Sunday, March 19, 2017
After the end of World War II, war veteran Freddie is lost and doesn't know what to do with his life. He finds work as a photographer and a plantation worker, but always causes fights. One night, he sneaks into a yacht and finds out it is lead by Lancaster, a charismatic leader who wants to establish a cult, "The Cause", claiming he can cure people's trauma through hypnosis, when they lived different lives. Freddie joins their small group which starts getting new members, but doesn't really believe in their ideology, frequently resorting to alcohol and erratic behavior. Finally, Freddie quits "The Cause", finds a girl in England. Winn, and has sex with her.
Paul Thomas Anderson's 6th feature length film, "The Master" seems as if a great director is trying to make sense out of a vague, aimless story. There are moments of greatness, typical for Anderson's scope, such as the long, exquisite sequence of Freddie running away from the farmers across the plantation or Freddie going crazy in the prison cell, breaking everything, including the toilet seat — but one quickly realizes they are only isolated bubbles, unconnected and with no relation to the events of the rest of the film, and thus they seem more like "guests" than as parts of a larger, purposeful whole. Since the plantation incident is never mentioned again, it seems ultimately irrelevant in the context of the film. The actors are all great, though, especially Joaquin Phoenix and excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman as the charismatic cult leader Lancaster. Near the end of the film, Lancaster practically spells out the theme of the movie to the audience in a very sly quote: "If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you? For you'd be the first person in the history." In it, it is implied that Freddie (just like humans as a whole) always symbolically served a different addiction: he was a soldier in war (his master was patriotism), an employee (his master was job and money) and part of Lancaster's cult (his master was religion), yet he was always restless and anxious in all, until he finally found peace in the master he liked (sex). This theme works, yet it clashes in an odd way by spending a disproportionally long amount of time with Lancaster's cult "The Cause" (pointless scenes of the leader making Freddie go back and forth to touch the window and then the wall again and again), which in the end seems as if its second theme is dismantling the way cults are promoted into religions. These two themes clash, and it would have been better if Anderson chose one or the other.