Paul Thomas Anderson is known for his track record of spectacular films, never once making a bad film. His filmography includes breakthrough classics like 1997’s Boogie Nights and the iconic 2007 effort There Will Be Blood just to name a few. However, the one film that strikes a cord with me on a personal note is his 2012 star studded cult study The Master in which Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, an alcholic, sex addicted ex-marine who struggles to adjust to normal life after World War II. After an unfortunate incident in which he arguably poisons and kills someone with a toxic alcoholic drink, he escapes and sneaks onto a boat that is currently home to members of The Cause, a cult ran by the titular character, also known as Lancaster Dodd (played superbly by Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Acting wise, I truly feel that the three stars of this film (Phoenix, Hoffman and Amy Adams who plays Dodd’s wife, Peggy) were robbed of Oscars, particularly the Supporting Actor gong for Hoffman. Each character is beautifully written and defined, their strengths and flaws delivered impeccably on screen. The scene in which The Master puts Freddie through processing is one of the most mind-blowing encounters to witness. It is so simple and yet the substance of the interaction shows how complex the human mind can be and the differences between these two men as they delve into Freddie’s troubled past.
Anderson’s script is so refined and tight that there are literally no flaws. He has crafted this world with such perfection and we are thrown into this metaphorical battlefield with the same claustrophobia that Freddie clear feels from his war days. For the majority of the film, we follow Freddie and, like him, we are immersed into the cult culture. The post-war setting provides the perfect backdrop to show Freddie’s fall from societal grace from respected marine to an alcoholic sex-addict who clearly struggles with PTSD (an illness not fully understood at the time).
The soundtrack is one of my favourite parts of this film. I could not tell you how many times I have listened to Jonny Greenwood’s score on repeat. You could have the film only playing with the soundtrack only and it would be perfectly clear what was happening.
Anderson has commented saying that The Master is his favourite film that he has done thus far and I am inclined to agree with him. This underrated film will undoubtedly go down as a classic in years to come.