I am sure at some point on this blog I have confessed my love for Paul Thomas Anderson as a director, citing his work There Will Be Blood, as one of my all time favorite films, number 25 to be exact (As my top 100 stands). I went into The Master knowing that I would in all likelihood enjoy the film. I did not expect to be enamored with the film though, I am not entirely ready to place it above There Will Be Blood, but I am quite sure it will be one of my favorite films of this year and perhaps of the decade...it is still too early to tell of course. The Master, like most of Anderson's work, benefits from being projected over the big screen, considering the inherent cinematic nature of his works. The Master is by no means his most straightforward film and certainly manages to be non-linear in ways similar to Magnolia. The acting is, as always on point, with brilliant performances by both Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as well as a surprisingly well-executed performance by Amy Adams. A thematic films of sorts, The Master is inundated with psychoanalysis, theological and existential commentaries that jam together into a film that builds its intensity ever so slowly and gracefully, and while many of the conversations post-film complained about it being to long, I would say that The Master is the perfect length and subsequently is a rare thing in being a perfect film.
The Master, while non-traditional in its narrative leanings, certainly has a main character in Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) a down and out veteran who drunkenly moves between jobs ranging from a department store photographer to a migrant farmer, always leaving jobs as a result of his alcohol induced spurts of rage or severe issues of miscommunication between himself and whoever he is with at the moment. It is clear that Freddie desires very specific things, an explanation to why exactly he is on Earth and to get laid, two things that are constantly in battle with one another. During one particular night of drunken meandering, Freddie finds his way onto a ship only to awake to an inquisitive crew, captained by one Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) a regal man, who is an intellectual well-knwon for his philosophically inclined self-help books. Taking an unusual liking to Freddie, partially out of curiosity, as well as his skill at making strong libations, Lancaster welcomes Freddie into his life, much to the concern of Lancaster's wife Peggy (Amy Adams) and other members of his extended family. As Lancaster invests in Freddie it becomes clear that the young veteran's anger is a point of contention, particularly when Freddie attacks people who question Lancaster directly. Throughout the remainder of the film Freddie and Lancaster are at odds, as Freddie seeks meaning to his life, while Lancaster constantly makes the wide-eyed alcoholic a guinea pig to absurd experiments. Ultimately, the two severe ties and Freddie heads away to travel about England, eventually meeting a girl at a bar. The film closes with him engaging in intercourse, before returning to a vision of him laying next to a nude woman made of sand, suggesting the fulfillment of at least one of his desires in life.
While I am not theoretically inclined enough to really dig into the various criticism possible with such a complex film as The Master, I was quite drawn to Freddie as a character with severe maternal issues. A few passing references are made to Freddie having a problematic family relationship, perhaps one void of a paternal figure and it is further suggested that his mental state is severely affected by this problem. As such, Freddie displaces his longing by a constant quest to bed women, ranging from a model at a department store to Lancaster's wife, often having disturbing day dream of every woman in a room being nude, regardless of age or attractiveness. Freddie also seems to have a strong attachment to Lancaster because of his nurturing nature, while it would be appropriate to analyze Lancaster as a father figure his sweet actions towards Freddie suggest otherwise, especially in the two's closing scene involving a singing scene, very reminiscent of a maternal lullaby to a young child, although this one is far more tragic and certainly more dark. In the end, one could say that Freddie fulfills his maternal quest with his moment of intercourse, which is not accidentally with a larger woman with clearly motherly features. Yet the film closes with Freddie laying next to an over-sexualized woman, a possible claim that Freddie has not grown in the slightest and may, in fact, have regressed considerably.
Key Scene: It involves Amy Adams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in front of a mirror, trust me it is intense.
This is just now making its theatrical run and is certainly to be seen in a big screen setting, but I will warn you, ignore the stupid people and their ungrounded comments about the films complexity. They are the same idiots who did not like Tree of Life, simply because it did not have a linear narrative.