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). The Master was severely overlooked on release but has gained a reputation in recent years as one of the best films of the 21st century so far and deservedly so. With striking direction and a flawless screenplay, it’s a film that shows the plight to belong and find that place of belonging and where you fit in the world.
Directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master is my favourite of his films and is his own personal favourite as well. With the direction having a keen focus on Freddie and his journey to self acceptance while refusing to fully conform to what The Cause expects from him, this is a film that is deep in manipulation and questionable motives. Anderson’s screenplay does a great job of providing the mystique behind The Master and what his motivations are when it comes to Freddie and bringing Freddie in to The Cause. It is halfway through when we find out his real name as the allure surrounding him begins to crumble and Freddie starts to see the reality of The Cause and how society actually views them.
Leading the cast is Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell in what is a career best performance. A sex-addicted alcoholic veteran, Freddie is a deeply troubled character who deals with physical and mental illness whilst also being unable to adjust to regular society following the end of the Second World War. He is erratic and unpredictable, making him the perfect guinea pig for The Master’s new techniques. What Phoenix always does so well is really delve into his characters to a point where he can contort his physicality to become that character and we forget that we are watching an actor. Marking the first of two collaborations between Phoenix and Anderson (the second was 2014’s Inherent Vice), The Master was a perfect pairing for this highly intensive study into a character who seemingly has no place to belong.
In support we have Philip Seymour Hoffman as the titular character and Amy Adams as his wife, Peggy. Both deliver exceptional performances and were my top picks for their respective Acadeny Award categories. Hoffman’s performance has helped in making one of the best original characters put to screen. A quiet performance that is heavily layered, we don’t never fully understand why The Master acts the way he does or what his motivations are as his techniques are always changing. Touring the country and meeting followers, his reputation and inability to remain calm towards critics begins to surface and the mask begins to slip. Where Freddie doesn’t know where he belongs, The Master has created his own place of belonging and is determined to thrust his point of view and his agenda onto those who can be influenced, especially in high society.
One of the highlights in terms of the crew is the soundtrack which was composed by Anderson’s frequent collaborator, Jonny Greenwood. Having seen a lot of success for his score for There Will Be Blood, Greenwood takes inspiration from the 1940s and 50s period and incorporates instruments that are reminiscent of the marines such as woodwind which helps to elevate that atmosphere. We can see the film purely through the music because it helps to paint that picture.
Overall, what makes The Master such a brilliant film is the amount of detail that is in the direction and screenplay. The interpretative nature means that you can watch it and come to a conclusion then watch it again and come to an entirely different conclusion. It’s not an easy film to watch but the best films never are. Beautiful and poignant with a timeless quality, The Master is sure to go down as a classic in years to come.
What do you think of The Master? Let me know in the comments below!