After P.T. Anderson threw together the hell fire and brimstone piece of art that was There Will Be Blood, everyone was questioning what was next? Well after five years hiatus, Anderson has come to bring us The Master, a film about a WWII vet hopelessly lost in his own demise whom comes to find soliloquy in Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), an avid and charming leader to a group called The Cause. The film begins with a tantalizing shot of the ocean waves, curdling as Freddie cruises onward aboard his Navy vessel, mixing deadly concoctions of jet fuel and other deadly ingredients to suit his tastes. From the start, we can tell that there is something loose in Freddie's head as he mounts and fingers a sand woman made from his co-patriots , inducing a very uncomfortable sense as fellow soldiers watch him do the deed going from a joke to an awe inspired sense of confusion.
For the first half hour of the film P.T. Anderson makes use of his 60 mm camera, gathering beautiful shots of the landscape and feel of the time, bringing about some of the beast cinematography I've seen in quite some time. Also within this first half hour, we are greatly introduced to Freddie and his cannibalistic nature, a man who seems detached from the past events of his life. We witness Freddie's also trying to comply with normal life after his tour is over, brief stints as a photographer which fail as Freddie glumly attacks a man for no real reason. Then we find him once again concocting his death juice, this time down in what looks like Mexico. Unfortunately for Freddy, this lethal drink ends up killing one of his fellow workers, Freddy frantically trying to explain, "I didn't do that, he drank it himself!" The attempts to justify his mixing of paint thinner and god knows what else aren't taken lightly, as Freddy is chased across a field in a shot that displays the true combination of Anderson behind the camera.
After going through some quite off putting moments, we are still at journey with Freddy Quail, his life seemingly boiling down to alcoholism and frantic events that he seems to welcome. It isn't until he wanders aimlessly aboard a ship that the events and story begin to set forth. We don't ever get to see much of what happens the night Freddy sneaks aboard, but the next day in which he awakes in the hull makes up for it. Freddy awakes with a woman who insists he must come with her to meet Lancaster Dodd. Freddy abides and in the next scene we are introduced to the cool and calm leader of The Cause.
"You seem so familiar to me," Dodd points out from the beginning as Freddy snickers at the oddity of the two's coming together.
The meeting brings forth a quick bond in which the two men seem to find a quality in one another missing from their own lives, the men being near shadows of one another. Dodd then goes on to declare Freddy to be his 'Guinea Pig" as he finds an interest in him that is oddly shown upon the screen. Freddy agrees, although he is largely unaware of The Cause and it's life goals on how "Man is not an animal." In Freddy, Dodd has found the ultimate test in his teachings and puts forth an intense series of questioning called "Processing" aboard the ship later on. To begin, it's all snorts and farts form Freddy who doesn't seem to take the processing seriously as Dodd goes forward with odd questions such as "Have you ever had sex with a family member". Freddy hesitates and thinks over each question, leading the audience on as well to believe that this can't be serious. The scene shifts though as Dodd requests that the foolery be gone, Freddy seemingly wanting to abide by his "Master". From the start, this whole scene which is about twenty minutes entirely, seems very dry and laughable. But halfway through when the nonsense stops, we see that Dodd is dead serious and his tactics may actually be worthy, bringing out an intense and gutwrenching performance from both Hoffman and Phoenix. I will just say that this whole scene alone stands as to why both these men deserve the Oscars, it's pure cinematic gold.
From here, we are presented with a series of events in which Freddy is out and about with Dodd and his family (Amy Adams playing a dead serious role worth recognition). In another intense scene, Dodd is questioned on his belief in a public spectacle in which a man labels the idea as the basis of a cult. Dodd implodes eventually, showing that he truly does have those same animalistic instincts that Freddy has. Freddy takes this instinct not long after and attacks the man in his room, defending Dodd and his Cause. But why? The film goes at a great pace letting everything take place and set in, but by the end you will undoubtedly find yourself with some questions.
As the journey goes on, Freddy finds himself questioning if the Cause is fake after Dodd's own son proclaims it as made up. In another golden scene, we see Freddy finally calling out Dodd as the two stand mirroring each other in jail cells, Freddy demolishing his toilet to porcelain rubble and gnawing violently at his bunk. Afterwards, Freddy leaves to find the girl whom he apparently left for the war, only to find out she got married while he was gone. It's a sad realization for Freddy as the only real steadiness that we find is in the scenes of his memories with his 16 yr. old love (an odd relationship, illegal at that). Freddy then falls to sleep and has a dream (or maybe not?) of Dodd calling him in a movie theater (weird right?) and requesting him to immediately come to England to join him on his recent cause trip. Freddy does so, but is presented with a requiem, "Either you can stay here and change your ways, or you can leave". The scene is somewhat heartbreaking as Dodd sings sweetly to Freddy, tears seemingly filling both of their eyes. It is in these moments where we question what both men's intentions truly are for one another? Is it a longing in their lives? Is it something more personal? Do they actually believe one another's ideas? The film raises a few questions and ends on a peaceful note of Freddy next to his sand goddess, but this time he isn't humping or violating, he is just laying. He accepts his peaceful position and seems content with his life for the only instance we see throughout the whole film. A note that ends with such poetic emphasis that it will surely fly above the average film goers head.
Undoubtedly by the end of the film, many will be questioning "what just happened?" The Master is a challenging film indeed, one that shows P.T. Anderson has made his most mature film to date (notice i didn't say best, although it is close for me). The Master left me puzzled, dissatisfied at times, intrigued, angered, saddened, and overall accepting of what Anderson was trying to do here. It has been a long time since I have seen such a contemplative film in which you really have to look into the fine points. Next, the actors are pure dynamite and the whole film is full of scenes that are downright classic. From Freddy's implosive moments to Dodd's as well, we are basically shown a film that examines various themes including obsession, love, the missing pieces of one's life, and the lengths we are willing to go for our beliefs and wants. The Master is a challenging film that is unlikely to connect to everyone, but in the end, it is a bold and ferocious film filled with elegance and madness. Ladies and gentleman, if Anderson is left without the BP this year, I will be sadly disappointed. The Master is A confounding and brilliant film that tests it's audience, but awards them if they are willing to think out the details of this ferociously powerful film.
The Master is A film full of commitment, not only from the actors, but largely from P.T. Anderson who continues to show his maturing prowess as a director, delivering a beautiful, poetic, and largely unique film unlike any of he has done thus far. The Master is definitely the best film of 2012 for those who can work out the artistic and powerful extravaganza that is shown on film.