Drunk. Pervert. Guinea pig. The character of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lot of things, but above all, the man is a fucking enigma. As a matter of fact, 90% of The Master is, right down to its very core. It’s easy to describe what occurs throughout Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest, what with speculation arising about it toying with the origins of Scientology influencing the public’s opinion of it since well before its release. More specifically, it’s about Freddie and his relationship with “Master” Lancaster Dodd, founder of the fictional spiritual movement “The Cause,” an author and well-spoken if sporadically ill-tempered man of many words.
That’s it. That’s all I can tell you without giving away any semblance of valuable substance, what with Anderson’s script covering everything from the beguiling existence of cult right down to how easily such a fragile, misguided individual can be molded like putty into in the proverbial man of his mentor’s dreams. Hiccups here and there have Freddie’s observers doubting his potential for recovery, however The Master is more a dual character study, one that focuses primarily on one individual, then the other, then their time spent together and how that time forever alters their lives for better and for worse.
Of course the bits pertaining to The Cause, its inception and wide-reaching influence are involving; almost overwhelmingly so, however it’s the interplay between the aforementioned men and Phoenix’s Freddie’s transformation that remain as compelling as anything else The Master has to offer. Coupled with mesmerizing performances, the sheer inaccessibility the film possesses in terms of how little it’ll appeal to a mainstream audience is almost negligible, leaving one to simply enjoy the ride and embrace everything Anderson’s laid out before us.
All things considered, The Master is quite the contemporary rarity in the realm of cinema. Typically stunning visuals, a wonderful era-appropriate aesthetic, complex characters and ideas that are unparalleled in terms of originality are among the film’s countless highlights, however the true nature of the production is somewhat troublesome after a first viewing. It’s hard to put a finger on what exactly Anderson’s trying to do, but as an overall experience, The Master is assuredly unlike anything you’ve seen – whether you wind up considering that a good thing or not is entirely up to you and your perception of the film as a whole.