Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Master

After seeing Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, I considered whether I enjoyed it more than There Will Be Blood, which, for me, was the best film of the previous decade.

And as you might've guessed, I wasn't able to arrive an answer. 1) It's too early to say (I didn't truly love There Will Be Blood until weeks after seeing it in the theater). And 2) There's no reason to compare them, despite numerous similarities.

I think both films benefit from brilliant scenes, strong performances from the entire cast, and from the complex relationships between the main characters. And those characters themselves are similar - Eli Sunday and Lancaster Dodd are more spiritual and use religion to their advantage, and Daniel Planview and Freddie Quell are both crazy assholes.

The teasers and trailers for The Master got me really excited to see it. We all know what Joaquin Phoenix is capable of doing, but this is easily his best performance to date. I think I'll say the same of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as well; I don't often use the word "mesmerizing," but it applies to Hoffman here. He's the perfect cult leader and I'd drink up every ounce  of his kool-aid. I'm not a big Amy Adams fan, even though I'll admit she's a talented actress. She's wonderful as Peggy Dodd. Despite only have a handful of scenes together, you quickly get a sense of the relationship between Lancaster and Peggy.

But back to Phoenix as Quell. I read a little bit of Jeff's review (the only one I've glanced at so far) and I saw something that compared him to a stray dog. That's definitely an apt comparison, but really I see Freddie as more of an infant. While his extracurricular activities are definitely more adult, emotionally and mentally, he's clearly a child. And more than that, he's a orphan looking for paternal and maternal figures. Lancaster Dodd steps in to fill the paternal role, and Freddie accepts him and becomes very loyal to him rather quickly. In fact, when Lancaster's biological son Val expresses perfidious views of his father, Freddie lashes out in anger and violence (granted, that seems to be his response to anything that bothers him).

And Lancaster seems to need Freddie as well. I do think there's a genuine quality to their relationship, and they legitimately care for each other. But given the opposition to Dodd's movement, I can see Lancaster warming up to anyone who's oblivious to who he is and what he preaches. And quite possibly, one of the reasons why Lancaster seems to keep Freddie around is because he recognizes that Freddie is the perfect soldier.

Maternally, Freddie's search is a little more complicated. While he's a bit sex-obsessed, he has it in his mind that he'll marry a young girl named Doris. Even though she is younger than Freddie, odds are, she's already more mature than he is. Even though their relationship doesn't work out, I do think that Freddie is on a search for a woman who'll take care of him. In the last of the film, Freddie is in bed with a woman he picks up. There's a strange shot in this scene where the woman's breast is in the corner of a shot focusing on Freddie's face. Between that shot and the final one, where Freddie rests his head on the woman made of sand, I'd argue that Freddie is a child in search of a bosom.

As far as Scientology is concerned, I don't see a reason for Scientologists to be so upset with the film that it would lead to threatening the Weinstein Co. Of course, those Scientologists will never actually see the film (and their reaction does not come as a surprise). But it's clear that Anderson is gentle with Lancaster Dodd. There's a fine balance of qualities and flaws, as there is with Eli Sunday in There Will Be Blood. Yes, he's full of shit, but that doesn't mean he isn't a man, above all things. Or an animal. And when Dodd and Quell unleash their inner-animal, they've got one hell of a zoo.

Best film of the year so far. I can't wait to see it again.

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