Tyler McCalpin’s review published on Letterboxd:
I allowed myself plenty of time before I attempted to re-watch The Master, and I have to say, it was extremely rewarding. I feel like I'm not alone in saying that a first time viewing of this film is extremely difficult, but the second time helped me to deconstruct it's ambiguous plot, themes, and conceptualizations.
Paul Thomas Anderson is a boss. His film is structured around Freudian psychology, and the humane attempt to repress one's natural urges, or one's 'id'. Lancaster Dodd, or the Master (played by Hoffman), is a radical theorist who leads a cult to a belief in scientology through bogus psychoanalytical experiments and postulated, ideological practices. He does so with the help of his wife Peggy (Adams), and his right hand man Freddie Quell (Phoenix).
The film follows the war-ridden Freddie Quell as he attempts to survive civility following his tour in the navy, depicting his PTSD, coping mechanisms and egotistical sexual desires. Although the audience is predominantly exposed to Freddy's experiences, it almost feels as if Dodd is the central character, and Freddy is simply a metaphorical device to portray the Master's pre-symbolic desires. Peggy then serves to represent the superego--Dodd's comprehension of moral and cultural values and his capacity to sublimate his polymorphous perverse. The film's title then denotes Dodd as 'The Master', struggling to decide which of his egotistical desires he can appropriately satisfy and which he cannot.
Phoenix is absolutely incredible here, so much so that it takes away from how perfect Hoffman is as Lancaster Dodd. Their performances are great not only because of speech and emotional conveyance, but also physical appearance and mannerisms (especially Phoenix). The cinematography is brilliant, most notably Freddy's fieldtastic runaway and the motorcycle scene. The score is an odd compilation, but I couldn't imagine anything else.
Unfortunately, yet expectingly, there are still parts of the film that flew way over my head, particularly Dodd's song at the end (WTF?). Hopefully a third viewing will help enlighten these remaining difficulties. Anderson's film is truly sublime; in that, trying to understand it only evokes negative pleasure; but pleasure nonetheless. I encourage everyone to (re)watch it.