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The Master (2012)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Price Carson, Mike Howard, Sarah Shoshana David, Bruce Goodchild, Dan Anderson, Matt Hering, Andrew Koponen, Patrick Biggs, Jeffrey W. Jenkins, Ryan Curtis, Jay Laurence, Abraxas Adams, Tina Bruna, Kevin Hudnell
Synopsis: A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future - until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity and language
We are the masters of our own destinies in life
Arguably the most intriguing movie of 2012. "The Master" isn't like most films, where it follows a simple narrative that'll appeal to most audiences. In fact, most of the themes and messages this movie tries to present might go over most viewers heads. However, if you're able to grasp these themes, then you might find that "The Master" is possibly one of most interesting films ever made.
Although, I do hesitate to call "The Master" the best movie of 2012, but it's definitely a mesmerizing movie to watch, as it invokes various themes pertaining to how we all yearn to belong somewhere in the world; while also showing how dangerous our sense of belonging can be when it's misguided.
As some readers might've heard, there's been some controversy about this movie from many Scientologists, who claims "The Master" portrays the religion in something of a bad light. Although to be fair, the cult aptly dubbed "The Cause" is never fully explained in this film. Sure, there's a few brief explanations here and there, but it's never revealed how this movement got started to begin with, nor the purpose of it.
All we know is that "The Cause" refers to people recalling their past memories, and past lives, as it pertains to ingrained prenatal injuries. Some might look at this film, and say it doesn't explore the concepts of hypocrisy pertaining to religion more thoroughly, as there are elements of that. In the movie, "The Cause" is led by a self proclaimed doctor named Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who doesn't mind educating those about his movement, nor is he ever shy from an opportunity to help convert others.
Yet, if you even dare to question his methods and logic behind his studies, then he loses his temper quite easily. It's almost as if he refuses to acknowledge any other point of view, than his own. To make matters more interesting, Dodd's own son, Val (Jesse Plemons), thinks his father is merely making everything up, as he goes along. Yet, he would never dare say this to his father's face, as he'd rather put on a fake smile pretending to believe in "The Cause"; while secretly thinking that it's crazy. Indeed, many skeptics are right that the film could've explored these elements more thoroughly.
Heck, there were even opportunities for the movie to explore the concept of how religious cults like "The Cause" can be known for brainwashing it's followers, even if they do know it's a lie deep down within themselves, but that wasn't the focus of the movie.
No, the focus was on a tortured soul named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). Most of Quell's past is something of a mystery, but we are given enough information about him to know that he's a man that simply yearns to belong somewhere; even if that place is following a "Cause" that he doesn't necessarily believe in.
He knows deep down that he's a no good scumbag, yet he wants to believe there's hope for him out there; in spite of his actions. Another interesting thing is that Freddie doesn't respond well to authority figures; which makes the relationship between Dodd and Freddie a bit more complex.
On the one hand, it looks like Dodd is the only man that's willing to help Freddie, by using his methods called "Processing", where it involves asking the subject a series of questions repeatedly. Some of the "Processing" methods get intense, as there's one scene where Dodd tells him that he has to answer them without blinking. If Freddie blinks, then he has to start the process over again by answering the same questions from the start.
He even forces Freddie to walk from one side of the room to the other, where he touches the wall on one side, and the window that's on the other side. Whenever he touches the surfaces of both those places, he has to describe what it feels like; while keeping his eyes closed the whole time.
Dodd plays sort of a surrogate father figure to Freddie in some ways, as he tries to steer him on the path he believes is right. But as I alluded to earlier, Freddie doesn't care much for authority figures, so this only adds to the drama between their relationship.
Freddie is a lost soul, who recently gets out of the Navy. He has nowhere else to go, but due a series of events, he finds himself boarded onto Dodd's ship. At first, Lancaster Dodd doesn't tend to trust him, but keeps him around because he likes the taste of his hooch. As it turns out, Freddie is a bit of an alcoholic, and suffers from an tragic past. Not to mention severe anger problems.
One scene for example, we see Freddie and Dodd end up in prison. From there, we see a mental breakdown Freddie that would make Robert De Niro's "Raging Bull" performance seem tamed by comparison.
The only person he's ever truly loved was a high school girl, whom he has chosen to distance himself from. It's never made clear why he chooses to distance her, but you almost get a sense that Freddie knows he's a scumbag, and perhaps feels she deserves better.
As I mentioned earlier, "The Master" themes and messages may fly over most people's head, but if you're able to grasp the symbolism behind the message this film tries to convey, then you might find yourself immersed in a very creatively told story. Granted, the movie can be a bit confusing at times, as you literally have to pay attention to every minute of it. However, it's worth the effort checking out, as Paul Thomas Anderson does a wonderful job putting this together. In fact, I'm a bit surprised Anderson wasn't nominated for this movie, in either the "Best Original Screenplay" or "Best Director" categories.
However, where would a movie be without the actors? Joaquin Phoenix is sensational in this film, and definitely deserves to be praised. Not only does he bring raw intensity to his character, but he also manages convey a lot of internal conflict and emotion that allows the audience to sympathize with him; in spite of the fact that he says very little throughout most of the movie.
As for Amy Adams, I thought she played her part rather well. Although I wouldn't say her performance is Oscar worthy by any means, but for the part she was given to work with, Amy carries does a great job. As for the Oscar nominee, Philip Seymour Hoffman, he was simply brilliant in his performance.
Overall, I doubt "The Master" will appeal to most audiences, as you really have to be into the artsy side of movies to understand the symbolism behind the story itself. However, if you're into those kind of films, then this might be right up your alley at a rating of four out of four.