Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Master Review

I didn't really enjoy Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master.  There, I said it.  I know that I'm "supposed" to like it, and on several levels I did enjoy it.  Namely the performances on display.  Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman put on two of the best performances I've seen all year; however, two performances cannot save an entire film.  Don't get me wrong, The Master may end up being one of the best films of the year and probably rightly so - I just didn't enjoy it all that much.

I felt the same way with last year's The Tree of Life.  I just didn't dig that film at all.  The narrative was existential and meandering, while the cinematography was face-melting and the performances outstanding (what wasn't cut out by Terrance Malick himself, that is).  Essentially the same is true for how I felt about The Master.  The film is just plain gorgeous.  Beautiful, in fact.  The performances are outstanding, with Phoenix and Hoffman on a whole 'nother planet altogether.  Phoenix already has my vote for the Oscar for best male performance.  But I digress.

Something about The Master just didn't click for me.  Perhaps its too smart of a film for me?  I'd like to think not.  I will wholly admit that I was lost and confused for large swathes of the film's quite long two-and-a-half-hour run time.  Large jumps in time take place unexpectedly and without any explanation.  You just have to sit back and accept that it'll eventually become clear.  Its this type of slow-burn storytelling that sometimes I dig, but sometimes I just don't.  Maybe I'm just crazy, but I don't really feel like much was accomplished in the narrative.  I can't help but ask myself, "what was the point?"

Phoenix's Freddie is a troubled man; an alcoholic, sex-crazed, pseudo-lunatic that Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd takes under his tutelage, so-to-speak.  Dodd is preaching a new religion to the masses, know as "The Cause."  The film essentially is about the attempts of Dodd to "cure" Freddie of his insanity; we follow Dodd and his disciples around the country, with Freddie in tow, seeing Lancaster give speeches to believers and be ridiculed by the uninitiated.  Freddie can't seem to control himself, and becomes incredibly violent toward anyone who dismisses Dodd and his teachings.  While this is just a snapshot of the two men's lives, I can't help but feel that the ending is incomplete; it left me unfulfilled and wanting a bit more.  And don't ask me what I would've preferred because I honestly can't tell you.

I'm just having a bit of an issue with what the point of the film was.  Without spoiling much, is Anderson trying to say that people can't change?  Freddie doesn't see much change or improvement despite Dodd's strong attempts.  Perhaps there isn't a message at all.  Maybe Freddie was just a messed-up World War Two navy vet who had issues stemming from childhood (his mother was institutionalized in an insane asylum and his father was a drunk).  Films that spark debate and discussion are almost always a good thing, and I'm certain that as more people see The Master, more thoughtful insights and ideas will come to light.  Maybe they'll even help me change my mind.

I fully recognize that The Master is an incredibly well-made film, with some show-stopping performances, but I just feel like something was missing and I can't put my finger on it.  I would say that maybe I need to watch it again, but with such a long run-time, its truly a commitment to sit down and devote your time to it.  The Master is certainly not for everyone, but for some it will be this year's best film.  And it probably should be.  I just didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I had hoped.

The Master is an incredible cinematic work that left me cold in the end.

The Bearded Bullet.


  1. Tree of Life was my favorite movie last year, and The Master may be mu favorite this year. Hmmf. I guess we just don't see eye to eye. That's fine. :)