Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Ambyr Childers, Jesse Plemons, Rami Malek, Laura Dern, Madisen Beaty, Lena Endre, Kevin J. O'Connor, Amy Ferguson, Joshua Close, Patty McCormack, Fiona Dourif, David Warshofsky, Steven Wiig and W. Earl Brown
Paul Thomas Anderson
The Master is the latest towering achievement from one of the masters of modern cinema, Paul Thomas Anderson. It is an experience that has the ability to completely change your perception about movies and their way of following ideas in a narrative that both confuses and delivers at the same time and gets its job done in the end far deeply than what you basically see. Many people called it as Anderson's least accessible movie but surprisingly, it gave me an experience of a lifetime. For a movie to be this much perfect on so many levels (both technically and themes that it explores), tells so much about its characters, people in general, life, struggles, religion, teachers, followers, drifters is just mind blowing. For great cinema lovers, this is heaven in its purest form. For others, its a confusing, boring artsy-fartsy movie. If you understand the language of cinema, if you know its history and if you are able to look at a certain something in a given movie beyond that superficial layer, this film offers basically everything that there is about life. By now, you should know that The Master is my most favorite movie of 2012 and all time as well. It is one of the greatest achievements in American cinema and i will go so far as to say that this is the most audacious film release since Citizen Kane. That is how much special it is and that is how much i see it as an important cinematic fare. As i said, watching this movie was an experience i won't forget ever. From the very start, it started to grew on me and i couldn't get my eyes, ears and mind off it even after it ended. No other movie released in 2012 matches the kind of spectacular production that this movie has, it basically oozes with perfection and greatness in every single aspect. The Master was of course, not fully celebrated by the Academy which is what angers me so much. But its their loss that they can't really appreciate art and craft so much. It did however won the acting prize, director award and FIPRESCI award at Venice Film Festival. A critical darling to those who loves cinema, making on to the lists of many critics as well as topping the end of the year list of Sight & Sound. Now that i have introduced The Master in such grand way, lets talk about what it is and what it actually tells us.
The Master is the story of one Freddie Quell (Phoenix), he was in the Navy and is now a World War II veteran struggling to adjust to the life back on land and finding a meaning and purpose to his life if there is any. He tries many things but ends up getting right back to his own roots and to his own nature. A drifter, a reckless soul suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder meets someone who will, can or maybe not, change his life forever. A leader of a philosophical/religious/cult-like movement known as "The Cause", Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) sees something in him and welcomes him to his movement. At the very center of this movie lies the story of Freddie and Freddie only. Dodd is one of those chance encounters or something of a usual "lets try this thing and sees if it works out for me" thing but it ends up something far more than what any one of them could have imagined initially. The Master in each frame and moment provides us with so much of layered and dense images as well as ideas that you can write endlessly on. I will try to clearly compose my thoughts about what i experienced, felt and thought. So The Master begins with close-up shots of Freddie on the beach with a pulsating and intriguing score playing. We see from the very start that Freddie is a troubled soul and he is obsessed with sex and women. He masturbates in the sea and on the sands to a sand sculpture of a woman made by his fellow seamen. With that initial introduction of who or how this person is, the movie than takes us to what he would be struggling with for the rest of his life. Freddie wants to get over the war or basically win some kind of a battle with something that we don't really know at that point so it can be confusing what you see in the beginning. Whether its the test that he takes where all he sees are genitals and sex-related things or his another obsession with liquor. He can make liquor from different kind of things, pretty weird things including gasoline so he has that talent. Freddie does gets a job as a photographer but is fired after he gets in a fight. Another mishap happens at a cabbage farm where he works but ends up poisoning someone with his homemade alcohol drink. He boards a ship one night, Dodd's daughter is going to get married on it. Dodd meets him and tells him to attend the wedding, he seems to be impressed by his drink which he made with paint thinner.
The most powerful moment in the movie, which there are many, comes when Dodd does an exercise on Freddie which he refers to as "processing". Dodd floods Freddie with repeated disturbing psychological questions hoping to get the idea of Freddie's past. That scene is so tense and unbelievably stirring and the way its been shot is just brilliant. With every question, Freddie reveals something about him and as the questions gets deep and deep into his horrid past, the pain can be viewed so clearly on his face as he squirms in his chair. Joaquin Phoenix delivers an extraordinary performance, the best of the year that is unbeatable in every sense. The processing scene is an evidence of that, how you can see Freddie in intense agony and how Phoenix performs it. When Freddie begins talking about his past, Phoenix is perfectly able to express the slew of emotions. Its one hell of a moment. When it ends, you can clearly see how much Dodd is impressed by how willing Freddie is, he sees an opportunity of curing him from his demons and to apply his practice and believes on him. Dodd has a very intoxicating personality, he talks your talk, which is what really makes Freddie so willing to open up. By that moment, if you haven't really got all emotional attachments with Freddie than i don't know what really will. His past traumas are pretty gruesome which involves his family and relatives while he has a love of his life who he had to leave before joining the Navy. Anderson so perfectly captures the horror and the emotions that lies in Freddie's past and the dreamy, sweet, whimsical but painful love that he has. From there on, the movie follows Dodd and his family spreading the teachings of The Cause along the East Coast. They get to be guests at various homes of the people that are drawn to this moment. Freddie travels with them as well, he is still not over his obsessions. Another powerful moment is when a man questions Dodd's various methods and his teachings and Dodd answers him in a particular manner where he doesn't seem to please anyone but be who he is. The anger is new to us, the sort of pain Freddie sees in Dodd drives him to beat that man later. By now, Freddie seems to be very much in love with Dodd and respects him. When people begin to question Freddie's behavior, Dodd's wife Peggy Dodd (Adams) advices him to stop drinking.
In another powerful scene, we see both Freddie and Dodd in adjacent cells. Freddie is angry and just plain crazy as he smashes everything with his head and insults Dodd and slams everything he has taught him while Dodd just stands there tries to calm him down. It speaks a lot about the nature of these two characters. Freddie is someone who would always end up being the insane person that he is no matter how anyone would advice or make him become something that he isn't. Dodd who is peaceful and very calm in nature can only do so much as to see him act that way and just tell him to stop in the end but never fully immerse himself in him. What further reveals much about these two men as well as people in general and life as a whole is yet another breathtaking scene that happens in a desert. Both Dodd and Freddie rides a motorcycle in high speed through a desert toward a particular point that they choose for themselves and then return. Dodd goes first in a kind of clumsy manner and then returns quite soon. Freddie however rides in full speed and out of the desert leaving Dodd behind. Anderson never makes us choose one person or take sides with anyone but he rather shows us the both sides, both ideologies and both ways. That scene perfectly tells us that there are people who on their way to finding meaning in their life would actually never fully let themselves immerse and go all the way. They would just talk and talk at first but out of fear or anything would never truly engage themselves in that journey. And then there are people who wont care no shit and will be willing to take a deep dive into whatever awaits for them on the other side. They will do what they want to without really caring for the results, they will either end up being enriched by it or they'll maybe screw up. Now lets talk about the performances. Amy Adams as Dodd's wife plays her part in a very cold manner, her stares are creepy and her smile is phony. Peggy perceives her life as a series of rituals. Even giving her husband a handjob, she has to tell him at a certain point to ejaculate. Adams definitely gives one of the best performances of her career. She uses her image of a beautiful, innocent, girl-next-door for quite different effects here. Talking about the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman whose performance was my favorite male supporting performance of 2012, he gives yet another "career" best performance. Hoffman understands the kind of persona that his character will need for him to make him appear as a big and influential figure. The showmanship, the leadership, the he-can-see-through-you thing he gets so right. Mostly Hoffman's performance is calm, intoxicating and maybe hypnotic. Dodd's grasp and grip on the people he is talking to is amazing, he kind of puts little shows for people who in the end gets very amazed by it.
And then finally we have Joaquin Phoenix, delivering my most favorite performance of the year in lead category and as a whole. Phoenix's dedication to his character and his complete and utter knowledge and idea of what his character is, what he can do to really show how he is and to just literally be that person is extraordinary. Watching him perform was like watching some Freddie in real life. His performance is so deep and never phony or staged that you never really feel like watching Phoenix but Freddie. He makes Freddie believable, he makes us go deep into the darkest corners of his mind, he never shies away from doing the most absurdest things to really immerse us in Freddie. Because of that, you will end up knowing who Freddie really is or else it would have been just a study of a crazy man and nothing else. His posture, the way he stands, the gait and sick looking body or the way he talks with a weird jaw and lips. Phoenix is not recognizable at all and what he puts up there is one of the greatest performances in the history. Coming to the technical mastery, man does The Master looks brilliant. The 65mm lens, the different techniques used in making the movie look like nostalgic for the sake of the characters rather than us and whatever images it comes up with, whether its the lush, gorgeous scenery or just two people talking, it amazes and shocks with the purely cinematic cinematographic celebration. Mihai Malaimare, Jr. did the cinematography and its again, the most perfectly photographed movie of 2012 as well as ever. The shots whether they are lingering, moving, still, claustrophobic, fluid, they just feel so on the line with what is going on at the moment or what the director wants us to feel. In a few scenes, the camera just doesn't stop and it moves and never finds a particular point where it would finally rest. Jonny Greenwood is back with his greatly ethereal and eargasmic score. Another masterful achievement of the movie. Even its editing is perfect, the screenplay while is deliberately challenging, the editing complements it rather than making it worse by jumbling up scenes that will confuse you for the sake of confusing. The Master was said to be inspired from Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's life but it isn't really about him, people made a great deal of fuss about it before its release. Freddie just happens to find himself drawn into this cult, its just a cult not particularly about Scientology.
Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master is highly ambitious and equally challenging, its not a sweeping drama and while it has big ideas, it doesn't go for big statements but in a very subtle way offers quite an insight, psychologically, into the characters. The Master is about America, its obsession with success and that American personality disorder as i call it where one imagines one to be quite too much than they truly are. The Master has the tendency to penetrate inside you, it tries both delicate and intense ways to do so. It is a great study of the master-disciple dynamics, the teacher-student, father-son figures. Talking about religion and cults, it also offers a great insight in their functioning while its goal isn't really to make a statement about it or really be a movie about religion but it ends up saying a lot. The way the followers take what their master is teaching them or telling them, how that relations works, the questions and doubts that arises etc. The Master says a lot about the path that people follow in their life, how it all works out for them. The struggles, mishaps, good things and bad things that happens in between. As a human being, one either follows or leads. In both ways, we get to take a lot of crap but that is how life is. The Master ends on a note that is a happy ending in a beautiful but very twisted way for Freddie. I also consider it as a great love story between Freddie and Dodd, the bromance if you will. That reaches a level far beyond the usual lets hang out and do everything together but two different people who have their particular effect on each other who can change each other lives or offer a perspective can so damn break your heart when letting go of each other just for the sake of.... well each other. That scene is so emotional that i couldn't help but cry. The kind of feel you get from this movie is very nostalgic but again not that throwback kind. It brims with the painful longings, the hypnotic energy, the confounding philosophies and looks so damn great. Whether its the compelling processing scenes or both Freddie and Dodd together, quite or talking, the movie lets you experience tons of things. The Master is great, so great, so fucking great.