The Master is the latest film to reach the heights of pretentious film-making. It’s the story of two men who come together; one is a traumatized war vet, the other the leader of a new-found cult movement. It’s a story about the relationship between these men. It’s a story about a man’s search for meaning in existence. It’s a film about temptation. Or perhaps its just Paul Thomas Anderson blowing smoke.
The Master was not an enjoyable movie to watch. It felt like there were gaps all throughout the narrative, pieced together by some mumbling exposition by the Leads. Now while I appreciate that Anderson didn’t feel like he needed to hold the audiences hand through the story, I still hated the way he chose to do it. There was a cold distance to this movie which not only made it difficult to follow the context, but also made it very difficult to actually care about what was happening.
A lot has been said about the two lead performances by Juaquim Phoenix as Freddie Quell and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodds. And they are indeed good. Hoffman demands the sort of presence that a cult leader needs while Juaquim plays his character as off-the-rails and possibly insane to his core. I also really appreciated the cinematography. The framing of shots was quite interesting, such as when the frame is slit in half by the boat railing. So this movie is not without its strengths.
But ultimately I finished this film still not caring about the characters and wondering what the point of it all was. Because lets face it; the characters pretty much end off in the same point they started. Now, I’m not so obtuse that I don’t notice the themes running throughout the film. Faith and spirituality, the temptation of sex, perhaps even a father-son relationship (though I actually feel like the relationship was under-explored, especially on Dodds’ part). And I sure that on repeat viewings these themes could be studied and analyzed a lot further. However, the first viewing has left me with absolutely no desire to ever revisit this The Master again.