This film distressed me. On many levels. You should know that it’s astonishing, unique and beautifully rendered. Paul Thomas Anderson is probably the most remarkable and visionary film maker working today (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood are all incredible films).
But The Master is a film about the most deranged, broken character I’ve ever seen, and Joaquin Phoenix throws himself so completely into the part that the damage he’s playing all but appears to cut right to the bone. His Freddy is so broken, so deranged, so damaged by his past and his inner demons, the war, and who knows what else, you know he needs so much more help than the Scientology-like ‘Cause’ ‘processing’ at the centre of the film. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s titular role of Lancaster Dodd is so obviously a fraud, a manipulative charalatan, with his ever doting and vicious wife – played here by Amy Adams so willing and ready to defend him to the ends of the earth… Nobody can be saved here. Nobody will ever be healthy.
I hate seeing this kind of manipulation anywhere, even here on film. Freddy is so damaged, and what Dodd was offering is so patently not good for him. Maybe I’m just not in the best emotional place to be seeing a film like this, having had my own sense of self-worth and vision/judgment brought into question this year. The Master’s depiction of human manipulation was all a bit much for me. A reaction is required for most films to be artistically successful, so a win has been had here by PTA, who drew from me a reaction as powerful as to be made upset by not the storytelling, but the story itself.
The Master is a film of stunning achievements – Joaquin Phoenix is remarkable, electric, throwing himself into the role in such a way that you can’t help but think that some of the mud is going to stick. At no point are you unconvinced of his dysfunctions, at no point do you see a performance – this is wall-to-wall sincerity, wholehearted consumption of an actor by his role. And that’s part of the problem for me; all I wanted to do was rescue the guy. Hoffman’s performance is another for the ages, the guy cannot hit a false note. Amy Adams, again, stunning and cold, determined, scary.
All other aspects of the film are first rate; it’s immaculately shot, costumed, edited, scored. It’s a remarkable piece of work from a film maker who doesn’t meet or exceed expectations, he just makes the films he wants to make in the style he wishes to make them. Credit him for that. But like the Coen brothers’ No Country For Old Men, this is a film which is almost without equal in terms of artistic merit, yet I hope against hope that I won’t ever have to see it again. All a bit much.