Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Master, or How PTA's Rorschach is spell-binding


The Master
Written & Directed by: P. T. Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams & Laura Dern.

Oscar Nominations: 3
Best Supporting Actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams) & Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix)

Few films baffled and challenged me more than Paul Thomas Anderson's cryptic The Master. Shot beautifully in 70mm, the film's opaqueness almost presents itself as a Rorschach test to its audience, not unlike the one featured early on as we meet Freddy (Phoenix). While the film clearly tackles issues of cult-like faith in the figure of L. Ron Hubbard-lookalike Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), the film to me felt to me as the most searing look at post-war American masculinity I had seen on screen in a long time. As Naval-veteran Freddy, Joaquin Phoenix creates an amalgam of the post-war American male. Contorted in posture, crippled by unbridled lust and dangerously aimless, Freddy moves from job to job after coming back from fighting only to find himself stranded aboard the Dodd's boat. What follows is the improbable (albeit platonic) romance between Freddy and Dodd as the latter takes the former in as his disciple, intent on curbing Freddy's animal impulses and prove the efficacy of his own teachings. Following There Will be Blood, this is an important chapter in Anderson's continued interest in deconstructing the myths that make up the United States.

Anderson's meditative film is best experienced rather than described. Its dianetics-influenced structure of probing questions and unintelligible answers proves frustrating at times, but it is worth a dizzying gander. A-

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