Monday, April 22, 2013

Overlooked Film of the Week- #2

The Master (2012)


Through studying history throughout college and having a keen interest in it my whole life, I know and understand a great deal about the aftershock of men who had fought in a major war, particularly the world wars. Most men did not come back the same. Something was missing. It was as if they lost a part of themselves on the battlefield. One of the most horrific changes came from war. Many men turned to vices (e.g. alcohol). They desperately tried to find something that would help them make sense of the world again. Some men even found religion, or in more unfortunate scenarios, a cult.

"The Master" is the latest film from director Paul Thomas Anderson. It is a sprawling motion picture. The movie feels weird and strange, but somehow addicting at the same time. The cinematography is beautiful and the acting is top notch. 

There were many ideas which brought "The Master" to life. There were lots of bizarre tales meshed together to create an odd yet empowering film. Anderson used omitted scenes from his 2007 picture "There Will Be Blood," stories from a co-worker about his Navy drinking days as well as the early life of L. Ron Hubbard (the creator of Scientology). The early days of Scientology create the canvass of the entire picture. It is interesting how both the real and the fantasy parallel together.

We follow the days of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a loner, serving in the Navy. Quell mostly keeps to himself, but he has a talent for creating strange cocktails from the most bizarre ingredients. He takes part in a huge series of odd-jobs until one night, intoxicated, he stumbles on the boat belonging to Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd takes an instant interest in Quell and begins to initiate him into "The Cause", a mysterious philosophical movement in which Dodd is the creator and leader of. 

This is where I began to draw parallels to Scientology. One of the films first intense scenes is shared between Hoffman and Phoenix. Dodd uses a technique called "processing"(a type of psychological therapy through rigorous questioning) in hopes to cure past traumas. Quell is immediately drawn to Dodd and becomes deeply indebted into "The Cause". 

As you read the name Joaquin Phoenix you are probably wondering where he has been the last ten years. Everyone may recall that he took a "break" from acting roughly in 2006-2010. I put break in quotations because he, in fact, took no break. He told the whole world that he wanted to pursue a rap career. It all turned out to be a front for a faux documentary entitled "I'm Still Here" which came out in 2010. It was definitely a waste of a few years, but something seemed to have woken up deep inside Phoenix. His character Quell in this movie is by far his most exceptional role.  This year during the Oscars, the award for Lead Actor was a close call between Phoenix and Daniel Day-Lewis. In my opinion, the other three nominees had no chance. Phoenix had to have lost by the inch of his teeth. (And also by his poor award circuit attitude.)

The rest of the cast does incredible work. Philip Seymour Hoffman, as I have stated before, is a National Treasure. Hoffman absorbs himself into the role of Dodd. Amy Adams plays Dodd's wife with absolute fierceness. Laura Dern has had a lengthy career, but is still no household name. She plays Helen, another member of "The Cause". Dern is actually one of my favorite actresses. She has had a great career, spanning from a bizarre avalanche of David Lynch films to the more mainstream "Jurassic Park" then to the thoughtful "October Sky." She is exceptionally good in this role. Laura Dern is name you'll read quite a bit about in my blogs.

John Greenwood, of the band Radiohead, composed the music for the film. The music is both haunting, melancholy, and epic all at once.  The costumes and look of 50's America is breathtakingly realistic. I personally feel the production and costume design for this film was unjustly ignored in the 2013 awards ceremonies.

Overall, what drives me toward "The Master" is the story underneath it all. This is a great character study about a man lost in a world he doesn't recognize. He is doing his best to make sense of the world he left behind to fight the war. There is a scene early in the film where a Naval Commander is telling a room full of sailors about all the possibilities they have after the war. The point Anderson in this scene is making is that the Naval Commander's speech is invalid if the sailors are no longer in touch with the lives they left behind. This is the reason so many people turn to religion. People want answers and will do anything to find them.

Paul Thomas Anderson has had a great career as a director so far. From "Boogie Nights" to "Punch-Drunk Love" and "Magnolia" to "There Will Be Blood," no movie in his entire career feels like anything else he's done in the past. He is unique man and I can't wait to see what he does next.

The Master is now available on blu ray and DVD.


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