Paul Thomas Anderson is arguably the greatest director alive today, his last film There Will Be Blood earning him countless awards and making many critics film of the decades list. It’s been a long five year wait for The Master but it was well worth it.
Accused by many as being a thinly veiled story about the origins of Scientology The Master tells the story of Freddy Quell, a beaten down soldier fresh from the war, stranded in a post war society that appears to be shun him at every turn. Quell eventually encounters Lancaster Dodd, The Master. Dodd is the leader of a cult known as the cause, upon meeting Quinn he decides to take him under his wing and put him through an intense course of rehabilitation. The main arc of the story focuses on the relationship between the pair. In Quell we have a self destructive being fuelled by the events of his past, seeing red at every opportunity whilst in Dodd we have a charismatic manipulator, controlling the minds of his followers through a series of false prophecies and promises both struggling to cope in a post war society and both leaving behind them a trail of destruction and chaos. This is what happens when an unstoppable force encounters an immovable object.
As a character piece the movie is driven by two phenomenal performances from Phill Seymour Hoffman as Dodd and Joaquin Phoenix as Quell. Hunched over with a mumble that would make Marlon Brando proud Phoenix gives the performance of his career whilst Hoffman is equally as impressive, even chucking a few musical numbers into his performances. Hoffman controls the screen as he does his followers, hypnotizing the audience in with his sense of power and his unrivaled charisma.
It is when the movie is focused on these two that we get some of the best pieces of cinema from 2012. An intense scene involving Dodd putting Quinn through what is known as processing, an in-depth look at the inner workings of an individual. It is during this scene that these two really showcase their acting ability, parading their talents for all to see with performances that any awards body would be idiotic to ignore.
As with every Paul Thomas Anderson movie The Master is a visual delight, beautifully shot and screened in some cinemas in 65mm the look of the movie is startling, Anderson hitting the audience with a real directorial tour de force. The visuals are crisp and they’re back up by a superb soundtrack, a real treat for all the senses.
Whilst not being the most easily accessible movie of the year The Master is a pure delight for cinema lovers. Cryptic and challenging, to many the movie may just appear to jump from inconsequential scene to another with no real purpose but when you look beneath the surface this is an incredible examination of human nature and we will sink to in order to find our place.
Paul Thomas Anderson truly is The Master of his medium.