I did this review some time ago when the film came out in the cinema.The Master directed by Paul Thomas Anderson tells the story of a burgeoning cult against the backdrop of post World War 2 America. Joaquin Phoenix is the damaged, impulsive, moonshine swigging war veteran falling prey to the charismatic and megalomaniac cult leader played by Philip Seymour Hofmann. Loosely based on L. Ron Hubbard and the beginnings of Scientology, The Master is interesting if you have ever wondered what a religion may have been like in its infancy or if you ever wanted insights into the techniques used to brainwash people.
Cultish elements on display in The Master include, the charismatic fervent all-knowing leader, the seduction of vulnerable people and the oldest trick in the book: passionately repeating lofty sounding half-truths until they become true. Leader and spiritual guide Lancaster Dodd(Hofmann) creates a sense of belonging and identity for members centered around rituals of confession and intimacy (sound familiar), he offers comforting realities and indoctrinates members against any dissenting or reasonable voices. “We are not part of the animal kingdom. We sit far above that crown, perched as animals, not beasts. I have unlocked and discovered a secret to living in these bodies that we hold.” The drama unfolds as the animalistic and impulsive Phoenix is tempted by promises of relief from his inner demons.
Riveting but more thought provoking than entertaining, if you liked Paul Thomas Anderson’s other films, you will like this. As you might expect this film is closer in style and mood to his most recent film “There will be Blood” than his other best known older films from the nineties “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia”. Even if the film drags ever so slightly in places there is still plenty for the eyes and the ears to enjoy on with some unique visuals and an interesting soundtrack by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. Joaquin Phoenix gives an impressive Daniel Day Lewis type all encompassing performance and there is a great supporting cast of striking faces including Laura Dern (Jurassic Park, Blue Velvet,Wild at Heart). As usual with PTA there is plenty for cinema fans and trainspotters to get their teeth into. One example being a direct scene quote of “the dawn of man” scene from 2001 a space odyssey reaffirming the films meditations on our earthly desires. What I liked most about The Master was its implication that the impulse for religion is the same as other basic desires like sex or food. The Master shows how easy it is to exploit peoples’ fundamental need for belonging, a sense of identity and to have the world explained.