The Master

The Master ★★★★★

Dodd constantly refers to Freddie as an animal, but the truth is more revealing — their relationship is itself animalistic, an attraction of ego and urge and psychologically damaged impulses, of 2 men who find purposeful connection on opposite sides of the dynamic of addressing Freddie's traumas. Is Lancaster exploiting Freddie's troubled past in order to manipulate subservience? Undoubtedly, but more importantly, this is a two-sided relationship, and Freddie is as eager to find purpose in his pathetic neediness as Dodd is in the same thing, equal value in being on the receiving end of Dodd's affection. Master and puppy, each content with their position, each finding essential recognition of their selves in these very opposite roles.

Freddie is out of control, and this is not a recent development. For as long as he can recall consciousness, he has been a slave to his own oppressive psyche, barely existing as he lives day-to-day with a gnawing shame and profound self-hatred caused by a deeply dysfunctional upbringing and exacerbated by severe ptsd. He is already totally a slave to his addictions and aggressions; falling under the spell of The Cause isn't unprecedented for a man like Freddie, as he was already not the master of his own life.

Towards the end of the film, Lancaster Dodd tells Freddie, "If you figure out a way to live without a master, any master, be sure to let the rest of us know, for you would be the first in the history of the world." This appears to be PTA's primary thesis, and on rewatch this theme is prevalent very early on. In the scene where they first meet, Dodd "processes" Freddie, and Freddie's pleading eyes for Dodd to interrogate him further are extremely revealing. After just a few questions it seems Freddie has an epiphany, as though he is suddenly instinctively aware of those words Dodd would later tell him. David Foster Wallace, in his book Infinite Jest, presents a similar concept: "We are all dying to give our lives away to something... there's something pathetic about it. A flight-from in the form of a plunging-into." Freddie is consumed by sexual aggression and petulant anger, addicted to booze and self-loathing and paint thinner, but suddenly he has this epiphany, suddenly he realizes that he's no more addicted/obsessed with his vices and occupations than anyone else is to whatever it is they choose. So if he has to give himself over, he might as well give himself over to something that brings him purpose, rather than all the self harm.

But, as mentioned, PTA only acknowledges this goal in the end with Dodd menacingly, sarcastically encouraging Freddie to try and move on without a master before they part ways forever. Freddie will find a new master, just like he had before, just like he did with Dodd, just like we all do. And Dodd knows that he was the only master who could keep Freddie in check. The film's final frames confirm this dark truth, as Freddie is back debauching on the beach, drunk on poisonous gases and chemicals, back in a state of self-obsessed self-avoidance. In addiction, Freddie finds a master like he did with Dodd: by creating an "other" in a dynamic entirely defined by his submissive relationship with it.

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