Even after watching The Master twice in as many days, I’ve still not got full mileage out of this captivating drama film by filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson.
The strength of The Master, as recognized by the Academy with three nominations in the acting category, is in the performances, with Joaquin Phoenix (Freddie Quell) terrific in his role as a bizarre sex-crazed World War II navy sailor, exhibiting quirky mannerisms in a visually mesmerising display.
Phoenix’s character is clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress after witnessing combat. After the war ends, Freddie is given a visual world association test by a US government employee, and strangely recognizes each inkblot pattern as a pornographic item. But whether the military service worsened Freddie’s mental faculties is questionable, as he later admits to having had sex multiple times with his own aunt.
Freddie’s mental problems are worsened by his addiction to creating and consuming dangerously intoxicating drinks, as he will mix anything, even naval ship torpedo fuel, with his concoctions. It is through his talent of creating booze that he truly connects with Lancaster Dodd, a man on the fringe of starting a cult called “The Cause”, and a character heavily inspired by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.
Philip Seymour Hoffman convincingly plays Lancaster Dodd, a character who through his ability to sell himself, earns the hero worship of his followers through wild existential stories.
The chemistry between Dodd and Freddie in The Master is powerful, with the two taking turns to steal screen presence. The pair has an inexplicable fascination with each other that almost borders on the homosexual. But Freddie’s behavior is highly erratic, and when the police come to arrest Dodd for fraud, Freddie’s violent defense of his master also lands him behind bars. It is here that Freddie starts questioning Dodd’s wild theories, and Dodd’s wife Peggy (Amy Adams) begins to question Freddie’s loyalty and his behavior.
The Master features a beautifully outlandish soundtrack that perfectly complements the eccentric nature of the film’s characters. It also features some breath-taking cinematography, shot on the rare 65mm format to create a film that is almost as undeniable visually, as it is cerebrally.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 10th, 2013.
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