The Master: As a gift to Homo Sapiens, Paul Thomas Anderson
Alright, I’m just going to cut right to the chase, here. Paul Thomas Anderson is my generation’s Stanley Kubrick. The dude takes years to make movies, and puts a level of hardship into each one that is unmatched by any other director in hollywood, in my opinion. His films are epic in scale, always controversial, are widely fawned over by the film community and mostly overlooked by the average weekend film goers. And like a fine cinematic wine, they get better and better with age. PTA’s new cinematic work of art, The Master, is no exception, and is a sure shot contender for Film Of The Year.
While PTA’s previous film, There Will Be Blood, was a glorious middle finger to Christianity, The Master is a glorious middle finger to Scientology. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character, named Lancaster Dodd, is basically L. Ron Hubbard, the creator of Scientology, except here, known as “The Cause”. Lancaster believes that the world is TRILLIONS (“with a ‘T’!”) of years old, and that every person has lived multiple lives, bouncing from vessel to vessel, having the ability to “recall” any singular moment from each life lived. The only problem is that Lancaster more or less just seems like a guy who enjoys manipulating people, convincing everyone around him, as if some sort of puppet, while they all seem to believe in The Cause more than anything else.
Which is where Joaquin Phoenix comes in. His character, Freddie, is a lonely fucked up individual. His mind constantly drifts in an out of thoughts about gratuitous sex, and he loves drinking rocket fuel or basically everything on this planet that you are NOT supposed to actually drink. Just a totally wayward dude. Freddie enters Lancaster’s life, who takes it upon himself to take Freddy under his “masterful” wing, if you will, giving way to some of the most gripping scenes in recent memory. The two’s relationship is a very strange one. It often feels like Lancaster uses Freddy as his way of acting upon all of the impulses that are frowned upon within The Cause, such as sex, violence, alcohol, etc., while Freddy never really gives the impression that he believes anything about the cult, despite constantly defending Lancaster, out of some sort of strange loyalty.
As I said, some of the most gripping scenes in recent memory are shared between these two characters. Such as a scene where Lancaster gives Freddy a test, (or an Application, as they are referred to within The Cause) where he is told to quickly answer a series of personal questions without ever blinking. If he does, the application starts over from the beginning. The questions start off simple, and gradually get more and more intense, all while the camera is staying focused on Freddy’s face, never switching to another angle. It becomes such an intense sequence that I didn’t even realize that I had stopped breathing. When Freddy is finally allowed to close his eyes, and the camera cuts to black, I was practically gasping for air.
Another such sequence is one where Freddy and Lancaster are thrown in jail. In another one shot take, Joaquin Phoenix absolutely ravages his body during a violent outburst of rage. He slams himself around the cell, thrashing against the steal bars, slamming his head into the bunk bed, and kicking a porcelain toilet not only off of the wall, but shattering the toilet as well. It’s this type of performance that left me hoping for a “Best Actor” award for Joaquin. Philip Seymour Hoffman holds his own, as well, also giving just as chilling of a performance, just in a more subtle way. The two actors turn in the best performances of their career in The Master. It’ll be very interesting to see these two square off against Daniel Day Lewis with his performance of Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg’s Lincoln, come Oscar season.
The Master is packed to the brim with Oscar worthy performances. Not just from the cast, nearly ALL of whom deserve award recognition, but from the likes of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, who provided the film’s score, Mihai Malaimare Jr. for his remarkably beautiful cinematography, and of course PTA’s directorial control. Greenwood’s score is nearly identical in style as his score for There Will Be Blood, as it furthers his exploration with avant-garde classical composition. Maybe it’s because of Radiohead’s already fairly avant-garde approach to music, but Greenwood just seems like such a perfect fit for a PTA film.
I think the greatest fit for The Master lies within the cinematography, though. This was the first PTA film to not have Robert Elswit as the DP (Director of Photography), but Mihai Malaimare Jr. lived up to all previous bars set by Elswit’s never-ending beautiful photography. The film, shot on 70mm print is surely the most gorgeous film you’ll see all year. The level of clarity, as well as the dry muted colors, occasionally splashed with a dollop of bright blue left my jaw on the floor for nearly the entire film. While I was screened the film digitally, you could still get a grand sense of how beautiful the 70mm film stock looks. There is no reason that Malaimare Jr. shouldn’t win an Oscar for his amazing work on this film.
As I was sitting here typing out my favorite scenes from the film, I started realizing that more and more kept coming to mind. The Master is a movie that sits with you long after viewing. And it’s been sitting with me for days, as I’ve taken nearly a week to write this review. But the more and more I keep thinking about it, the more and more I’m realizing just how much more fantastic this film was than I initially perceived it as, which was already pretty high. Much like There Will Be Blood, which I walked out of thinking “Well, that was… something.” ended up becoming my favorite film of all time, The Master is a film that I urge you to spend some time reflecting on, not just by yourself, but with friends. See it multiple times, and be thankful that we live in a world that allows a man like Paul Thomas Anderson to make such thought provoking cinematic art in a time when Hollywood is steady pumping out remakes of remakes of remakes, and the 30th Madea sequel.
I give The Master 5 out of 5, and a big approval from Lancaster Dodd:
By Richard Pepper