The Master

The Master ★★★★★

"Do you know how to get rid of crabs?"
#1 on Berken's Favorite Movies Of 2012
#6 on Berken's Favorite Movies Of All Time

Certainly the most confident and handsomely helmed of any movie this year, not to mention featuring 2012's best performance courtesy of a typically deranged Joaquin Pheonix, The Master gives the distinct impression that Paul Thomas Anderson has been getting high on his own supply. Put otherwise, the man knows there's no disputing his greatness as a filmmaker after There Will Be Blood and is no longer content to be contained by straightforward movie narratives.

As a result The Master can be disjointed at times, and often plays more like a jumble of casually related scenes than an actual narrative. Yet if you pay attention, even the meandering narrative has a thematic function. Most of the disjointedness between scenes takes place whenever Freddy is in control of his own life, drifting from place to place seemingly at random and with no common thread other than Freddy himself. This is contrasted with how purposefully scenes build upon each other whenever Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character cohabits the screen with Freddy, creating a clear thematic parallel to Freddy's scattered inner life and the Master's plan to gradually build him towards something.

Where the movie goes with that arc may not climax anything like Paul Thomas Anderson's previous films, but that's also part of the point PTA is trying to make - that real life doesn't always unfold in the tidy way we expect our Hollywood stories to.* (That said, I'm a hypocrite because if the ending was anywhere near as wildly climactic and entertaining as There Will Be Blood's this would probably have replaced that film as my favorite of all time.)

A name to watch - Mihai Malaimare Jr, standing in as cinematographer for Anderson's usual collaborator, Robert Elswit, and somehow outdoing the Oscar winner. It's a shame that so much of the movie is relegated to an ordinary house, because every image shot outside of the confines of that damn window and wall is pure gold, from Freddy lounging on a ship's mast while sailors fling food at him to Freddy sprinting headlong into a field of crops with an angry, drunken mob at his heels.

In particular I love how one of my favorite shots - a breezy, elegant glide through a mall as a sales model shows off her wares - is comically juxtaposed with Freddy's decidedly inelegant way of cutting short his date with that same sales model later that evening. That scene captures The Master's appeal in a nutshell - beautiful, bizarre, and driven by one hell of a character.

[*Sidenote: Check out this interview with PTA from 2008, read the part where the interviewer basically calls PTA out (in a friendly way) on his movies endings being incredibly unambiguous, and tell me that this isn't where the wheel's started turning for PTA, until that innocuous comment inadvertently led to the super-ambiguous ending of The Master.]

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