Reviewed by: Tober Corrigan
CONTRIBUTOR—first time reviewer
charismatic religious cult leader
What are the top ten cults in the U.S.? Answer
Are you the victim of mind control? Answer
A simple test that helps to determine if the group you or a loved on are involved in could be considered a cult.
What should followers of Christ do when cults coming knocking? Answer
With so many cults and denominations, how can I decide which are true and which are false? Answer
Philip Seymour Hoffman … Lancaster Dodd
Amy Adams … Peggy Dodd
Joaquin Phoenix … Freddie Quell
Laura Dern … Helen Sullivan
Rami Malek … Clark
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|Director||Paul Thomas Anderson—“There Will Be Blood,” “Magnolia”|
Ghoulardi Film Company
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The Weinstein Company
A blue-green haze. Swirls of foam. A vast and immeasurable horizon. This is the first scene we encounter in Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, “The Master.” The limitless expanse describes with visual brevity the many mysteries that surround the narrative and meaning of the rest of the movie. Anderson chronicles the life of a mentally ravaged World War II veteran, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), who attempts to assimilate back into the life of 1950s America. After failing to keep a steady job, he stumbles onto a ship heading to New York. The commander is Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a leader of a cult group named The Cause (causing much controversy for its similarities to Scientology). Lancaster, and his family of followers, take in the renegade Quell.
Looking to increase their size, The Cause stops along the East coast, hosting revivals and increasing their membership. Lancaster’s religion follows a track of thinking that human beings have lived as many different forms throughout centuries past. By putting human subjects into hypnotherapy, he sends people back to a place in which they existed before but never realized. While the movie does not reveal much concerning the laws and rules that form this religious sect, the film spends the remainder of its time observing the exploits of the rather unconventional family that is the head of it all. The rest of the film’s plot (albeit one bereft of any conventional structure) follows the Master-Protégé tandem of Quell and Dodd as they act and react to the ever-increasing popularity of The Cause.
Every view feels skewed and mysterious, whether it’s the untamed beast of Freddie Quell, the bottled up giant of Lancaster Dodd, or even the domineering robotics of Lancaster’s wife, Peggy (Amy Adams). Each character feels otherworldly, with murky intentions and motivations. Why would Lancaster Dodd, a man with so much to lose, want to help the wayward Quell? Why does Quell seem trained and docile one moment but a loose cannon the next? Questions plague the film, many lingering past the end credits.
With these questions, however, comes a bombardment of objectionable content. Freddie Quell delivers most of the debauchery. He swears, he fights, he has intercourse with women, and he makes poisonous concoctions to feed his rather unique form of alcoholism. The film has over two-dozen uses of the “F” bomb, as well as using “s**t” “d**n” and God’s name in vain on a number of occasions. Full frontal nudity of women, multiple acts of masturbation, heavy sexual language, and other explicit scenes of sexuality pervade the picture. This is one morally corrupt film, often showing humanity at its most animal.
Spiritually, this film is initially an affront to Christian viewers, since it centers around a religion that proposes that “the source of all creation, good and evil… is you.” Lancaster’s goal is for humanity to reach their “inherent state of perfect.” In this cult, it is the human being that reigns king and master over himself, not God. However, Paul Thomas Anderson never glorifies this cult. Lancaster and his family are often broken, insecure, and downright creepy.
What is a cult? Answer
No one character in this film ever appears to have a true sense of themselves, which in itself can say a lot about the fleeting nature of attempting to master oneself. Anderson even lets the objective lens capture the mounds of tension that exist between the world and the otherworldly, particularly between the radicalism of The Cause and the squeaky clean formalities of the 1950s.
The end of the film strikes up plenty of important questions concerning humanity’s drive for meaning. Can, or should, we be masters of ourselves? Can we ever truly be happy, satisfied, or “perfect” if we are the master of our own lives? However, to reach these questions, the viewers must swim through morally murky waters.
From a moviemaking standpoint, this film is a gold mine. Coming from one of the most highly respected filmmakers living today, this film surely does not disappoint in its presentation. Key performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Amy Adams feel like Oscar® contenders. The cinematography is breathtaking, specifically in its contrast between epic vistas and extreme close-ups. One of the most surprising and rewarding elements also comes from Johnny Greenwood’s nostalgically brooding score. All parts come together to make a true masterwork of a film.
Mature adults may find this movie of interest, simply because its cinematic merits and rather poetic honesty makes for a very rewarding study on how humans attempt to be masters, and servants, in this life. But, PLEASE BE WARNED that, for most, this film will simply be too strange, too savage, and too morally deprecating. I propose being very cautious in deciding whether this movie is right for you.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Extreme / Sex/Nudity: Extreme
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.