The Master (15)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams. USA, 2012, 144 mins.
Released on 16th November 2012

Reviewed by Joe Coventry - 22/11/2012

Dinosaur Dystopia

This is a brute of a film, a clash of two behemoths, time-warped into the 20th century. Mind-boggling and visually arresting at nearly two and a half hours long Director Anderson does not spare the eye or the brain.

It's peace-time 1950s America and a new esoteric cult is born. It's omnipresent Master (Lancaster Dodd – Hoffman) runs the organisation with an autocratic hand, family members and acolytes alike blindly accepting his proscriptive analysis of past, present and future.

Into this world crashes Freddie Quell (Phoenix), a war-damaged, misogynistic misfit who has problems with social interaction and relationships. His eccentric behavioural traits are flagged early on in his reaction to a sand sculpture built by off-duty shipmates. He also displays a craving for alcohol in all its derivative forms. Lethal ethanol infused coconut-milk cocktails end with him high in the crow's nest, the crew helpless to intervene, and rocket fuel from shortly to be mothballed missiles is also fair game for his addiction. Then during a Naval debriefing his psychological inadequacies are further exposed in a Rorshach Ink Blot Test in which he can only see explicit sexual imagery.

De-mobbed, Freddie briefly holds down a department store photographers job. However he cannot go to the darkroom without sexual dalliance with the female floor walker or recourse to a shot of developing fluid for company. A fight with a customer costs him his job. Mooching around the docks he sneaks aboard a boat hosting a fund-raising party for the embryonic cult and a serendipitous attachment to The Cause is born.

There is now a lot of metaphysical content for the viewer to take in. Surreal and hypnotic sequences, with sound-tracks to match, confront the new Apprentice as the Master segues and croons his way across the hall. Mind-numbing exercises without dissent are now de rigueur.

A bristling magnetism between the leads now drive the action. Freddie's contorted face (part grimace part crazed smile) is enjoined by Lancaster's sweaty features, a tyrannosaur at the table as he boisterously tries out more outlandish alcoholic concoctions. Not everyone is happy with this two man tour de force. Discontent from Peggy (Adams), as Dodd's latest wife (who attempts to prevent the binge drinking) and waverers is met with sporadic violence as the Master calibrates the doctrine.

Eventually the authorities catch up with the dubious fund-raising tactics and the set-up moves to England. The Apprentice by this time has had enough. Exhausted and unenlightened of the misdemeanours in his past lives he fails to find redemption with his first girlfriend. Given a last chance he travels to the new HQ for a final meeting with the Master but eschews his tutorage in favour of the village pub. Here his horny, raptor stare fixates a female across the bar and the old rewards of sex and strong spirits help keep him going in this lifetime – if not the next with the Master.

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