“Good science, by definition, allows for more than one opinion, otherwise you only have the will of one man, which is the basis of a cult,” a man tells Freddie, while Dodd stands by idly. In fact he seems almost defeated or embarassed when his philosophies are challenged and it’s his wife Mary-Sue who appears to be pulling some of the strings. She bristles at “having to explain ourselves” and proclaims that “the only way to defend ourselves is to attack” which has always been the Church of Scientology’s modus operandi. Dodd’s questions to Freddie also seem like a page directly from the Church’s Oxford Capacity Analysis, a personality test given to potential members. “Are you thoughtless in your remarks? Do your past failures bother you? Is your life a struggle? Is your behavior erratic? What are you running from?” And in the line that supposedly gave Tom Cruise pause, Dodd’s son Val (Jesse Plemons) tells Freddie, “He’s making up all this as he goes along. You don’t see that?”
In light of a recent high-profile divorce, we can already see the media running wild with speculation about “The Master” being an damning indictment of Scientology -- and certainly there is some of that as we’ve pointed out -- but Anderson always has something more ambitious on his mind and that was clear from the original rough-draft screenplay (skewering Scientology wouldn’t be particularly new ground anyway, “South Park” covered that pretty brilliantly back in 2005.) As co-star Laura Dern told Slate last year: “In terms of the subject of the film, and all of the films he makes, he dances so comfortably in the gray. When he takes on the subject matter, any subject matter, he is there to examine what it offers; not just take anything down. It’s funny when people think filmmakers are irreverent. It’s like, ‘Ooh, what’s he doing? I heard the movie’s about dot dot dot.’ They go, ‘I bet he’s really going to attack it.’ In fact, he tries to uncover what he loves. What the worth is in something.”
Remember when people assumed “There Will Be Blood” would be some kind of George W. Bush-slamming treatise on oil and capitalism and what they got was a father/son character study? Chances are, there are going to be plenty of Hubbard-like qualities in Hoffman’s character and they shouldn’t be dismissed. But Anderson is a filmmaker smart enough to know that using real life as a jumping off point is going to be a hell of a lot more interesting than your standard biopic. And we’re thankful for it.