The Master stars Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell, a Naval Veteran who has difficulty assimilating into society once he returns to his normal life. He has a wild and unpredictable personality and is a bit raw and unhinged at times. We learn that this hasn’t been caused by the war. He was like this before and during the war as well. He wanders aimlessly for awhile before meeting Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a cult leader with a philosophy that appeals to Freddie. Lancaster invites Freddie to join his “Cause” and their challenging relationship begins.
First and foremost, this movie is an acting tour de force by Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Amy Adams is also very powerful in a supporting role. The question and answer scene between Freddie and Lancaster is simply amazing. Phoenix’ performance of a character disturbed but at times yearning for stability is mesmerizing and unnerving at the same time. Phillip Seymour Hoffman embodies the fatherly aura that puts people at ease and intelligent and commanding personality that would captivate people into following his cause. He draws you in to Lancaster’s ideas at first and you really want to think that there is some validity to them.
Paul Thomas Anderson brings atmosphere and intensity and a story that is very clever once you realize what it is saying. The camerawork is excellent as well, but is in a very different style from the kinetic and flowing movements that were his signature in Boogie Nights and Magnolia.
I struggled to figure out where the movie was going and what it meant as it progressed. I was engrossed in the characters but was unsure of how I felt about the story. The movie ends with a scene that many viewers may not understand at first. Think of it this way : The entire movie is an analogy for something else. Interpret it however you wish, but once you let the movie sink in and realize what the lead characters represent, you will realize just how cleverly and well done the film really is. Then, you will want to see it again like me. This is a movie that can be appreciated more on your second viewing when you watch it with the correct frame of reference. When you do, you will understand the true brilliance of this film.
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