The Master Screen 31 articles

The Master


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  • The Master drifts for long expanses, like the wanderer at the heart of the film, running on only the fumes of drama and action. As befits a filmmaker accustomed to working on broad canvases, the themes Anderson deigns to tackle here are de facto capital-M Major, his dual subjects suitably larger than life; odd, then, that the film itself feels so withdrawn and scaled back, like an aspiring epic rendered slight in manner and form.

  • Dodd’s counterbalancing figure, the clenched Freddie, is so difficult to grasp psychologically (at least for me) that the film didn’t seem to build to the sort of dramatic, even grotesque peaks we find in other Anderson projects.

  • Ponderously deliberate and demanding, it slows into a rattlesnake-swallowing-a-mouse pace, one that makes There Will Be Blood feel like the giddy Boogie Nights. And still, even in this short amount of time from last night, the film has grown in my mind. The spell could be attributable to an arrestingly dissonant orchestral score--full of plucked strings and bruised swells--by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood.

  • Fascinating, but it's just too strenuously symbolic for my taste—a film that begs to be analyzed (primarily via its id/ego/superego schema) without first offering itself to be superficially enjoyed. I'm concerned that PTA is becoming over-reliant on jarring-weirdness-within-an-ostensibly-naturalistic-context for its own sake.

  • Despite the enormous performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, and despite the fact that the story is essentially about two men, Anderson cannot help focusing the film on its central character. There Will Be Blood was a radical departure in Anderson’s career; The Master displays similar scope and weight but has a more ambiguous texture.

  • What Anderson is continuing to excavate here is a fear that behind every great man is a totally faulty reason for being: Dirk Diggler's fame proves he's talentless, Daniel Plainfield's millions built him a void, and Frank T.J. Mackey's congregation echoes his inability to love or be loved. Anderson's powerful men are always building cruelty and futility, and their reward is loneliness.

  • Eyes caved in so much that to converse he needs to tilt his head back and squint at his interlocutor, arms dangling and crook'd behind him, a frail body bent in some twisted parody of “sea legs,” Phoenix is the embodiment of a neurotic mind and discomfited spirit misshaping its bodily casing.

  • In 70mm, a format normally reserved for event films and epic depictions of combat, Anderson depicts one of the most ordinary things in the world: an American con man and his sucker. The Death Valley "climax" invokes (intentionally, I'm pretty sure) Greed. Insistently using this most epic of formats to highlight the banal, Anderson both ensures that his film will be seen on a gigantic, clear screen, and that attendantly you'll be forced to notice the obvious: this story is uniquely American.

  • This intentional smallness becomes The Master's major flaw. What makes the film's second half so frustrating is the way it refuses to resolve any of the problems Anderson introduces so potently—through careful cuts, visual shorthand, and immersive juxtapositions of sound and image—in the first half. The film creates Freddie, and then languishes in him.

  • A testament to Anderson’s own strange (in this day) focus, The Master wends its way toward a conclusion with weight and poignant intimacy; it's more musical in its spiritual and psychological movements than dramatic.

  • “The Master” is often spectacular and never less than handsome, and it has numerous moments of disturbing and almost electrical power. I can’t say, after one viewing, that I found it moving or satisfying as a whole, but I’m also not sure it’s supposed to be. This is an almost apocalyptic tale of thwarted emotion — love cut short — set in a pitiless land of delusions.

  • The indeterminate spaces of Anderson’s film leave plenty of room for the viewer to fill in, making The Master easily the best movie this year to talk about. It isn’t a great film – but it has a great film rattling around inside it, the story of deadlocked Freddie Quell, a dynamic study in stasis.

  • PTA pushes the theme of Thwarted Masculinity even further than in Punch-Drunk Love, making a film directly in the spirit of Frank T.J. Mackey from Magnolia: "Respect the cock!". They try to tame him, in the name of religion or self-improvement, but it doesn't take... so the violent man rides off to nowhere, never any closer to his lost masculine Eden of climbing trees and wrestling on the beach half-naked.

  • What makes Quell such a fascinating and, in his own way, heroic figure is not that he resists succumbing to The Cause in this instance but that he so casually re-manifests his innate being, which they have attempted to obscure.

  • Epic in scope but free of fat, The Master is, in the end, a fascinating companion piece to There Will Be Blood, another study in megalomania. It's also rich in humanity, a quality that can sometimes play second fiddle to Anderson's grand vision.

  • The Scientology exposé angle is easily its least interesting aspect. Better to see it as a continuation of There Will Be Blood’s devouring fathers and sons, a luxuriating, sensuous spectacle, a clash of contrasting faces and acting styles, and a scabrous comedy that purposely deranges the old movie tropes about troubled loners getting miraculously cured in therapy.

  • Anderson’s visual style is ultimately more audience-directed than consciousness-representative. If the film is a therapy session, the viewer is the analysand; we are Quell to Anderson’s Freud. Interpreting the grotesque nudes as real or imagined or otherwise is entirely a question of taste, of what thematic pattern one wishes the scene to perpetuate, and reflects our own predilections more so than any underlying allegory.

  • It’s an immaculately photographed film, but on a decidedly more miniaturized pictorial scale than the grandiosity Anderson has been building and refining throughout his career... With its lengthy scrutiny of human faces, its flexible telephoto master shots, and its restrained, un-showy production design, The Master finds the appropriate visual matches for this fragile attention to acting.

  • If [There Will Be Blood] suggests the corrosive power of industry (oil), let me propose an opposite formulation for The Master: the corrosive industry of power (religion).

  • A film of breathtaking cinematic romanticism and near-complete denial of conventional catharsis. You might wish it gave you more in terms of comfort food pleasure, but that's not Anderson's problem. You've just seen too many movies about incommunicative fuck-ups who manage to break down their defenses at some convenient third-act moment, assuring that order will be restored. By not opening up that valve, The Master forces the question of whether personality change is possible--or even advisable.

  • Many paying customers will line up for The Master—a fortunate few will line up to see it in 70mm—expecting a thinly veiled adaptation of last year’s New Yorker profile of apostate Paul Haggis. They are destined to be disappointed. Anderson is too interested in Hubbard and Scientology to be content with merely condemning them. He is so interested that he has envisioned them within a larger narrative beyond the film itself.

  • Hoffman brilliantly and astonishingly plays Dodd as Charles Foster Kane; his channelling of Orson Welles’s performance is as eerie as it is exhilarating. The grandiloquent master-builder is also a splendid curator of his personal attributes—the closeups of Hoffman, with his rigidly separated strands of hair, his unyieldingly bright and clear gaze, his insinuating voice, and his bluff, life-loving, Falstaffian cheeks convey a sense of florid order, of flourishing, overflowing vitality.

  • Unlike Freddie, who is all elbows physically and all thumbs emotionally, and whose fight-or-flight instincts are uncontrollable, its maker absolutely knows where he’s going, and how to get there. The no-man’s-land he arrives at is not the destination of an artist adrift but sign that PTA has pushed past a whole host of boundaries en route to making the first truly sticky, maddening, and unshakeable movie of a career that is looking pretty major indeed.

  • If Lancaster’s greed and lust for power unavoidably recalls Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, in some ways a closer counterpart to The Master is the director’s Boogie Nights—another period drama about American outcasts who share a mutual, utopian delusion. Like Boogie’s protagonist, Phoenix’s character thinks with his dick first. Clearly part of his attraction to the cult is the seeming availability of willing, smiling women.

  • Behind it all is Anderson's Zen-like refusal to hit all the usual plot points or tidy up his characters' messy lives. In fact, the movie's "happy" ending is actually disorienting; just as Dodd keeps his followers off balance, Anderson remains firmly ambivalent to the end. Who's ready to see it again?

  • The multiple story lines of earlier Anderson films give way to the dyad in which Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd circle around each other in a slow dance of attraction and repulsion. The simplification of structure yields an operatic power, with all superfluous details elided and the drama grounded in these two figures.

  • The Master is [hard] to characterize. It’s a play on film history, an unresolved love story, a statement about conformity and rebellion. Above all it’s a struggle between two characters and two epochs, a duet in which nothing resolves or comes to a conclusion. It’s as wide-open and complex a masterpiece, and as ambiguous and puzzling a film as has appeared in America since David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive or Todd Haynes’s Safe.

  • People who called The Master nihilistic are missing the point. The film laments the emotional toll of nihilism, and its power resides in Anderson's disinterest in playing his characters against one another as he did in There Will Be Blood.

  • ...What I had found frustrating upon two viewings back in 2012, I suddenly found strangely poetic and emotionally profound... Emotion versus intellect, action versus thought, wilderness versus civilization: These fundamental forces of humanity are placed in direct opposition to each other in The Master, and the vividly contrasting performance styles of Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman are crucial to understanding why these dichotomies feel so potent as they play out onscreen.

  • [My theory that Freddy is actually a dog] was seemingly confirmed by a scene in which Freddie, coming home to Dodd’s house after a spell in prison, hugs his “master” and is then wrestled to the ground. As the two roll around on the residence’s front lawn, playfully grappling with each other and laughing with abandon... it is difficult for the viewer to comprehend this scene as in any way realistic if it is not understood that Joaquin Phoenix is in fact playing the part of a pooch.

  • Paul Thomas Anderson’s ambitious, powerful and ultimately elegiac masterpiece centres on the question of whether man is, in fact, an animal... It all ends cryptically – and hauntingly. A mysterious phone call, a wistful serenade, an unseen goodbye. Repeat viewings confirm that this singular creation of Dodd was indeed Hoffman’s apotheosis, which would be apt, and even funny, if it weren’t so, so sad.

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