The Master (2012)

by The Movie Diorama

The Master is a masterpiece. I’m just going to get that out of the way. This is Paul Thomas Anderson’s best film (from what I’ve seen). Yes, better than ‘There Will Be Blood’ and you’re damn right it has the edge over ‘Phantom Thread’. Wow. Never have I seen such encapsulating drama entangled in a multi-dimensional thematic narrative bolstered by outstanding performances and invigorating characters. I just need a minute to calm myself and reflect on this masterful feature.

A troubled man struggles to conform to a post-war society, constantly consuming alcohol and corrupted with sexual fantasies. He soon happens to encounter a religious group known as “The Cause” which challenges him in becoming more civilised. Can one change himself through external influence, or is one destined to relish in their own savagery?

Immediately after the opening shot of luminary waves drifting in and out as a result of human factors, I knew I was going to experience something special. The serene ocean in all its pure tranquility, disrupted by the forces of mankind. The relation of this vast ecosystem to the human mind is one that is thoroughly explored in the film’s visually ambiguous narrative. Conceptualising irrefutable external influences and how the mind potentially could succumb to them. It’s a theme that embarks on an existential journey, a quest for answers.

Anderson commences this arduous idea by introducing an intimidating yet flourishing group, that prides in its own faith. “The Cause” could well be a brainwashed cult from a master who is possessed by his own omniscience. Or, a legitimate ideology that only wants to assist in “curing” people of their ailments. An incredibly ambitious plot, but fortunately with lucrative results. Anderson’s expertly astute directing style enhances the visualisation of the psychology behind “The Cause”, and the inner turmoil of main character Freddie Quell.

The rich character development is succinctly embedded within the story through cutthroat dialogue. There are scenes, of extensive durations, that simply consist of one conversation. From sharp interrogation tests that repetitively involve no blinking to confrontational debates with sceptics. Both main characters develop naturally, without resorting to plot conventionalism. A particular scene taking place in a jail cell illustrates some of the best use of dialogue. Their sheer frustration is expressed vividly through verbal exclamations and exceptional body acting.

The acting. Oh, the acting. It was on another level. The commitment from Phoenix was intoxicating. It was such a powerfully raw performance, requiring patience, that he has cemented himself as one of the best actors working today.

Hoffman was phenomenal. The level of persuasion in his voice and the calm demeanour he upholds is enough to hypnotise anyone. These two separately were outstanding. These two together? Unreal. The physicality of Phoenix juxtaposing the academia of Hoffman. Perfection. Adams also held her own, with several scenes showcasing her talent too as she plays the most ambiguous of the characters. Then the flawless technical aspects heighten the experience even more.

The cinematography was stunning, costume design was authentic, and Greenwood’s score was just something else. So uneasy yet utterly reassuring. Honestly, I could write about this film all day, and this is just after one watch. Paul Thomas Anderson has outdone himself. Suffice to say, The Master deserves its acclaim and gracefully earns the perfect rating.