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Bo is an avid connoisseur of the entertainment industry, pop culture, and social networking. His voice is the written word, music is his soundtrack, and his passion is the power of visual imagery. When not writing for The Hudsucker, Bo works as a content marketer for software company ExactTarget.

Making Sense of “The Master”

Image Credit: The Weinstein Company

Paul Thomas Anderson is the auteur behind such cinematic works of art as Boogie NightsMagnoliaPunch Drunk Love, and There Will Be Blood. Through writing and directing, he has grown to become a master of cinema, often taking a deep look into the human psyche of a collection of unique characters. His latest work just happens to be titled The Master. With no background, one could imagine that this title is a reflection of the skill-level this artist has achieved. However, it actually refers to the leader of a growing cult in the late 1940′s throughout the United States.

Much publicity and criticism has surrounded this motion picture due to its reflection of the roots that Scientology has in American history. Whether this was the goal of Anderson or not, it is unmistakable that the story provides a great deal of commentary on cult organizations that began to pop up throughout the country following World War II. But all controversy aside, this picture offers a great deal from story development to acting performances to cinematography, and is worth a closer look.

The Master is essentially about an individual named Freddie Quell (played by Joaquin Phoenix). He has recently returned to the United States from serving in the Navy for the Pacific front in WWII. Alcoholism, sex addiction, and some assumed mental issues have left his civilian life in shambles. Upon running for his life one night, he finds himself aboard a ship transporting Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his family and friends from California to New York by way of the Panama Canal. Dodd is drawn to Freddie firstly due to his potent liquor recipe, but eventually due to the way he can be so easily influenced. Freddie is now along for the ride as a member of the group that follows Dodd and his teachings almost religiously. From there, the story becomes a character study of both Freddie and Lancaster. Who are they and what makes them so? What really pushes their buttons to the limits? All of this is revealed as the bond between these two individuals fluctuates on the road of cult preaching. While over 2 hours long, this film is a hard one to walk away from during a home viewing.

The Master Poster

Image Credit: The Weinstein Company

The political world of film awards such as the Academy Awards only gives The Master attention for the performances of Phoenix and Hoffman. While it is a shame that nominations have been limited to this, the two are both well deserving of accolades. Phoenix, almost back from the dead of a 2 year dry spell, is extraordinary with how he throws himself into the role. Whether it be body language, style of speech, or delivering long, complex bits of dialogue, Phoenix is always spot on. Then there is Hoffman, almost the yin to Phoenix’s yang. This role is delivered in such a mesmerizing way that the power of cult is almost transported through the screen into our lives. Granted, this character has his internal flaws, but he sure is convincing. More than anything, it’s the passion that a tenured actor like Hoffman is able to put forth that makes this such an attractive performance. But back to Anderson. Few directors have been able to pull such powerful performances from their various actors time after time like he has, which is the true testament of his mastery.

Audiences interested in fine camera work and set design often flock to the art house picture nowadays. The major Hollywood studio pictures seem to be entirely green screen produced, which makes a naturalistic work like The Master such a breath of fresh air. The camerawork is crisp and serene, with each location becoming a painting all of its own. Whether in the desert, on the beach, or cruising through the ocean, the landscapes that frame each scene are glorious to behold. The set direction is spot on. Clothing and scenery come straight from the early 50′s, making the authenticity only comparable to the likes of Mad Men. Overall, the level of detail that went into this production is beautiful to look at, to the extent that one might get lost in the nostalgia of the late 1940′s/early 1950′s Americana.

History will most likely remember very little of The Master, outside of the fact that it’s a part of Paul Thomas Anderson’s oeuvre. Politics have helped hold it down and out of the major awards show, despite remarkable reviews. Personally, this author will always remember of that magical experience one has at the cinema when coming across a completely engrossing picture. If this film is just now on your radar, be sure to give it a try. If Anderson is a new name to you, prepare for a great journey of countless film viewings from one of the masters of modern cinema.

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