In his newest film since There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson takes us through an intricately, but sparsely, woven tapestry documenting the life of a World War II veteran who suffers from rather acute Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and a leader of a cult with enormous resemblance to L. Ron Hubbard, with much focus on the relationship of the two.
I choose the word “tapestry” not for artistic flourish, but because it greatly resembles the Medieval tapestry in form. We see basically a visual chronology of a story shown through scenes, which, at face value, is much like most film storytelling. However, there is no inner commentary connecting them as point A to point B; rather, they are simply scenes in their lives presented to us for us to connect and decode. In this way, we receive a quiet psychological portrait of these two men – without judgement.
And the characters are impeccably realized. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the leader of a Scientology-esque cult, “The Master” Lancaster Dodd; Joaquin Phoenix, in a role and performance of a lifetime, plays war-torn Freddie Quell. In its opaque sonata-form, we see these two people in moments of their lives; we see them from afar, and see how each in some way is much like the other and contains many aspects of the other which he needs, and which he despises.
As is each film that PTA makes, The Master shows complete control from top to bottom. It is beautifully shot, majorly in 70mm, and does not suffer from the replacement of cinematographer from Robert Elswit to Mihai Malaimare Jr.
This is a film destined to be a classic, and which will undoubtedly require multiple viewings to fully feel this film, for lack of a better phrase. For it’s a film to be felt more than intellectualized.
And here is a bonus trailer, posted for the advanced screening at the Castro, of footage not included in the final film.