Rambling About The Master (2012)

Nutshell Ramble

A commentary about religion, faith, meaning and the search for something to believe in.



Full Ramble

The Master is a 2012 drama written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. It stars Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. The film explores the life a man who has returned from war and who is on the search for meaning in his life.

The Master is an exceptionally shot and thought-provoking film. The film uses the backdrop of Scientology to offer commentary on religion in general. To a fresh eye the comparisons made between Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd and L. Ron Hubbard (The founder of Scientology) are easy to make. The film however, wisely, has a lot of subtext running under the surface. It can be put on several religious, personal coaching, cult-like templates and the commentary seems valid throughout.

The performances across the board are exceptional. Amy Adams might seem to get short shrift when it comes to screen time but her presence is felt throughout the film. The influence she has over the decisions the characters make is very palpable. Philip Seymour Hoffman is charismatic and confident with an underlying sense of fear. He is an exceptional orator and one can easily see how someone might end up following him and his methods.

The top acting honors go to Joaquin Phoenix. His erratic behavior, his gait, his vulnerability, his broken soul, his desperate search for meaning, self destructiveness are all portrayed with equal measure of frankness and restraint. He has a strong and relate-able story to tell. There are exceptional long, unbroken shots of him pouring his heart out on camera. The emotional depth on his face is mesmerizing to watch. Words cannot do justice to one specific scene between Phoenix and Hoffman where both men put on a masterclass of acting.

The movie is filmed on 65mm film stock and it is chock full or rich, sweeping, beautiful shots of landscapes and the actors who are applying themselves on-screen. Paul Thomas Anderson is methodical with his approach. The film does have a plot as erratic as its lead character. There are a lot of scenes which feel like they have no connection or relation to each other. I feel that there is a reason that creative choice. Finding reason or learning from a master is a non-linear process. The process of finding meaning is a hard one. It is a painful one and might end up being an ultimately fruitless one.

The Master explores all these themes with an eclectic and electric score composed by Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead. The film is not one that can be easily boxed into a category and can also be described as polarizing, at best, among the general audience. It took me 2 viewing with 4 years between each other to grasp so much of what the film had to offer. A few years down the line I may spot something else I may have most definitely missed.




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