'The Master' is a mixed bag of good and bad
Published: Monday, October 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 1, 2012 22:10
When the credits begin to roll in the movie theater, people always turn to whoever they came with and say something simple like “that was so good” or “that was so bad” or even sometimes “what the hell was that?” When “The Master” ended I sat there in a state of awe and shock, unable to find any words to explain my two-and-a-half hour experience. This may sound like a good thing, but “The Master” left me in silent awe because I was so unsure of what I had just seen that whether or not I liked it wasn’t even relevant. In one sentence, “The Master” is about so many things that it kind of goes right over its own head as well as the audience’s.
There were two things I did manage to take away from the film. Firstly, Joaquin Phoenix and Philip-Seymour Hoffman will win Oscars. Joaquin Phoenix is so creepy as a lonely insane drifter. Philip-Seymour Hoffman does a phenomenal job imitating the founder of Scientology, and the chemistry between the two is strong. Both do such great jobs that they really make the film interesting all on their own, and I say that because that’s all that really moves the film along. Second, Amy Adams will at least be nominated. Adams does a great job as always. She plays Hoffman’s wife. While she doesn’t manage to steal the stage as she usually does, when Phoenix and Hoffman aren’t around she reminds us why we’ve all come to love her so much. She is really creepy at times!
Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous films “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” are constantly referred to as two of the best films ever made. He seems to have lost his touch in “The Master.” While the acting is outstanding, there isn’t a plot or much of anything to go along with it. There isn’t a single likeable character. Freddy is supposed to be our hero, but he’s literally insane. The film states this. Anderson has said that this film is about the effect of war on soldiers mostly, rather than Scientology, but we never see or hear about what sort of things happened to him in the war and it’s never brought up. What we do learn is that Freddy’s mother was insane and institutionalized, he’s been drinking paint thinner for years, he’s addicted to sex and is a violent pathological liar. It’s implied he was like that before the war. So the war effects argument doesn’t add up. What we do see is this religion that mirrors Scientology being constantly questioned and criticized. At one point the founder’s son even says, “He’s making it all up.” We see that Freddy never believes the religion and just sticks around because he is lonely and hates his life the same way the others in the church who weren’t raised into it are. So this film is basically about debunking Scientology and showing what kind of people the director believes are attracted to it.
All in all, the film is an interesting look at Scientology, but I don’t know enough about the subject to say how truthful it is to the real-life people behind Scientology and to the church itself. It tries to be about a lot of other stuff too, but fails to develop any of it. You probably won’t like a single character or understand their motives, and the last five minutes shouldn’t have even been there. It is so well done and acted that I can’t say it’s a bad movie, but it’s certainly no “Boogie Nights” or “Magnolia” that we’ll be talking about after Oscar season.