emilyrugburn’s review published on Letterboxd:
This shit was ELECTRIFYING to me.
It wasn’t entirely the film I expected and really the half star missing is only because the story didn’t quite give me the in to shit-talk evangelical Christianity (/all organized religion & other cults) the way I was hoping it would. 😂
There’s still plenty to say about that topic, obviously. But I think, on immediate reflection, the movie is saying more about a very universal hunger for power over others, and how that hunger eating at people is one of the main ways they (both physically and existentially) flail through life. I know others have mentioned that maybe the movie ends one or two scenes later than it should’ve, and through the lens of looking at it as a study in humans trying to have ultimate power over each other, that theme becomes a little too on the nose at the end, as Freddie attempts to “process” the woman with whom he’s having a sad, drunken, one-morning stand. You can almost hear him grasping at the coarse internal thought, “Boy, I wonder if I could get her to say anything? Man, that would be somethin’. That’d really be livin’...”
And it’s not just the two main leads - especially Philip Seymour Hoffman, who I missed more than ever while finally taking in this incredible performance from near the end of his life - that convey the idea of wanting power over others. That quest for power is in Amy Adams’ bathroom sink reacharound, in dime store Freddie Mercury’s dinner table theorizing about a potential spy within the ranks, in bland-as-hell Jesse Plemons’ (I still don’t understand where this guy, Corey Stoll, Jason Clarke, & Joel Edgerton came from in the 2010s and why they all have such flourishing careers...there are so many bland white guy actors who, as the evil aunt says in Ready Or Not, “continue to exist”) front porch real talk about how dad’s making it all up as he goes along, in the daughter’s hand on Joaquin’s crotch (while Laura Dern is speaking EXCUSE YOU?!), in the department store model’s devastatingly steamy stroll from one end of the lobby to the other.
There’s even a quest for power and influence over people in the scene where Dodd is interrupted by his critic John More - a character who’s saying all the right things for a 21st century self-aware audience who hates Scientology and wants someone in this movie to be the voice of reason about it, but played by a distinctly unlikable-on-sight actor who delivers the lines in a way that actually reminds you of all the things you hated most about those faceless trolls you were just arguing with in a letterboxd or YouTube comment section, thereby actually somehow landing you on Dodd’s side in the conflict (“PIG FUCK” somehow never sounded so good to me in all my life???).
Master presides over a movement that claims power to the people, but wants power over the people. And, even without one final scene too many, it’s kind of an obvious theme...so obvious, it felt like one of the least elusive PTA films to understand and follow along with, for me. It even carried the narrative thread so easy that it allowed a startlingly earnest line of dialogue - usually not really allowed in PTA films - to sneak through and strike me so hard towards the end: It was Peggy Dodd’s final observation of Freddie - “You just can’t take this life straight, can you?”
And sure, I guess that’s still just another volley in the never-ending quest for power over others. It’s a quest we could talk about forever and not be done with it - not because there’s that much to ponder about it, but because we’d never run out of examples of ourselves doing it. Hell, I’m doing it right now!
It’s like every shot of ocean water in The Master. The ocean never gets to just lay there and be the ocean - those calm, deep blues are never allowed to rest, always disturbed by jet stream white. Someone is always trying to get somewhere.