Review: The Master

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

Rating: ★★★★

Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the most highly influential directors of the last twenty years, touched on the subject of religious subservience in both Magnolia and There Will Be Blood.  However, with this film, he has magnified the theme and filled the screen with beautiful yet intensely unsettling scenes that demand an unflinching attention from the audience.

We follow the story of Freddie Quell, a down and out drunk, who is described as a rascal and a scoundrel.  It is an incredible and Oscar worthy performance from Joaquin Phoenix.  The camera is drawn towards Freddie’s aging, brutal and scarred facial features.  We are always on edge with him, never too sure what he might do next.  It is uncomfortable to watch such a realistically played drunken man who is intent on self-destruction.

His story corresponds with the beginnings of a religious cult called ‘The Cause’.  An organisation led by the charismatic leader, Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.  This is the other huge performance which forms the structural core of the movie.  Again, Hoffman must be in the running for awards this year.

In a drunken state, Freddie falls into a boat housing ‘The Cause’ and is subsequently enrolled into a mechanism of transformation from scoundrel to respondent follower.  The development of these two men and the religion that binds them is both fascinating and gruelling at the same time.

It is clear that ‘The Cause’ is a thinly veiled allusion to Scientology.  Much has been made of this connection, but in truth, the film is more personal than just an attack on such a large organisation.  This film is about lost souls; hopeless minds trying to find a purpose in life.  It is one of the most intense and brutally imagined explorations of loneliness you may ever encounter.

Perhaps loneliness is the cause of religious subservience.  Perhaps it is the cause of groups like Scientology.  You are left to ponder whether the ‘The Cause’ is the either the answer or indeed the source of the problems experienced by the characters in the film. Anderson leaves it open to debate in this respect.

Unanswered questions, unfinished plots and elusive characters can be frustrating.  Yes, the film is not without flaws.  It is over indulgent at times, too slow in its exploration, but it is always challenging.

Anderson makes the audience think the movie through in their minds at every turn.  Whatever you feel about this film, love it or hate it, The Master will challenge you.  Surely this is one of the most important reasons why the cinematic medium continues to be so important in the 21st century.

By Mark Muir} else {