The Master Reviews [Reactions]

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Re: The Master Reviews [Reactions]

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Sep 01, 2012 3:24 pm

And, Variety. This appears to be the sort of movie that would have thrilled wide audiences in the 70s, but might be a niche item today.

The Master

By Justin Chang

A Weinstein Co. release and presentation of a Joanne Sellar/Ghoulardi Film Co./Annapurna Pictures production. Produced by Sellar, Daniel Lupi, Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison. Executive producers, Adam Somner, Ted Schipper. Co-producers, Albert Chi, Will Weiske. Directed, written by Paul Thomas Anderson.

Freddie Quell - Joaquin Phoenix
Lancaster Dodd - Philip Seymour Hoffman
Peggy Dodd - Amy Adams
Helen Sullivan - Laura Dern

Paul Thomas Anderson's longtime fascination with souls in extremis achieves a teasing, richly unsettling apotheosis in "The Master." The 1950-set story of a troubled WWII veteran drawn to and repelled by a mysterious community that strikingly resembles the Church of Scientology, the writer-director's typically eccentric sixth feature is a sustained immersion in a series of hypnotic moods and longueurs, an imposing picture that thrillingly and sometimes maddeningly refuses to conform to expectations. Still, with its bravura technique and superbly synched turns from Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Weinstein Co. release should generate robust returns and furious discussion long after its hugely anticipated Sept. 14 bow.
Pic has already been extensively sneak-previewed Stateside via surprise 70mm screenings (Anderson's preferred projection format) before its Venice and Toronto festival premieres, a peculiar rollout pattern that befits this ever-idiosyncratic filmmaker. Neither as explosive nor as enthralling as his "There Will Be Blood," "The Master" shares with that 2007 picture an unrelenting focus on a borderline sociopath, a deeply scarred individual who craves a certain form of validation, yet proves mentally and emotionally incapable of receiving it from a community whose own motivations are thoroughly suspect.

Set to another Jonny Greenwood score that pulses, churns and jitters to its own unpredictable rhythms, the film opens with an evocation of a man literally and figuratively at sea. Idling away the last gasp of WWII somewhere in the South Pacific, Freddie Quell (Phoenix) emerges from the experience with a drinking problem, a pronounced psychosexual fixation and a general inclination toward erratic, childlike behavior. Yet as Freddie makes a vain attempt to assimilate, it's implied that he's suffering less from the trauma of war than from unexplained formative demons.

Much of his backstory will be unpacked, at length, by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a strange and charismatic gentleman whom Freddie encounters when he drunkenly boards a passing yacht one March night in 1950. Bound for New York from San Francisco by way of the Panama Canal, the boat's passengers are adherents of the Cause, an out-there philosophy that requires them to recall and expose their deepest, most troubling memories, the better to purge the mind of undesirable impulses and restore it to its inherent state of perfection. Dodd, the group's self-styled leader, calls it "processing"; one harshly critical observer (Christopher Evan Welch) uses the less flattering terms "time-travel hypnosis therapy" and "cult."

Although the Church of Scientology and dianetics are never directly invoked, the parallels are unmistakable, from the marked resemblance between Hoffman's Dodd and L. Ron Hubbard (a direct inspiration, as Anderson noted at the Venice press conference) to the Cause's claims, familiar from Hubbard's writings, that its followers can be healed of serious physical ailments and might one day bring about world peace. Yet "The Master" is no mere muckraking expose; as conveyed in the film, Dodd's teachings and insights, which he's clearly making up as he goes along, don't need much debunking.

Instead, the picture is structured as a minutely observed tug-of-war between a damaged, volatile individual and a movement he never quite meshes with, building to an emotional standoff of near-volcanic force and fury. Over the course of several months, Freddie tries hard to fit in, hurling himself into the increasingly elaborate and outlandish self-baring exercises prescribed by Dodd. Members of Dodd's inner circle, chiefly his Lady Macbeth-like wife (Amy Adams, whose pertness has rarely seemed so malevolent), see this crazy drunk as a lost cause and a violent threat. Yet the group's desire to expel Freddie is complicated by the genuine affection and curiosity that pass between him and his master, an intimacy apparent in their disquieting back-and-forth exchanges, in which Dodd's insistent questions and Freddie's terse replies overlap with almost contrapuntal precision.

Anderson's scripts have long delighted in the possibilities of language, particularly in period settings, and for long stretches, the scribe seems at once intoxicated and repulsed by the florid, fanciful, seductively high-minded diction Dodd uses to win and manipulate his converts. Hoffman, in his fifth collaboration with the director, simply mesmerizes here, his speech balancing the mellifluous with the ridiculous, his smiling eyes full of wonder and possibility even as his will and words maintain a grip of unyielding authority. Monstrous and monomaniacal though Dodd may be, he's a character to love.

By contrast, Phoenix makes Freddie a figure of helpless, inarticulate rage; with his wiry physicality, flailing movements and permanently clenched grimace, he thwarts one's sympathy when he seems to need it the most. Even when it flashes back to his long-ago flirtation with a girl (Madisen Beaty) many years his junior, or visualizes his sexual fantasies in one surreally audacious sequence, the film refrains from going too deep inside his head. There is pathos here, but the viewer is directed less to identify with Freddie's state than to recognize the larger social and psychological forces at work, forcing one to remain attentive all the way through the film's cryptic, meandering and determinedly low-key final act.

Yet even when the narrative drifts into increasingly ambiguous waters, the sheer brilliance of the filmmaking holds one rapt. Shooting primarily in Hawaii and Anderson's native California, d.p. Mihai Malaimare Jr. captures images of exceptional crispness and clarity, and Anderson stages some of his most complex and demanding sequences in lengthy single takes, the Panavision 65mm camera gliding around the action with insinuating elegance. Jack Fisk and David Crank's production design and Mark Bridges' costumes are unerringly, yet not distractingly, of the period, and Greenword's off-kilter orchestrations seem to fade in and out of the meticulously layered soundscape, adding to the sense of a world tilting ever so gradually out of whack.

Delivering little in the way of catharsis but offering an overwhelming number of things to think about, "The Master" is finally a wry but not uncompassionate study of human vulnerability and suggestibility, and of the disconnect that occurs when human behavior stubbornly resists the pull of an individual's whims or society's expectations. By dint of its outsider protagonist, the film leaves the viewer with a particularly perverse kind of optimism: When someone promises freedom and offers enslavement, madness may well be a better defense than sanity.

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Re: The Master Reviews [Reactions]

Postby Sonic Youth » Sat Sep 01, 2012 8:25 am

Again, watch out for the spoilers.

The Master
1 September, 2012 | By Mark Adams, chief film critic

Dir/scr: Paul Thomas Anderson. US. 2012. 137mins

Paul Thomas Anderson’s polished, provocative and at times stirringly powerful The Master might well lack the sheer brash dramatic bravura of his last film, There Will Be Blood, but its bold story of a lost soul finding solace and salvation of a sort in the arms of a charismatic cult leader has lingering resonance and is driven by impressive lead performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

To a degree, 2007’s There Will Be Blood would always be a pretty tough act to follow, though The Master has enough memorable scenes, beautiful imagery, stirring music and skilfully constructed dialogue to see it as a contender with awards season just around the corner. The film, which screened in competition at the Venice Film Festival, will likely travel extensively with some controversy in its wake (the link to Scientology has been much written about, though the film is no expose) and be critically admired for its performances and visual grace.

If it lacks the sense of a real dramatic arc, then it is simply because it takes a snapshot of a period rather than trying to tell an epic story and uses the tough-but-tender bromance between cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) and tormented, drunken, drifter Freddie Quel (Phoenix) as its core. Both their performances are impressive – both act in rather different ways but when they come together on the screen their scenes are memorable.

The film opens at the close of World War II, with Navy man Freddie Quel drinking his way through the end of the war (there are striking shots of him drunken on a South Pacific beach or sleeping off the effects of the booze on a precarious perch high above his ship), and eventually sent to a V.A. Hospital where Navy psychiatrists delve into his issues.

After failed work as a photographer in Capwell’s Department Store and working as an agricultural labourer in Salinas, California, in 1950 he drunkenly stows away on board the Alethia, a plus steam yacht lent to writer, philosopher and scientist (as he describes himself) Lancaster Dodd. The vessel – in a striking night-time shot in San Francisco harbour – sails for New York, and Quel finds himself brought under Dodd’s wing…mainly for his skills for making hooch than for his charisma.

In one of their meetings Dodd cryptically asks Quel is he is one of the ‘Hidden Rulers’ or is a communist, before tentatively getting Quel to participate in ‘The Process’, in which he asks Quel a series of questions. Dodd, it seems, is the leader of a group called The Cause, which believes that each person has lived past lives going back trillions of years, with each body a new vessel for that person. His acolytes call him ‘The Master’.

After Dodd has a run in with a doubter at a plus New York party, the contingent – which includes his pregnant wife Peggy (Amy Adams), grown-up son Val (Jesse Plemons, who does look like Hoffman) and recently married daughter Elizabeth (Ambyr Childers) – head to Philadelphia and the home of Helen Sullivan (Laura Dern), a fervent member of The Cause.

Though still a heavy drinker and at times sceptical of Dodd (whose son Val even tells Quel that he just makes things up as he goes along), Quel is increasingly drawn to this tolerant father-figure, and even resorting to violence when police come to arrest Dodd.

With the publication of Dodd’s second book, The Split Saber imminent and much anticipated – by The Cause followers at least – the group head to Phoenix, Arizona, for a coming together of followers from around the country. In an enigmatic scene Dodd and Quel track into the mountainous desert to dig up a metal case, though it is never revealed what it holds.

Quel continues with his processing, and even leaves the fold for a while when he feels he has grown enough emotionally to try and track down Doris (Madisen Beaty), his wartime sweetheart who he romanced when she was just 16 some seven years earlier. Perhaps she held the possibility of full redemption for him, but on finding she was married Quel is drawn back to The Master, who has now relocated to England.

Though the film essentially follows Quel and his journey from drunken wreck to a man more levelled (though never fully balanced) by his association with The Cause, the core of is the film is Lancaster Dodd himself. Philip Seymour Hoffman has always been a charismatic performer, but here his almost messianic role gives him full range to seduce, charm, challenge, provoke and entrance and he delivers a performance that will likely see awards attention. And he is nicely balanced by Joaquin Phoenix whose sheer mesmeric physicality (he is all slumped shoulders, hands on hips, eyes glowering and bristling with suppressed rage) acts as a perfect counterbalance to the gentle charisma of Dodd.

Amy Adams offers equally fine support. Her character may not have as much to do in the film, but she really makes an impact in one scene when it becomes clear that on the surface her Peggy may appear the simple supportive wife but behind closed doors she is perhaps more the stern zealot than Lancaster himself as she tells him to stick to the guideline of The Cause and deliver the message.

The film is beautifully shot by Mihai Malaimare Jr., with the 1950s perfectly recreated and rendered in lustrous burnished colours that suit the era. Equally striking is Jonny Greenwood wonderful score that is pitched perfectly and grips right from the first scenes in the South Pacific.

The Master somehow lacks a real dramatic high that suits the gripping introduction to The Cause – and the final switch to England seems rather pointless and could have been set anywhere, though the scenes of Quel and Dodd meeting for the last time in Quill’s magnificent office are striking – meaning the film rather meanders to its conclusion rather than ending on a satisfying dramatic high. But take nothing away from The Master – it is a strikingly well made film that pulls no creative punches.
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Re: The Master Reviews [Reactions]

Postby Sonic Youth » Sat Sep 01, 2012 8:22 am

Beware of ample spoilers!

The Master: Venice Review
12:15 AM PDT 9/1/2012
by Todd McCarthy
Hollywood Reporter

The writer-director's first film in five years is an unsettling character study of a disturbed and violent Navy veteran, a selective portrait of post-World War II America, a showcase for two superb performances and a cinephile's sandbox. One thing it is not is a dissection or exposé of Scientology, even though nearly all the characters are involved in a controversial cult. Even the prerelease phase of the film's life has been unusual, with The Weinstein Company moving up the release date to Sept. 21, some surprise screenings having sprung up around the country prior to its official world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and even the cinemas it will play in having become the subject of much discussion due to the 70mm format in which much of the film was shot. Its commercial career looks to follow the usual course of the director's work, with his intense fan base and mostly, if not unanimously, strong critical support making the film a must-see for serious audiences and wider acceptance dependent upon the extent of awards recognition. Even so, this will be a tougher sell to Joe Public than Anderson's other work.

In a work overflowing with qualities but also brimming with puzzlements, two things stand out: the extraordinary command of cinematic technique, which alone is nearly enough to keep a connoisseur on the edge of his seat the entire time, and the tremendous portrayals by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman of two entirely antithetical men, one an unlettered drifter without a clue, the other an intellectual charlatan who claims to have all the answers. They become greatly important to one another and yet, in the end, have an oddly negligible mutual effect. The majesterial style, eerie mood and forbidding central characters echo Anderson's last film, There Will Be Blood, a kinship furthered by another bold and discordant score by Jonny Greenwood.

The first 20 minutes are spent observing the aberrant, unpredictable behavior of sailor Freddie Quell (Phoenix). Appearing to be sex-obsessed and a bit loony as he cavorts and pleasures himself on a Pacific beach, Freddie is diagnosed with a “nervous condition” upon his discharge at the end of WWII, whereupon he turns up as a photographer at a snazzy department store. He's got enough charm to seduce the beautiful model he's shooting, but is so hair-triggered that he assaults a male customer and is fired. This entire interlude at the store is one of the most beautifully directed scenes anyone could ever wish to see.

But right off the bat, Phoenix is profoundly unnerving, so deeply into this unbalanced character does he seem to be. In addition to using his eyes in ways that can be both furtive and challenging, the actor screws his mouth back to one side, combining with his upper-lip scar to odd effect, and hunches over insecurely to provide a physical presence of surpassing weirdness.

One thing Freddie is known for is a knockout cocktail of uncertain provenance. But when, at his next job in the fields, the drink proves lethal to a fellow migrant worker, Freddie scrams to San Francisco, where fate sees him sneaking aboard an elegant ship upon which a party is under way. Once again, Anderson's visuals are breathtaking, with the beautiful craft lit to appear as an irresistible haven and its passage under the Golden Gate Bridge a hauntingly romantic image of a dream voyage. As the ship makes it way to New York via Panama, the host, the dazzlingly articulate Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), recognizes at once that Freddie is a scoundrel but welcomes the stowaway nonetheless, both for his cocktails (the secret ingredient of which turns out to be paint thinner) and, no doubt, for the challenge of curing him, as setting people straight is the goal of the quasi-mystical personal-improvement enterprise called The Cause that Dodd leads. “You're aberrated,” Dodd declares. “You've strayed from the proper path.”

Thus follow some intense and riveting “recording” sessions, in which Dodd interrogates his subject, rapidly reiterating the same question time and again to flush out truthful answers on the most sensitive of topics. Presumably this technique is akin to Scientology's auditing process and in dramatic terms the scenes are terrifically effective, both for the visceral impact of the exchanges and their revelatory nature.

The voyage is a wedding cruise for Dodd's daughter Susan (Jillian Bell) and new son-in-law Clark (Rami Malek), so the ship is loaded with family, most importantly his all-seeing wife, Mary Sue (Amy Adams), near-lookalike son Val (Jesse Plemons) and the inner circle of The Cause. Later, at a tony gathering in Manhattan, Dodd expounds upon his belief that man is not an animal, that we have all been here on Earth before and that, with proper training, people can be purged of “all negative impulses.”

The latter promise is sorely tested by Freddie, who's like an obedient puppy dog with rabies. When Val, in discussing his father's teachings, astonishingly confides that, “He's making all this up as he goes along,” Freddie loses it, attacking some cops in a maniacal rage and prompting Dodd's ever-watchful wife to warn, “He'll be our undoing.”

But after building for more than an hour with a combination of dynamic scenes, charged talk, provocative confrontations and the occasional semi-surreal vision, such as having all the women at a social gathering suddenly be shown entirely naked, The Master plateaus dramatically -- at a pretty high altitude, but nonetheless in a way that makes the road ahead flatten out very much like the vast desert terrain where Dodd challenges Freddie to an odd motorcycle competition that, like the film, itself ends inconclusively.

A convincing dynamic leaks from the film once the two men see each other for what they are: Freddie realizes Dodd is a fraud, and the older man understands that the younger one can only hurt The Cause; as constructed, that should be the end of things. But the film moves forward, to not uninteresting but less persuasive effect, toward a finale that seems unworthy of so much that has come before.

As for the Scientology angle, certain aspects of The Cause invite ready comparison to L. Ron Hubbard and his creation: The processing sequences, the constant moving around and living on a boat, the guru's prolific writing, the midcentury time frame, the allusions to time travel and so on. Still, much of this could apply to other self-help/New Age agendas as well, and if Anderson had really wanted to mine the early days of Scientology he could have had a much juicier film, what with all the sexual shenanigans, legal scrapes, boldface lies and exaggerations that are part of the organization's past. If anything, Scientology gets off easy here.

Perhaps Phoenix's so-called retirement four years ago was worthwhile, as he's never shown anything near the power, mystery and dangerous unpredictability he serves up as the emotionally inchoate Freddie. Just being around this guy will cause unease in many viewers, especially women, who will smell a rat from the outset, so it's impressive that he and Anderson have been able to build such a complex work around such a derelict figure.

By contrast, Lancaster Dodd, no matter how dedicated to flimflammery, is erudite, persuasive and, at heart, generous; he likes to share -- his house, hospitality and beliefs, even if he is a philosophical snake oil salesman. Hoffman is brilliantly focused, deliciously enunciating the man's many theories, sometimes while sweaty and red-faced from inebriation and at all times believable as a man capable of inspiring a faithful following.

In the one female part of any size, Adams at first appears restricted by the subordinate status of obedient wife who dutifully sits on the sidelines. But she notices everything and always steps in (including in a most unexpected stress-reducing husband-wife sex interlude) with crucial contributions when she needs to. Adams underplays it all to strong effect.

Visually, The Master is bracing, resplendent, almost hyper-sensitizing. Pictorial elements such as ocean seas, skin tones, clothing fabrics and early evening light are vibrantly magnified by the 70mm celluloid so skillfully used by Anderson and cinematographer Mihai Malaimareh Jr. (Youth Without Youth, Tetro and Twixt for Francis Ford Coppola). By any standards, the film is a visual feast. (This marks the first time the director has worked with a director of photography other than Robert Elswit, who was busy on The Bourne Legacy.) As the film is not an epic in the usual sense of grand locations and antiquity and does not employ a widescreen format, it's a bit surprising that this, of all films, is the first American dramatic feature to have been shot in its virtual entirety in 70mm (specifically, Panavision System 65) since Ron Howard's Far and Away in 1992. Due to the great format's essential disuse, The Weinstein Company has been finding it difficult to secure properly equipped cinemas even in some major cities to present it to the director's specifications.

Work in all production departments is equally exacting, notably the diverse production design by David Crank and Jack Fisk, Mark Bridges' detailed costumes and the bold editing by Leslie Jones and Peter McNulty.

Greenwood, whose score for There Will Be Blood was so daring and effective, provides eerie music with a life of its own that Anderson allows to whoosh and sweep through scenes in an unorthodox way that is sometimes supportive and elsewhere works as bizarre counterpoint. Like everything else about the film, it is highly particular and bracingly outside the norm.
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Re: The Master Reviews [Reactions]

Postby Bog » Sat Aug 18, 2012 8:26 pm

Sounds ridiculously refreshing to me personally...I can't wait.

If the film is taken seriously enough, despite high end category unlikelihood per early reviews, I would be all for a Phoenix Academy break through...were it to be warranted.

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The Master Reviews [Reactions]

Postby Sabin » Sat Aug 18, 2012 4:38 pm

My friend A.A. Dowd's reactions are below. Select twitter-critters are attempting to wrap their heads around the film as we speak. Dowd's take is pretty solid. I spoke to him about the critical community in Chicago's reaction to the film (including The Onion crew, Vishnevetsky, et al) and everyone seems to be having a difficult time absorbing the film after one viewing. The early passages of the film is riveting but as it goes along it becomes more distant, more cerebral, and he likens the film to a maze. He told me that this is easily the strangest film of PTA's career, incredibly elusive and baffling, and not really an Academy film at all. But then, neither is The Tree of Life. If The Master 70mm roadshows draw enough interest as it likely will, it could sneak in as a hot "To See" item, but right now it has to be considered a longshot for Picture/Director. Joaquin Phoenix is definitely the lead and he's incredible. Philip Seymour Hoffman is supporting. He's very good as well. They're both in, he says. Amy Adams is good but not very exciting. The cinematography is stunning and a likely nominee. Johnny Greenwood's score isn't as memorable as his work in There Will Be Blood, but it's clearly him and it consists of a lot of ticking noises that drive you insane.

The Master in 70mm at the Music Box
Posted in #Chicago blog by A.A. Dowd on Aug 17, 2012 at 11:09am

Cinephilia is alive and well.

That was the first thought that crossed my mind when I arrived at the Music Box last night for the not-so-secret 70mm screening of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. It was a little after 8:30pm, with well over an hour until the event was scheduled to begin, and a healthy line had already formed outside the entrance. A half-hour later, the mass of eager ticket-holders had expanded outward, stretching around the block onto Grace. Hopeful, ticketless men walked the perimeter, some carrying signs, pleading for the opportunity to buy a spare off anyone scalping. At a glance, one might confuse the scene for the pre-show gathering outside a rock concert.

The excitement was palpable, and understandable. This was only the second public screening of The Master; the first was a surprise premiere in Santa Monica, where Anderson presented the film in 70mm—the format he shot it in and the one he prefers it to be seen in. There was doubt for a while as to whether Chicago would get the opportunity to experience the movie that way. Time Out Chicago Film editor Ben Kenigsberg's post had alerted Anderson's team to the Music Box's 70mm projection capabilities, but theater programmer Brian Andreotti was quick to report that the Weinstein Company was not offering them the film for a first run.

So it was a pleasant surprise when the Music Box announced on Wednesday night that it would be hosting a 70mm screening of The Master, with proceeds benefiting the nonprofit Film Foundation. Within two hours of going online, all tickets to the event had been snatched up.

Anderson was in attendance at the sold-out screening, though he kept a very low profile, leaving introductory remarks to Music Box general manager Dave Jennings. "We're working on bringing it back in 70mm," Jennings told the audience. "Probably sometime this winter." As to whether the untrained eye would be able to glean the merits of the wide-gauge format, Jennings was blunt: "If you can't see the difference, you're not looking at the screen."

He wasn't kidding: From the film's first shot of waves crashing in a spectacularly blue ocean, the benefits of 70mm are blindingly obvious. In terms of color and clarity, nothing compares; regardless of what one thought of The Master—a weird, transfixing study in sickness and devotion—there was no denying the retina-tickling pleasures of this enhanced viewing experience.

The film begins the same way Anderson's last movie did: with its main character chopping away to the atonal clicks and hums of a Jonny Greenwood score. In There Will Be Blood, the relentless swing of a pickax marked Daniel Plainview as a man of almost inhuman determination. No such easy conclusions can be drawn about Freddie Sutton (Joaquin Phoenix), first seen shirtless on a beach, burying his blade in a coconut. A Navy veteran, Freddie has just returned from the second World War. His mind is clearly not all together, though flashbacks suggest some of his issues may predate his time in the service. Is The Master a film about what war does to a functional mind, or is it a film about the way the military—among other strictly controlled organizations—attracts already dysfunctional minds?

Phoenix plays Freddie as a volatile enigma; it's a great, boldly physical performance, with the actor lurching about like a child caught in an adult's skin. Drifting aimlessly through his post-war years, Freddie eventually stumbles aboard the docked ship of budding spiritual leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman)—though that name isn't used until about halfway through the film, as many of the characters simply (and creepily) refer to him as "Master." The two bond over a homemade cocktail Freddie devises from paint thinner and other questionably consumable chemicals. "Is it poison?" the older man asks. "Not if you drink it right!" replies the younger man.

The relationship between these two figures becomes the dramatic crux of the film, with Freddie developing a vicious, doglike loyalty to his new Master, even as those in Lancaster's inner circle (including his true-believer of a wife, played by Amy Adams) begin to fear and distrust the young vet. Visually and sonically, Anderson is still operating in the disorienting, vaguely menacing mode of There Will Be Blood. Yet The Master feels closer in spirit to his misfit romance Punch-Drunk Love, thanks largely to the empathy he expresses for his disturbed protagonist. (There's also a kind of repetitive initiation ritual Phoenix performs that brings to mind the panicky, pacing-through-the-store sequence in Love.)

And we can say at last that, yes, the film is at least tangentially about Scientology. Lancaster's religion—dubbed simply "The Cause"—is built around a similar mythology of ancient past lives and spiritual rehabilitation. Prospective believers submit to "processing," instead of auditing, but the collision of therapy and faith is essentially the same. (In the film's most instantly iconic scene, Freddie sits down for his first session with Lancaster, who finds his new companion ideally suited to these cathartic head games.) Dates and other details further confirm the Scientology parallels, but it would be a mistake to think of The Master as a thinly disguised history of the movement or an L. Ron Hubbard biopic. Like Blood, this is an eccentric character study that plays out against a historical backdrop.

It's also quite easily the strangest and most esoteric picture Anderson has ever made—and frankly too much to unpack and digest in one viewing. I echo the sentiments of my Chicago critic peers, many of whom stumbled out of the screening in a daze and reported on Twitter that further reflection would be needed. (The A.V. Club's Scott Tobias may have put it best when he wrote that the movie is "comically resistant to insta-reaction.") Of course, one looks forward to seeing a visionary work like this again and again—not just to unravel its secrets, but also simply to bask in its aesthetic wonders. I feel privileged to have seen it in all its wide-gauge glory. Let's hope more Chicagoans get to do so in the near future.
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