When two opposite-spectrum eccentrics cross paths, it can result in a balanced union or a tumultuous explosion.
In Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, it’s both—with tempers always fluctuating on the brink of psychosis.
Joaquin Phoenix channels a crooked, alcoholic sailor of WWII for his character Freddie Quell, who grows delusional, with occasional flashbacks to a lost love, leaving us guessing the difference between reality and dreams.
Quell is lead by the hand of hard liquor, mostly because he brews his own moonshine—a blend of photographic chemicals or paint thinner, sweetened with a little sugar to cut the edge.
He meets Lancaster Dodd—played by Philip Seymour Hoffman—who is a sociable, middle-aged man, known as “the master” among his cult followers. They believe he can cure diseases through hypnosis.
Similar to Anderson’s earlier films, There Will Be Blood and Boogey Nights, the central theme is appetite. And as that appetite grows, if people can’t control themselves, they can lose everything.
Quell and Dodd’s rivers merge. Dodd sees an opportunity to cure and reeducate an eccentric, insane man. Little do we know that Dodd is as insane as Quell.
Dodd’s brash eruptions toward skepticism, reveals his veiled, uncontrollable behavior and commonalities form between the men.
Phoenix and Hoffman exhibit raw acting talent, and captivated me a sense of displacement into the story.
On the exterior, Quell and Dodd are completely different people, but truly they share the same soul. Both misfits and rebels of society, the film begs the question: who is the real master? Is it Dodd, the scholarly cult king and family man? Or is Quell—the man sans permanent address—the master? While the answer may be seemingly obvious to the two men, Anderson leaves us lingering with the question.
By Jen Mosier