Movie Review #847: ‘The Master’ is an excellent title for a film this powerful.
By Alexander Diminiano
|Rated R (contains religious subject matter, graphic nudity, sexual content, profanity)|
All right, Paul Thomas Anderson. Now you have my attention. “The Master” is the first PTA film I’ve seen that hasn’t bored me to tears. In fact, it’s excited me, thrilled me, inspirited me, and rejuvenated me most every thought-provoking step of the way. PTA’s film is for audiences who take the movies seriously. Or, for those who take life seriously. Or, for those who want to take either one seriously. It’s not for everyone, but for those who are eager to be challenged by the movies, “The Master” is a wonder to behold.
This is the first movie since Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” (1996) to be filmed entirely on 65mm film. Though I regret not having seen the movie projected on celluloid during its theatrical run, the movie still looks absolutely glorious on digital home video. “The Master” offers dramatic flare and breathtaking representation of its time period. Mihai Malaimare Jr. captures the film’s awe-inspiring cinematography, accentuating the already-brilliant set decoration and costume design. It’s not only in the film’s eye but also its ear that “The Master” offers some of the most enlightening style I have seen in a movie released in the current decade. Sound mixing and sound editing are achieved at a level that the movie can, at times, seem surreal. Particularly during flashback sequences, the film is extraordinary to hear on a surround sound system. Jonny Greenwood’s percussive musical score, which I must say is absolutely incredible, heightens the tension of this immersing drama.
Those are praises that have even been sung in the movie’s most negative reviews. But “The Master” is mind-blowing beyond these mere factors. Our story is one previously unheard of. A drunken photographer (Joaquin Phoenix) ends up passed out on a boat, having told its captain (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) that he is a seaman looking for work. These are two of three riveting performances we get in “The Master”; the other one is Amy Adams, and this is without mentioning any deliveries of the film’s supporting cast. The boat’s captain explains that he is not simply a captain, but that he is a more of a “jack-of-all-trades.” He’s a writer, a philosopher, a scientist, but more than anything, he’s just a very inquisitive man. He’s known as “Master” to those who participate in his cult. The acting photographer joins the cult, which is known as The Cause, and is a sort of a religion functioning on the ideals of knowing one’s self, thinking freely, understanding man as a puppet to society, and refusing man’s animal-like tendencies.
“The Master” practically invites us into this cult. It’s such a fascinating concept, and the film delivers it so outstandingly, that it becomes both a study and a development of religion. The film has brought up questions since its release about whether The Cause resembles Scientology. While the historical geneses of The Cause and Scientology certainly overlap, it’s well understood that the ideas presented in the cause were taken from the mind of writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. The Cause isn’t brand-new, rather a blend of various philosophies that have been brought on since perhaps the 17th century. But truly what is a film without inspiration?