The Master

The Master ★★★½


This will be inadequate. If somebody wanted to throw a bunch of money at me, I could write a lengthy essay about my general frustration with PTA, which extends even to There Will Be Blood (easily his best film, in my opinion, but still maddeningly nebulous). The reductive version is that he tends to identify Big Themes he wants to tackle, then decline to actually tackle them; instead, he offers what amount to thematic signifiers, which—in conjunction with his extraordinary gifts as a pure filmmaker, needless to say—successfully create the illusion of depth. The Master in particular flirts with a lot of heady ideas (none of them an exposé of Scientology, to the apparent consternation of many), but refuses so stubbornly to coalesce that its inclusion of a Rorschach test and a game called Pick a Point seems almost like nose-thumbing. Even the exegeses I've read so far (notably Kent Jones') go out of their way to praise the film for being noncommittal. Where they see admirable complexity, I see an artist who's hedging his bets...which may be why my favorite scene, by far, is the first "processing" session, in which Dodd responds to answers he doesn't like by repeating the question. The implication that you're not trying hard enough is unmistakable.

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