entrepreneurial men seen from simultaneously a detached and intensely personal point of view, but those claims only go so far here. Jonny Greenwood’s score remains the most analogous aspect, with its wood-based, off-kilter compositions, but as a whole, “The Master” plays instead like the heart-stopping strings at the opening of 'TWBB,' only settled into a simmering pattern waiting for their next leap. With his incredible DoP, Mihai Malaimare Jr., and production design team of David Crank and Jack Fisk, Anderson absolutely nails every period detail he’s going for, from costumes down to the impeccably crafted visual style. Speaking of which, if there was any doubt Anderson had about shooting in 70mm, the opening shot of crystal-clear, vibrant blue sea should dismiss those thoughts entirely. There is an immediate and immersive quality to the image here, and combined with the film’s sustained atmosphere of dread, it is altogether an experience at which to marvel.

However, while those looking for a scathing indictment of any well-publicized religion are certain to find similarities, in some cases even direct parallels, Anderson never creates an atmosphere of outright derision. Instead, he crafts an enthralling attempt to track a personal guiding direction behind such a following, using Freddie’s relationship with Lancaster (as well as Adams’ nicely-handled ancillary menace) to drive home the conflict within the subject. In fact, it is in the rare scenes closest to direct analysis – such as when Hoffman displays his barely-veiled contempt of a dinner party skeptic – that feel reaching, providing on-the-nose dialogue that prove inferior to other sublime examples elsewhere. An early scene, in which Lancaster interviews Freddie about his past using a series of test questions, is unequivocally the film’s centerpiece, as both players raise each other’s game with every line and glance to ensure everyone that yes, these actors are capable of truly amazing things.

The Master Joaquin Phoenix Philip Seymour Hoffman

It is in these scenes where Greenwood’s score, along with the superb editing of Leslie Jones and Peter McNulty, shine the most, as Lancaster takes Freddie through “applications” in the homes-turned-treatment-centers of his followers. These sections fall into a fractured rhythm, as scenes fall off into flashbacks and flash-forwards, only to pick back up again twenty minutes later, and it is a credit to Hoffman and Phoenix’s performances that their emotional through-line never feels disjointed. However, it is in Freddie’s trials that the film begins to sag slightly. In Freddie Quell, Anderson has written an immensely passive character to center the film around, and while in its initial reels the sense of meandering spontaneity feels exciting and dangerous, in the latter half it simply feels listless. It is a sprawling film as well, jumping from California to Philadelphia, Phoenix to England, and combined with Phoenix’s wandering journey, the film’s 2+ hour runtime becomes increasingly felt. Combine that with an ending fit for many interpretations, and it adds up to an aggressively layered, distanced finish to a seemingly unresolved narrative.

As Freddie approaches Dodd’s ship in the film’s beginning, he notices on the side the name “Alethia,” the Greek word loosely translated as “truth.” Every character in the film is looking for such a goal, but ultimately, as exampled by Dodd’s exercises for his followers to “return to the womb,” nothing in these people’s lives since their conception will ever satisfy them fully. The world has battered them down, and while Anderson has hinted before at a pessimistic worldview, “The Master” may be his most subtle example of such, while leaving viewers to decide within his brilliant, disorienting latest whether he actually means it in the end. [B+]

Here's a take on the film from our colleague Anne Thompson.

This article is related to: The Master, Review, Paul Thomas Anderson, Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates