The Master – A brief review
Some potential spoilers follow:
Saw this yesterday at the cinema and enjoyed it, though at the time I wasn't stunned and awed. Having thought about it more though, its subtlety has gradually risen in my estimation as the seeds it planted started to slowly germinate. It is quite long, but not overly and I managed to stay engrossed till the end, despite the desire to hit the pause button and dash off for a loo break. Enoch Powell reckoned that a full bladder helps the concentration, but he is unreliable.
For a start, it is an Art Film, so one has to expect the plot to be a lesser issue and one has to accept that the cinematography, acting and pondering regarding the nature of human nature and being fucked up have higher status. It succeeded in these areas, especially the acting and cinematography. No explosions, but lots of simmering; entrancing, but hard to pin down.
It isn’t really just about Scientology, or even L. Ron Hubbard, though clearly the secondary character (Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is partly derived from him. The main protagonist is the erratic alcoholic Freddie Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix and most of the scenes are from his point of view.
Both Dodd and Quell have been in the navy in WWII and Quell in particular has what would now be called PTSD. Their relationship is central to the film. Dodd is fascinated by the dodgy hooch Quell concocts. In fact, for Dodd, Quell is like dodgy hooch himself: somewhat poisonous and destructive but temporarily rejuvenating, seemingly a pathway to the gods.
There is little emphasis on spreading propaganda about the evils of cults, that’d be too easy. Instead one gets an accumulation of impressions of the banality of religion. Whenever an urbane rationalist questions Dodd’s preaching, Quell dutifully beats them up.
Another theme is how new beliefs, paradigm shifts even, are generated after wars. I haven’t checked, but I suspect this is true, though it is hard for us in The West to fully appreciate this as we’ve not lived through one recently. Still, I was able to imagine what it may have been like.
At the beginning one even hears Old Seer been channelled as Dodd harps on about a supposed animalistic/human dichotomy.
I’d seen Boogie Nights and Magnolia before, but don’t remember much about them except that I was a little disappointed by Boogie Nights, but left Magnolia feeling much the same way I felt about The Master. I think. Having written a review now I no longer have to rely on my faulty memory. Can’t remember what you thought? Just look it up on RRS.
I’ve probably already forgotten big chunks, so I’d better post this now, before it all slips away.