“The Master”

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I had to wait a few weeks to see this (because I didn’t want to pay the surcharge for the 70 millimeter showings — not sure why that is a big deal.  Well, it is more that don’t know enough to appreciate it) so I was worried that the actual movie would be anticlimactic after all the promotion that kept on coming.   But as is so often the case, when I did see the movie, it turned out not to be the same one I was expecting.

My theater said:

This is the moment you’ve been waiting for, folks. If the reviews are to be believed, Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, The Master, is a “landmark American film” (The Daily Telegraph) that “will cause the lame to walk and the blind to see” (The Guardian).

After returning from the Second World War, and having witnessed many horrors, a charismatic intellectual, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), creates a faith-based organization in an attempt to provide meaning to his now landlocked life. His teachings gather a devout following and he becomes known as “The Master”. His right-hand man Freddie Sutton (Joaquin Phoenix), a former drifter and bad boy sailor, begins to question both the belief system and The Master himself.

See what I mean?  But this wasn’t what the movie was like at all.   (It just occurred to me to wonder if the people who write these have seen the movie. )  I did enjoy it — it’s a lovely color film, with all the nice period details and some good sets and scenery, and a pretty good rollicking story — and I would not advise anyone not to see it.  But it won’t work any miracles for you.  I found it mostly a showcase for the two lead actors, but their acting was pretty believable.  The cult material was plausible, at least, except for the nude scene (shades of Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe?).  Amy Adams was good, though I thought her character could have been developed more.

Quite a change from the last time I saw Joaquin Phoenix, which was in his pseudo-documentary a few years ago.  Maybe he is growing up (if this part was in fact not just playing himself?  That may be hard to tell, as apparently he lives his parts).  I read in Wikipedia that he came up with the character’s twisted posture himself.  I had wondered about that: was it how Phoenix actually is physically?  Apparently not, but I don’t see what the purpose was.  Oh, maybe it was “Symbolism” — yeah, that must be it, it’s the outward reflection of his twisted psyche!  …Please.

The whole movie was kind of like that.  What’s the point?  I thought a good expose (how do you make accents in this?) or sendup of Scientology would be interesting, but it didn’t really do that.  I couldn’t see any allegory going on.  What was the director trying to say?  The movie was like one of those novels from the 1950s that’s a good story but doesn’t qualify as literature — it could have been chosen by the Book of the Month Club, and I would have pulled it from my parents’ bookcase and read it.  But I wouldn’t have learned anything from it.  I don’t think there is anything to learn here, either.

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