The Master is a powerful force of cinema that needs, even demands, the utmost attention. Director Paul Thomas Anderson – who has directed some of the boldest and most engaging works in the past two decades, such as There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, and Magnolia – recreates a stunning image of the Post-WWII era that neither exists in this world or out, and sheds light on the dangerous minds that have come at the start of worldwide peace. We are faced with two men who, in their own minds, see the world in a certain manner, and try to feed on each other for spiritual guidance. Lancaster Dodd, stunningly portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is a self-proclaimed doctor, nuclear physicist, and theoretical philosopher; a man so driven by the ambitions and self-made delusional realities of his own mind that he attempts to create a sort of scientific methodology to expound these ideas unto others around him. He does so splendidly, purporting to his family, friends, and all that will listen that their lives are bound to an eternal soul that records the memories of their past lives, which they can access through documented sessions. Opposite of Dodd, is Freddie Quell, also superbly played by Joaquin Phoenix, a war-battered soldier whose mind is not only shredded by embattlement, but is also deeply drugged by the various concoctions of jet fuel, photo chemicals, alcohol, and painkillers that he self-produces. The only things left to Quell’s mind are the instinctual notions of sex and fighting, which the latter he uses as a mechanism of territorial and deeply psychological defense. He is truly lost to the world, and the world is lost to him, until he finds himself in the presence of Lancaster Dodd.
Dodd, initially enamored with Quell because of his toxic concoctions, takes him on as a subject of great intrigue and study. Like the others that Dodd surrounds himself with, Quell becomes a key disciple of his rationality and “science.” Quell refers to him as the Master, as so many of those around him do, and acts as his guinea pig for various psychological experiments and sideshow testings. The two become great allies, and a mutual benefit to each other; Dodd gives Quell a life of comfort and structure, as well as a sense of place, while Quell gives Dodd a specimen, friend, and trusted advisor. Although as The Cause follows a path of gradual growth, the two begin to find each other’s personal endeavors which come in conflict with one another. For Dodd, the past offers an answer to the nature of their relationship, but for Quell that relationship must change into something new. Quell has learned something about himself and those he has spent his time with the last few years, enough so that he is ready for the next moment of his life.
One could strain to extend the complete meaning of this film, or even be so pretentious as to do so after an initial viewing, but its offerings are too grand to allow for such a chance. The Master feeds its audience a vast containment of knowledge, but only so much that it requires a use of the mind to decipher its complexities. In a way, the film is the master and the audience the disciple – yet like Freddie Quell, we have the opportunity to come into our own and make a case for our interpretation of the images at hand. This film is surely not for everyone, but those that have the patience and fortitude to bring forth their own ideas to the table will find it quite amazing.
10 out of 10