Wednesday, September 12, 2012


After watching The Master on Saturday, my friend John Cribbs jokingly said that it almost made him want to become a scientologist. Obviously he was joking (I hope) but that statement still holds some weight. Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film isn't exactly the scientology bashing movie that most of us thought it would be (or at least what I thought it would be). Sure it shows some of the bullshit behind the self help belief system known as "the cause" (a belief system clearly based off of dianetics/scientology) and it does hint at things like embezzlement and fraud, but overall I didn't think this film was as critical as it should have/could have been, and it didn't go as deep as it could have gone. Actually it doesn’t make scientology, cults or mindlessly following someone seem so bad. Not to say that Anderson should have made some anti-scientologist propaganda movie but The Master could have been better (I understand that I'm in the minority with this belief but it is what it is). And hey, maybe I set myself up and built up all these expectations for a movie when I shouldn’t have (lord knows I had a lot riding on this and wanted it to be great).
I have other issues with this movie like some of Joaquin Phoenix's mannerisms, the lack of Laura Dern's screen time and the ending, etc. It just lacked soul in a lot of parts. I know some of you reading this just wanna hear that it’s a masterpiece, and it isn’t my intention to ruin this for you guys but overall I was disappointed (although I will probably see this again in the theater). Now - this is the first major exploration in to the world of scientology on the big screen so I do give some credit to Paul Thomas Anderson for taking on the subject (even if he did kind of half-ass it in my opinion). If you're already a fan of Anderson you probably won’t be disappointed, and I imagine there's a lot to be excited about; this is his first film in 5 years, there was some uncertainty as to whether this movie (which passively deals with a touchy subject) would ever get out of post-production hell, and its Anderson & Hoffman's first collaboration in a decade.
However, if you AREN'T a PT Anderson fan (and I've heard some understandable reasons as to why people aren’t) this probably won’t do anything to sway your mind about him. For those of you familiar with his work, The Master is closer in style to There Will Be Blood (with a few dreamy elements from Punch Drunk Love) than anything else. Naturally there's some slight Altman influence (has there even been a PT Anderson film to NOT feature some influence from him?) but The Master is also reminiscent of Kubrick's style as well.

The Master is loosely based on the early days of L. Ron Hubbard and the birth of his self-help/faith based belief system known as dianetics or as it’s called in the film: "The Cause". In the film Joaquin Phoenix plays "Eddie Quell" - a troubled alcoholic drifter with a talent for making homemade liquor. After one of his co-workers drinks too much of it and falls under some kind of alcohol poisoning (he may or may not have died), Eddie, worried he’s gonna get blamed, goes on the run and hides out on a cruise ship that turns out to be under the command of Lancaster Dodd aka "The Master" - a charismatic writer & intellectual who's in the midst of writing his second novel. Dodd is also in the early stages of developing a belief system that he feels will push mankind forward (at the start of the film he already has a small following staying with him on the boat). Naturally there are skeptics of Dodd and his belief system (Dodd's own son being one of them) and some even feel he’s on the verge of creating a cult.
Lancaster Dodd is immediately fascinated by Quell and takes him under his wing (the story is told from the perspective of Quell instead of Lancaster Dodd). Dodd (clearly modeled after L Ron Hubbard) is obviously drawn to someone like Eddie Quell because he represents that kind of insecure, vulnerable, lost soul that a cult leader would prey on. That's really the best I can come up with because other than that his fascination with Eddie Quell is a little weak and underdeveloped in my opinion. I’m a little annoyed at what Anderson chose to criticize about Hubbard in The Master and what he chose to leave out (perhaps he has no choice). There's no mention of Hubbard/Dodd's fraudulent past, the child molestation accusations or the fact that he was pretty much just a science fiction writer who tried to present himself as this higher power.
I almost want to say South Park did a better job at calling out scientology than The Master did (sorry to be so hung on scientology as The Master is about a whole lot more but c'mon - it's the scientology angle that attracts people). Sure the Lancaster Dodd character is a bit transparent at times but overall he doesn't seem like the worst guy in the world when the real person he was based on was pretty terrible. There has yet to be a PT Anderson film since Boogie Nights that hasn’t grabbed a few Oscar/Golden Globe nominations and I’m sure The Master will be no exception (especially in the acting department). And still, The Master isn't without some highlights (a lot of the shots are beautiful, Phoenix is great in the scene where he flips out in the prison cell, and Hoffman has these great little outbursts). Both Hoffman and Amy Adams do a great job and, in my opinion, deserve whatever praise they get. It'ss Joaquin Phoenix that I felt was the most problematic (although not all the time). Certain aspects of his performance bugged me Some of his mannerisms and movements were unnecessary and distracting like he was overdoing it as the loose cannon/tortured soul. Like he was trying too hard to be "different".
Once again I hope I didn't mess up any anticipation for some of you but this is one of those films that people can mindlessly praise (HEY, kinda like scientology) if they don't take a step back and really think about what they just saw. There was a lot of material and meat to work with and I think Anderson left a lot of important shit out. This is just one (awesomely handsome) man's opinion. I know at the end of the day all of you reading this will go see it when it comes out so let me know what you think.


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