“I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher, but above all I am a man just like you.” These are the words spoken by Lancaster Dodd played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, the titular character in P.T. Anderson’s latest feature The Master.
The film follows the exploits of bad boy sailor Freddie Quell, a career-defining role for Joaquin Phoenix, who is trying to find his place in a post war America. Quell is a deeply troubled man, unable to maintain any semblance of a functioning existence. The only things that seem to trigger an escape for him is his love of creating and ingesting deadly cocktails made from a variety of chemicals as well as alcoholic substances and his primal urge of sexual frustration. Freddie eventually stumbles onto a ship occupied by Lancaster Dodd and his family, and is almost instantly mesmerized by Dodd and his work ‘The Cause.‘ Dodd takes an interest in Freddie as he tries to prolong his devolution into social decay.
Being one of the most anticipated films of the year not only because of P.T. Anderson’s reputation as a passionate filmmaker but because the subject of Dodd’s “Cause” is believed to be based on the formation of Scientology.
After leaving the theater, I felt many different emotions. I had felt both hypnotized and polarized by it. The superb connection between Hoffman and Phoenix really brings Anderson’s haunting landscape to life. It truly is a story about many things; isolation, relationships, ambition, authority, and hedonism, among others.
The cinematographer, Mihai Malaimare, deserves the highest of praise, as he helped create some of the most beautiful imagery that I have seen on the screen in years. He helped bring the ocean to life with a raw, shifting passion. My viewing experience was enhanced by seeing the film in 70 MM as compared to a digital copy, which is something that true film connoisseurs will be certain to flock to as its higher resolution provides a bold, fresh look.
Another surprise was Amy Adams who managed to hold her own as Peggy Dodd, Lancaster’s wife who is both menacing and nurturing. Her performance truly separates herself from characters of her past.
It is truly ambiguous and ambitious, which means it really isn’t a film for everyone. It is a film with something to say. But one of its weaker qualities is trying to decode what the film is trying to say. Why it polarized me is because for most of the film I was enchanted and in awe of what was unfolding on screen. The last third of the film, however, seemed to dispatch of its narrative and it turned into more of Eyes Wide Shut by the way of The Old Man and The Sea. This left me feeling more or less emptied of the feeling of awe and more of one of confusion, trying to decipher what was happening in the ever increasing mysterious atmosphere, leaving me with many questions. Was there a duality between Freddie and The Master? Are we, the audience, feeling the awe and confusion because we are seeing it all from Freddie’s warped perspective? There are numerous theories but I would not want to spoil the film. I am sure that there will continue to be endless discussions between critics and fans alike on the merit of the film, each with their own interesting interpretation of the events.
Overall, I believe that The Master will continue to entrap and make the audience speculate over its complex nature. If you do decide to see the film, I highly suggest that you see it at the Coolidge Corner Theater, as they will be having screenings of the 70 mm copy for the next few weeks.