There are few directors I respect and admire more than Paul Thomas Anderson. Not only for directing some of cinema’s greatest gems (Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love, and Magnolia) but even when you think you know where his film legacy is going, he decides to throw a wrench into his method of madness that blows everyone away. The wrench in this case is his film The Master. After the Oscar-nominated, critically beloved There Will be Blood, PTA decided to make his most “out there” and head scratching film to date (Inherent Vice takes that cake now). The Master stars Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell, a navy veteran who is just returning home from war. Trying to adjust back into the normality of things and suffering from alcoholism, Freddie constantly struggles to make an uncertain future worth living, until he meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of new movement called “The Cause.” Dodd, finding a liking in Quell, recruits him to spread the word of The Cause, as Freddie begins to fall deep into this cult-like world.
While the story sounds heavy on the subject matter, a lot of the greatness of The Master is in the subtle nuances PTA puts into this film. From the haunting first shot to the devastating last, The Master is almost more visually appealing at times. That’s not to say that this film doesn’t have an amazing script. PTA crafts dialogue with the amount of intensity that a thriller would showcase, but instead of wondering whats in the shadows, you think about the impact of the words spoken to each other across a dinner. Plus with a cast that includes Phoenix, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his greatest roles, Amy Adams and Laura Dern? It’s insane how good the acting is. With PTA spinning multiple themes including brainwashing cults, a post-WWII America, and the existential crisis of a man lost in himself, thinking about the film after a viewing is almost as worthy as watching the film itself. The feeling of dread, the feeling of remorse, and the connection to the characters is astounding. I know The Master was a very panned film by some critics, but I’d put it up there as one of the best films of the 2010s.
dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Screens Saturday, 12/24, 2:30PM, and Wednesday, 12/28, 7:30PM @ Museum of Fine Arts
Part of the ongoing series: Woman Inherits the Earth: The Films of Laura Dern