What’s it called?
What’s it called?
Are you lying?
What’s it called?
Is it any good?
You blinked! Back to the beginning.
Paul Thomas Anderson directs Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams in a film about the allure of the cult, and the subjection of self to a master. The second World War has ended and Freddie Quell (Phoenix), a troubled navy veteran, struggles to adapt to normal life. He drifts from place to place and from job to job, being fired for assaulting customers or for giving them strange alcoholic and borderline lethal concoctions that he brews himself. Eventually Freddie finds his way onto a boat that belongs to Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) and The Cause.
The Master is a difficult and frustrating film. I thoroughly enjoyed the first twenty minutes or so, right from the start you know you’re in for a treat with Phoenix’ performance. He’s incredible here, reminding me in no small way of Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood and also of Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. Dodd becomes fascinated with Freddie and begins using him as a human guinea pig for his ‘experiments’. I got the sense that Freddie finds some sort of belonging amongst The Cause and yet he is constantly doubting it and he gets frustrated with the tasks that are set for him. There is one scene where Dodd has Freddie walk from a wooden wall to a glass window, back and forth, back and forth, asking him to touch each surface and tell everyone what he feels. Freddie does so, and becomes agitated when he feels nothing but wood or glass. This is how I felt watching The Master. I felt as if I was being told to walk back and forth between wood and glass, trying to feel something that wasn’t there, and after two-and-a-half hours of this I was just dazed and confused.
As mentioned, the performances by Phoenix, Hoffman and Adams and the expectedly beautiful cinematography are all worth the price of admission. The Master is by and by a character film, and it’s here that the acting and script shine. Where they fall flat however is in the plot. Once Freddie joins The Cause nothing really happens. It’s disappointing, as the loyalty and faith that the members of The Cause have in Dodd and his teachings is very interesting to watch. My favourite scene involved an exchange between Dodd and a sceptic who tears into him and asks all the right questions. To be honest I was on the sceptics side, and herein lies one of the films flaws: I couldn’t sympathise with any of the characters. I get that it’s supposed to be an insight into cults, both the leaders and members, but what they believe was so foolish I just couldn’t get behind them. There was no redeeming quality to them, they were all so wacky or, in Freddie’s case, violent, that I just didn’t care.
The Master and There Will be Blood are both character films more than anything else, yet Daniel Plainview made for far more interesting viewing than Freddie Quell. There were human aspects to Plainview, something you could relate to in some way, however small, so that when he does go off the rails you feel something. Freddie is a violent lunatic for most of the film, and Dodd is a cult leader for most of the film and so there was no investment for me. The rivalry and conflict between the greediness of an oil man and the sanctity of the church in There Will be Blood is the reason why Plainview smacks Eli around, and why Eli forces Plainview to submit to a public confession. In contrast, Freddie beats up people who speak out against The Cause, yet there was no doubt in my mind that what these people were saying was fair, so when they get attacked I felt nothing but sympathy for them, and dislike for Freddie.
Everyone has a master. Even the master has a master in his wife, Peggy (Adams). I feel as if my master in this instance is Mr Anderson, who I’ve been following for some time now and have enjoyed the majority of his teachings, but this latest book is too inaccessible, too difficult and he changed – WHAT DO YOU WANT HELEN!?
Watching The Master is like watching a cackle of mummified hyenas maul to death and then eat a convicted child molester who sings loudly as he dies. At first you’re enthralled, you’re seeing something you’ve never seen before, it’s vibrant, colourful and a little bit surreal, but in the end you’re left in the dark as your questions about some of the more bizarre details remain answer-less Where did the mummified hyenas come from? Why is this child molester out in the savannah instead of in jail, and why the hell is he singing about a slow boat to China?
3 out of 5
“You’re the bravest girl I’ve ever met. Now stick it back in, it fell out” – Freddie.