The Master (2012)

by Not Friends Cinema Club

To be enjoyed as wholly as intended, 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘔𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘳 demands a level of devotion that, unfortunately, many moviegoers nowadays aren’t in the habit of surrendering. That being said, 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘔𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘳 is by no means an arduous watch, nor does it require any forced captivation from the audience– but more to the point: approaching this film with a receptive and inquisitive mindset only promises bountiful reward… Now, you may argue that it’s the job of the film to seize this intrigue from the viewer, and you’re not entirely wrong; but a film as esoteric as 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘔𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘳 can only benefit from a dash of light, preparative context and forewarning…⁣

Paul Thomas Anderson aptly described his sixth feature as ‘low on story, high on character’, and while this may make for a taxing watch for the uninitiated, if you enjoy seeing things you’ve never seen before, then this may be your cuppa’ moonshine…⁣

It is the story of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a troubled naval veteran struggling to reintegrate himself back into American society. Freddie’s also a crafty mixologist who can concoct moonshines using anything from paint thinner to aeroplane engine oil. While numerous interviews with psychologists were insightful glimpses into Freddie’s defected mind, one look at Phoenix’s crippled expression and warped posture deem these interviews hardly necessary.⁣

Freddie jumps from gig to gig, losing work due to irredeemable outbursts or irresponsible service of liquor. Freddie’s vagabondish wanderings lead him to the cruise ship of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour-Hoffman), self-proclaimed (and self-certified) ‘writer, doctor, nuclear physicist, theoretical philosopher’– and it is here that our romance begins…⁣

If Lancaster is seduced by Freddie’s cocktails, Freddie is beguiled by Lancaster’s irrefutable charm and air of intellectual authority. It doesn’t take long for us to understand that Lancaster is the head of a scientology-like cult, and while his methods of curing (or enlightening) his followers are questionable, we come to recognise their remedial qualities for Freddie. ⁣

Lancaster identifies Freddie’s primal innocence buried beneath and embraces him as- we assume- nobody ever has; and while Freddie’s abrasive unpredictability often clashes with Lancaster’s performative streak, we fall under the spell of their mutual magnetism: we come to understand that the inexplicability of human connection is as nonsensical as the scriptures Lancaster preaches.⁣

⁣Greenwood’s entrancingly mystifying score heightens this sense of inexplicability and cultish fever. Like Rota’s role in a Fellini film, Greenwood’s hand in Paul Thomas Anderson’s last four films cannot be overstated. ⁣

𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘔𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘳 will endure and forever be known as PTA’s most enigmatic work, as well as one of his very best.⁣


Will Paine