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The Master

By MATTHEW SINGER

As you might have heard, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is the film Scientology maybe, sort of doesn’t want you to see. While it makes deliberate allusions to L. Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi pseudo-religion, that’s not what it’s actually about. It’s a picture that’s nearly impenetrable on first viewing, but few directors’ films are as worthy of their challenges as Anderson’s. It’s a film you’ll feel the need to watch again immediately out of sheer obligation. For the movie’s first 30 minutes or so, we’re alone with Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell. It’s an uncomfortable half-hour. In that time, he mimes intercourse with a female-shaped sand sculpture, then masturbates into the ocean; undergoes a Rorschach test in which he reports seeing only genitalia; and attempts to choke a customer at his postwar job as a mall photographer. Although claustrophobic in their intimacy, these early scenes don’t help us understand Quell any better, but then, we’re dealing with a character who doesn’t understand himself. Stowing away on a boat, Quell eventually encounters Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a pink-hued huckster selling salvation through “the Cause,” a self-help movement based on a variation of repressed-memory therapy. It’s here that Anderson drops in bits of Hubbard’s biography. But as Quell and Dodd become increasingly intertwined, the Scientology allegories fade into the background. Anderson is fascinated by these two unknowable characters, to the point of eschewing traditional narrative just to focus on them. Abetted by grandiose 65mm cinematography and a crazy-making score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, The Master is an ambitious enigma that never figures itself out, and that’s precisely what makes it one of the year’s best films.

 

Special Note

Fifth Avenue Cinema. 7 and 9:30 pm Friday-Saturday, 3 pm Sunday, April 19-21.
 
  • Genres: Drama
  • Running Time: 136 minutes
  • Release Date: Friday, November 9, 2012
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English
  • MPAA Rating: R [ Graphic Nudity, Language, Sexual Content ]
  • Critic's Score: A
  • Starring: Joaquin Phoenix [Freddie Quell], Philip Hoffman [Lancaster Dodd], Amy Adams [Peggy Dodd], Laura Dern [Helen Sullivan], Jesse Plemons [Val Dodd]
  • Directed by: Paul Anderson [Director], Paul Anderson [Screenwriter], Joanne Sellar [Producer], Daniel Lupi [Producer], Paul Anderson [Producer], Megan Ellison [Producer], Adam Somner [Executive Producer], Ted Schipper [Executive Producer], Jonny Greenwood [Original Music], Mihai Malaimare [Cinematographer], Leslie Jones [Film Editor], Peter McNulty [Film Editor], Jack Fisk [Production Design], David Crank [Production Design], Amy Wells [Set Decoration], Mark Bridges [Costume Designer], Cassandra Kulukundis [Casting]
  • Visit the Movie Website | Watch the trailer
 

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  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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