Written by Robert O’ Doherty
The Master is the sixth film from Paul Thomas Anderson that revolves around a World War II veteran, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), who suffers from post traumatic stress. He deals with the condition by making his own alcoholic beverages by amalgamating substances such as paint thinner, acetic acid from a dark room, and even the finest ethanol from torpedoes. The constant abuse to his body leads Quell to being fired from his job, leaving the lost soul to further adrift. It’s after Freddie drunkenly stumbles onto a yacht that he befriends Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a charismatic leader of a cult called ”The Cause”.
After reading Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand – an inspiring biography about a WWII vet, Louis Zamperini, who deals with his post traumatic stress in a chaotic fashion – it was inviting to see Anderson genuinely showcase the effects of war on an individual with Phoenix emitting a truthful performance through unhinged behavior. Dodd’s relationship with Quell is almost like a father trying to get his son to behave, but through the cults way of perceiving things. Phoenix and Hoffman glue well together as they deliver a unique blend with their characters; there seems to be some homoerotic subtext that plays thinly in a few scenes, which makes you sit back analyze this relationship.
Anderson had to replace cinematographer, Robert Elswit – who he had worked with on every motion picture up to this point, but, Elswit was off shooting The Bourne Legacy, so, Mihai Malaimare jr was brought in as his replacement. The Master was 85% shot on 65mm, giving alluring vibrant shots – from Quell chilling out a sea to Dodd riding his motorbike across the desert. The large format also pushes you into drama and conflicts between characters; which is perfect because The Master deals with characters rather than telling a big story. To be honest, I didn’t miss Elswit here and felt Malaimare stepped up and knocked it out of the park.
The film is slow placed, dealing with Quell’s choices and relationships with this bizarre, but inviting cult. Some people might find this boring or even frustrating. I left with a lot to think about. I couldn’t get a general opinion of The Master right away. The film let’s you, the audience, figure some stuff out by yourself and you can interrupt fragments of the story in various ways.