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The Master

The Master: Fragilities of the Human Mind

  • Amy AdamsJoaquin Phoenix...
  • Drama
  • Out now
  • Paul Thomas Anderson
reviewed by
Marija Loncarevic
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The Master: Fragilities of the Human Mind

Paul Thomas Anderson is the man behind cinematic gems like Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that The Master is unquestionably one of the director’s most dazzling and mesmerising visual compositions to date.

The narrative is centred on Freddie Quell (Phoenix); an emotionally and mentally disturbed WWII naval veteran who is having difficulty adjusting to post-war life.  After spending some time in a veteran’s hospital, being treated for what appears to be a posttraumatic stress disorder, Freddie is released into the wild.  Not really knowing his place in the world, he moves from one tedious job to another; alcoholism and his violent and volatile outbursts – which erupt at the slightest provocation – get the better of him and holding onto a job and finding peace of mind eludes him.

One night, on a scavenge for more booze, Freddie sneaks onboard a party boat.  After awakening from a drunken coma, he meets Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman); an unconventional and alluring man who claims to be a doctor, philosopher, physicist and, above all, ‘a man’.  A man who alongside his devoted wife, Peggy (Adams), has fathered semi-religious organisation, ‘The Cause’. Built on radical concepts of rigorous mental analysis, the movement aims to discover some kind of a deeper truth about the origin of human beings.  Dodd preaches that everyone is capable of abolishing their ‘animalistic’ ways and only by reconstructing themselves back into ‘perfect human specimens’ will they be able to live a free and a fulfilled life.  Taking an instant liking to Freddie, and his unsound mental state, Dodd takes him under his wing and Freddie soon becomes the ‘pet’ project for the self proclaimed ‘master’.

It’s been a long time since a film this engrossing and captivating has found its way onto the silver screen.  Working on multiple levels and focusing primarily on the dynamic between Freddie and Dodd, The Master demands unwavering attention. Each layer of the plot holds its own meaning and subtle metaphors; ones that pose a lot of unanswered questions – it leaves it up to the viewer to digest.

Shot entirely in the rarely used 65mm format, Anderson, alongside cinematographer, Robert Elswit, really pushes the envelope, visually; the dreamlike water scenes and the impeccable portrayal of the 1950’s come to life and contribute to the aura of the film. 

The towering performances from both of its leads are something special; Phoenix in particular, hangs in limbo, between sanity and partial madness, and delivers a performance of a lifetime.  From the slouchy posture to the sunken eyes, he’s never looked more haunting. The same can be said for the ever-charming Hoffman, whose portrayal of the enigmatic leader is just as electric, while Adams’ quiet presence is eerie and captivating at the same time, as the dutiful wife.

The Master possesses a presence that can’t be denied and if you don’t ‘get it’ from the first viewing, its okay, give it another try – it will get you. There is no escaping its hypnotic charm.

Like This? Try

There Will Be Blood (2007), A Serious Man (2009), Walk the Line (2005)

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Anderson credits 1964's Let There Be Light as a primary influence for The Master. The documentary follows 75 US soldiers dealing with emotinal trauma.

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