ďI am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher. But above all, I am a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you.Ē
- Lancaster Dodd
Hereís what I wrote about this title in my original theatrical review:
ďPaul Thomas Andersonís The Master isnít an easy sit. Its themes are all over the map and what itís talking about is never entirely clear. Most of all, itís never a certainty whose story it is trying to tell, three characters competing for screen time, two of them sharing numerous tÍte-ŗ-tÍtes and one of them in roughly 90-percent of the scenes making up the 137-minute running time, all of them at one point or another the central figure driving the narrative. In other words, the movie is a challenge, so donít say you werenít warned before making the decision to purchase a ticket.
Hereís hoping numerous movie lovers do just that, The Master one of the most invigorating, thought-provoking, gloriously acted and meticulously composed motion pictures Iíve seen this, or for that matter any other, year. The film is a psychological whirligig leaping from idea to idea, thought to thought and concept to concept with wildly invigorated abandon. Anderson never misses a beat, never allows a step to be out of place, all the while presenting a scenario thatís as tough-minded as it is ephemeral.
The basics concern a psychologically scarred WWII vet named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) with a penchant for self-destruction and a talent for transforming the most noxious of liquids, like gasoline or paint thinner, into strongly pungent alcoholic blends guaranteed to produce instantaneous intoxication. By chance or by fate, he comes across Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his latest wife Peggy (Amy Adams). The man runs around the country with his family in tow extolling the virtues of his book ďThe Cause,Ē a belief system heís come up with analyzing past experiences and lives supposedly helping those who follow it master their emotions and take control of their lives.
Why does Lancaster take Freddie in? What does he see in him that makes him want to care for the man and bring him into the Dodd family fold? Is he nothing more than a lost puppy the charismatic leader, who some believe is dangerous charlatan, can command and control at whim? Or is he a fellow comrade, a potential fellow leader who can help The Cause enter the mainstream increasing the groupís following through his dedication and devotion?
To be frank, The Master does not answer, at least not fully, any of these or the other questions presented by Anderson. More importantly, however, is that it doesnít actually need to. It is the debate that matters, the discussions generated, how people converse one to the other the focal point of the majority of the narrative.
For my money, I believe Anderson isnít so much interested in religion or cults or psychological scars, isnít enamored with how leaders bring followers into their fold or how supporters manipulate events to make their beliefs more real and tactile even when all evidence points to the contrary. Instead, he wants to maintain focus on discourse, on how we tackle differing opinions. It is the state of interpersonal communication, I think, that is most on the directorís mind, events throughout the picture showcasing the different styles each character uses to get their respective points of view across.
I could be wrong, of course, and like all great cinema The Master requires, demands, multiple views in order to completely understand its meaning. But for me, many of the conversations taking place between Dodd, his wife, Quell and with others, both followers of The Cause and those who stand against it, all signify Andersonís belief as to how modern forms of communication and debate have failed us. The setting may be post-WWII but how people react to one another, the way they lash out, the way they embrace their opinions even when all evidence shows them false, could just as easily be those showcased on Cable news programs or within political debates. What begins as intelligent reasoning quickly morphs into angry recrimination, understanding almost impossible to come by when otherwise rational people become feral nincompoops impossible to comprehend.
Speaking of feral, Phoenix is outstanding. This is the kind of titanic, superhuman performance that defies any sort of pigeonholing or easy descriptions. He doesnít care if the audience likes Freddie, doesnít give a crap if they relate to him. All the same, he digs into corners of the manís recesses that are as uncomforting as they are mesmerizing, everything moving in a calamitous direction impossible to avoid and even more difficult to predict. The emotions he mines, the places he allows himself to go, all of it is as freewheeling and as unpredictable as they come.
Hoffman and Adams equal him, and to say all three are immediate Oscar frontrunners is something of a massive understatement. But what theyíre doing, the balance they are attempting to maintain, all of it runs in fascinating contradiction to Phoenixís high wire act. Itís an astonishing bit of acting prowess, each actor attempting something here thatís as exhilarating as it is dazzling.
With Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love and especially There Will Be Blood, Anderson has already announced himself as an old school cinematic auteur of the first degree. Here, his attention to detail, his handling of all technical aspects including cinematographer, production design, music and editing, is, in a word, extraordinary. As bewildering and as perplexing as the meaning behind it all might be, the sense of control, the feeling that not a single facet of this production is out of place or not exactly what the director intended is never in doubt.
I canít say The Master will be for everyone. I canít say all who see it will wander out of the theatre feeling a sense of euphoria or exhilaration. But that doesnít make the film any less spectacular or, more importantly, any less essential. Andersonís opus is easily his most challenging yet, the food for thought it puts on the table a sumptuous banquet any cinephile worth their salt owes it to themselves to taste.Ē
The Master is an awesome motion picture that gets better, more meaningful and astonishingly resonant on repeat viewings. I listed the movie sixth on my list of 2012ís Best but very easily could have placed it higher. All three members of its extraordinary main cast nominated for Oscars, itís kind of flabbergasting that none of them came home victorious, the breadth and depth of their performances something close to mind-blowing. Make no mistake, Paul Thomas Andersonís latest is a colossal achievement, and as such deserves to be seen by as many viewers as humanly possible.
The Master is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.85:1 1080p transfer.
This Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and features optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Extras here include:
∑ "Back Beyond": Outtakes, Additional Scenes; Music by Johnny Greenwood (19:59) Ė Deleted scenes have never been presented in such a fashion before, and it is doubtful anyone other than Anderson would have thought to come up with something so original and fascinating. Check it out. You will not be disappointed.
∑ Let There Be Light (1946): John Huston's landmark documentary about WWII veterans (58:06) Ė Anderson was heavily influenced on this classic documentary, and Anchor Bayís decision to include it as part of this release should be vociferously applauded. Outstanding.
∑ "Unguided Message": 8 Minute Short; Behind the Scenes (7:59) Ė Fascinating un-narrated behind-the-scenes footage of Anderson, his cast and his crew at work.
∑ Original Theatrical Teasers/Trailers (16:56)
The Master is a great film and another close to instant classic for writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. Anchor Bayís Blu-ray release is close to technical perfection, interested parties urged to snap up this release as quickly as they can.