The Master

The Master ★★★★½

The Master 

“If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you? For you'd be the first in the history of the world.”

Oh boy.. okay let me try interpreting this beautiful film with two masterclass performances. 

The Master is actually a fictional portrayal of Ron L Hubbard and the very last years of Dianetics. Which is an early form of Scientology that had to do with with freeing oneself from their emotional reactive mind. In the movie he was portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays him as the character Lancaster Dodd. You can read about the real-life of whom this movie was based on here. (click).

Now despite the many similarities between the real-life of Hubbard and the practice of Dianetics, Anderson adds his own details and personal touches that are specific to his own interpretation, which I found to be really creative and unique.

What I think this film is about, basically boils down to a passionate, yet tragic friendship between someone who seeks answers but has no real interest in finding them and a man who comes to understand he has none of them.

Freddie doesn’t see beyond his own existence and isn’t able to self-evaluate himself. & Lancaster Dodd who has grown weary and frustrated with his own teachings, is a man who worries about his place in the world and eventually stops drinking his own bullshit but continues to sell people on the idea of it regardless.

The scenes at the beginning of the movie portray Freddie as someone who sees others function in a way that he can’t. He is a veteran expected to return to civilian life. But despite having a decent job as a department store photographer, he is unable to cope with a ‘normal life. This is due to his inability to transition into society given his inner struggles. 

Throughout the film, we see Freddie as someone whose quick to anger, prone to sexual tendencies, is taken advantage of, and is an outsider. Every scene of the first 20 minutes of the film work to establish this. He needs to change. He wants someone to help him change. This is why the wedding scene is so crucial to the film. Freddie sees everyone around him reacting positively to Lancaster as he gives the wedding toast, establishing that Lancaster is accepted socially. He is the exact opposite of Freddie, who is an outsider. This is the first moment of the film where Freddie is genuinely impressed by someone.

What’s interesting to note in the film, is that Freddie and Lancaster first initially bond over the substance of alcohol. Each of them is very different but right from the first interaction, they are both shown to have a weakness and lack of self-control. I think this is pivotal in establishing that despite how different they seem, you can see how their relationship begins to take form. That underneath the mask, in rare moments of the movie, this is who Lancaster truly is. That this is something he struggles with. Between who he truly is and what he’s deluding himself to be. It is the very reason he tries to get Freddie to accept that side himself because he internally struggles with his own individuality, his free spirit. He’s torn between being socially accepted and acting out his own desires. Lancaster admires Freddie for not wearing a mask in a domesticated society. 

Mirroring Lancaster, Freddie's character arc depicts a clash between what he is and what others want him to be. He’s torn between wanting to be socially accepted and acting out his own desires. But Freddie is also the only character that doesn’t have a double side to them and truly acts himself. 

The motorcycle scene is a great visual representation of the difference between them, it also serves as a turning point to Freddie’s character. Lancaster sets out but eventually returns to where he began but Freddie sets out and never returns, cutting ties and once again become his free-spirited self. This frustrates Lancaster because he’s unable to do the same. 

Furthermore Elizabeth, Clark’s wife (Rami Malek), is seen constantly seducing Freddie. She is absent in the last bits of the film as we learn she’s been DCF (excommunicated). This was built up throughout the movie but specifically in the scene when Freddie rides off in the distance, she is the only one celebrating.  We can garner that this is the very reason for her attraction to Freddie, who is an outsider, his free spirit. 

Peggy (played by Amy Adams) is an interesting character. Just as Freddie is a representation of Lancaster’s true desires, Peggy is represented as the true master of his other self. She spends a great deal of the film controlling Lancaster’s urges. She even decides when he can feel humanly pleasure.

The Master is essentially a film that constructs its character’s around ID, Ego, and Superego which is exemplified by these 3 of identities in the film.

ID: is represented by Freddie as seen as by his behavior. He is embodying the primitive and instinctual part of the mind that contains sexual and aggressive drives and hidden memories.

Ego: is represented by Lancaster as seen by his behavior. He is embodying the behavior that adheres to the reality principle, working out realistic ways of satisfying the id’s demands, often compromising or postponing satisfaction to avoid negative consequences of society.

SuperEgo: is represented by Peggy as seen by her critical and moralizing behavior. She is embodying the superego's function, which is to control the egos impulses, to suppress entirely any urges or desires of the ego that are considered wrong or socially unacceptable, such as aggression, drinking, sex, etc. It also tries to force the ego to act morally rather than realistically. Striving for moral perfection, without taking reality into account.

My takeaway from “The Master” is the reality that people in an unequal society, drifting along with life, often fully embrace their own circumstances. They lose hope and fully succumb, without resistance, to their own suffering. Anxiety, depression, grief, etc. Whatever traps them and gives rise to the inability to change.

But with Freddie, we see a man who has grown. The last shot of the film in the sand is a representation of Doris and Freddie and even though he will never forget her he is ready to move on. Freddie will continue on his childlike and comfy routine, never having to hide who he is. While Lancaster will forever feel trapped. I think the scene where he tells Freddie they would most certainly be enemies in another life, is a visual metaphor for his own conflicts among himself, his Id. Well, at least that’s how I saw it anyway.

“Typically the final act of a movie is about the Protagonist achieving some sense of Unity in their psychological journey. Hollywood likes happy endings so that is a character arc we have come to expect. But as with so many aspects of The Master, the narrative leaves much up in the air, multiple ways to interpret what is transpiring in the moment”

"The first time watching is like breezing past a piece of beautiful art, being stunned, uncertain and intrigued by it. The second time can only encourage more interpretation, reflection, and understanding."

Personal notes:

I appreciate this movie much more upon peeling back the layers one by one. PTA is cute for his own movie references especially Dr. Strange Love. This may not hold the same place in my heart as TWBB and Phantom Thread but it certainly is an exquisite film from one of my favorite directors.

Spent a couple of days trying to unravel my thoughts. Thank you so much for listening.

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