It is an unusual phenomenon, reserved only to some great movie directors, to be able to deliver two masterpieces in a row. Nevertheless, that seems to be the case for Paul Thomas Anderson, creator of the critically acclaimed There Will Be Blood, who now comes back with The Master.
The Master is much more than a simple tale of the origin of the Church of Scientology (yes, Tom Cruise’s religion), and far beyond a realistic portrait of the American post-war period.
The film is an ensemble of masterly achieved pictures that dig in the deepest guts of love, relationship, and human desperation. It grabs you by the arm, shakes you until you’ve forgotten any assumption of what human life is about, and then leaves you without saying goodbye.
Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a World War II navy veteran who comes back to America after a traumatic war experience that we are never really told about, and with a past full of family disgrace on his back.
While he is unsuccessfully trying to adapt his sick mind and addiction to alcohol (and worse, gasoline) into American 50’s society, he meets Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the wealthy guru of a sect called The Cause.
Dodd welcomes him into his family, intrigued by his erratic behaviour. The two develop a relationship of dependence that includes some homoerotic tendencies, and which is bound to end up badly from the beginning.
Both Phoenix and Seymour Hoffman deliver outstanding performances that add to an already remarkable film.
Phoenix plays the drunkard outsider in a way that goes beyond the cliché, while Seymour Hoffman could be the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of charisma.
Amy Adams, who plays Dodd’s wife Peggy, also deserves great credit in a movie where nobody fails to impress.
The Master is not an easy film however, as its very personal approach to American post-war society is filled with sadness, morbidity and melancholy.
It is unlikely that anyone could feel joy while watching it, but sometimes this is just the reason why you should go and decide by yourself.