The Master

The Master ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The existential question at the core of The Master is: what is my purpose in life? 

Joaquin Phoenix plays World War II veteran Freddie Quell, a man who returns home from the war to no real prospects, and is evidently suffering from what we might now describe as alcoholism mixed with PTSD. He’s unsure of his purpose - what he should be doing, where he should be going, who he should be; not to put too fine a point on it...what “cause” he should be fighting for. Philip Seymour Hofffman’s Lancaster Dodd provides him with a purpose, inviting him into his quasi-religious movement literally known as “The Cause.” 

The comparisons to Scientology are obvious, so I won’t beat that dead horse more than has already been done. What’s interesting, though, is the sort of father-son dynamic that develops between the two of them, which is made complicated by some strange characters within the Dodd family and by a love interest from Quell’s past. In spite of this, they almost seem meant to have met each other, and moreover, they seem like the missing piece completing each other’s lives.

Their performances are first-rate. The “Processing” scene in particular, shows them in all of their glory, from very tight angles, with no room to hide. Speaking of angles, the film as a whole is exquisitely shot. The choice of cinematography suits the story very nicely. Some of the shots in this film are just plain beautiful.

The Master is an incredible work of art. Paul Thomas Anderson has made a film that only he could make - it is so imprinted with his unique style. It is also the one film of his I’ve seen so far that opens up the most paths of interpretation and debate. A modern classic.

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