By Christian DiMartino
Every so often, a film comes around that divides people to the point where people just don’t quite know what to make of it (see: 2001: A Space Odyssey, and… okay, I know there is more than that). Paul Thomas Anderson has usually been known to make films that divide people. His masterpiece, Magnolia, opened to both praise and hate back in 1999 (I say it’s the best film of the 1990s). His 2012 masterpiece The Master is another example.
The film revolves around a drifter named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), who has just gotten out of the Navy. The Navy has had quite the impact on him. He’s a mentally unstable pervert, to put it simply. One thing leads to another, and Freddie hops aboard to boat.
But this isn’t just your normal boat. No no no. This boat actually contains a cult, who believe in something referred to as “The Cause.” The leader of this movement is named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Upon meeting Freddie, he sees a damaged man, but yet he also sees an opportunity to cure him. So Lancaster and his wife Peggy (Amy Adams) take Freddie under their wing.
The way that Anderson tells this story is almost dreamlike. While what is happening onscreen is fairly clear, it also just feels like a hallucination. Maybe it has something to do with the gorgeous cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. Whatever the reason, this dreaminess, I’m assuming, is where the hate comes in.
After seeing The Master, one isn’t quite sure what they’ve watched, or why they’ve watched it. But that is kind of what I love about it. Anderson is a filmmaker who isn’t afraid to take risks. His filmmaking techniques are unconventional, and sometimes strange, but yet this adds a fascinating element to whatever story he is trying to tell.
I found The Master deeply fascinating. It’s a bizarre tale, but yet it’s such an interesting one. What led Anderson to tell this story remains a mystery. But what he is trying to sell here is purely riveting.
This is also just a master-class in acting. Phoenix, one of my favorite actors, gives what I’d call the performance of his career. Freddie is a dark, bruised character that I found pretty frightening, but yet I felt for him the entire time. Hoffman, a tremendous talent that we lost way too soon, gives one of his best performances as well. Adams, always lovely, is still lovely here. Duh.
The cinematography is beautiful. The score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is genius, as it was in Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. The screenplay is ingenious. Hell, I just think the whole thing is phenomenal. Maybe that is just because I am blinded by Anderson love.
I can say that it is not a film for everyone. But isn’t that why we love film in the first place? Don’t we, as moviegoers, love to be challenged, caught off guard, given a show, introduced to something new? The Master manages to do all of these things. I’d consider it something of a miracle.