When you’re a director such as Paul Thomas Anderson, you have a track record that is so good that any of your films can be considered the greatest.
While Punch-Drunk Love is my favorite Paul Thomas Anderson film for the connection it has to my real life, the film I think is his best is 2012’s The Master, an allegorical analysis of the philosophy of Scientology.
While it’s critically received extremely well it still isn’t as praise as his bigger hits like There Will Be Blood or Boogie Nights. What I seek to do is process what The Master’s themes are and what confuses a lot of people on a first viewing.
What I seek to do is process what The Master’s themes on Religion, Contradiction, and the idea of a Master itself, that confuses a lot of people on a first viewing.
The film opens at sea.
It’s roaring movements paint a portrait of the mind of Freddie Quell, played by the ever so facinating Joaquin Phoenix.
Freddie is a man that isn’t controlled by anyone and does whatever he feels like he wants to do. But Freddie realizes that there’s a part of him that he seeks that was taken from him. Companionship.
Throughout the film Freddie experiments in different ways to seek a partner of some kind. Whether romantic or friendly, Freddie doesn’t seem to care.
Whoever he once was is gone now, stripped away by the brutality of the war he was apart of. What he’s doing to isolate the other, unrecognized to him, is actually who he is now.
Just like the sea, Freddie is unpredictable and doesn’t know where life will lead him next.
That is until one day the sea leads him to a man and a woman that will steer Freddie in a path that will both lead him to a dead end and a new beginning.
There, he meets up with the leader of The Cause, Lancaster Dodd and his wife, Peggy Dodd, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams.
Lancaster Dodd’s condescending ego to Freddie raises the question on the evolution of man that Dodd asks in his recent book, The Split Saber.
Here he proclaims that he is the highest evolution of man because he is his own master.
But is he truly?
Freddie is the supposed lowest evolution of man, the ape. He acts out of emotion and he rebels against the leaders that are placed in his society.
That is what really makes Freddie the true master.
Freddie isn’t tied down to anyone because throughout the film he never listens to anyone besides himself. When Peggy realizes this about Freddie both her and Lancaster try to keep him down and become one of the underlings of The Cause.
However, Freddie’s meeting of Lancaster Dodd and Peggy Dodd is a contradiction to The Cause beliefs all in itself.
The Cause believes everything has a scientific reason and nothing is a coincidence, but Freddie just happened to stumble upon Dodd’s boat out of nowhere.
This states how the relationship Freddie has built with the followers of The Cause is contradictory and will only lead to contradictions once they go to land.
What Freddie doesn’t realize is how he starts, more so stirs up, more valid arguments against The Cause.
As the film progresses you as the audience start to see more of the facade that The Cause has placed over us and Freddie.
Their logic begins to become more mainstream, more marketable.
They start to proclaim that processing can cure minor leukemia. It grows more and more apart from the original spirituality of itself and more of a profitable business as seen in the end with the school in England.
The 3 main characters of The Master show us the different types of evolution that PTA wants to show us.
Lancaster Dodd masquerades as the fully capable human when really…he is more of the caveman.
According to the evolution scale, Peggy is the real Master.
Peggy is the only one that can truly control Lancaster to the point where she even commands him when to ejaculate.
This control leads The Cause to become more profitable and more successful. She’s more into it than Lancaster is.
Near the end of the film, Freddie is in Lancaster’s office and we see Lancaster in the center but Peggy in the background, hiding in the shadows as the puppet master.
But this doesn’t mean that she is truly the highest evolution because she is the so called Master.
She has to stand in the shadow of Dodd as he is the face of the operation while she’s the brains. They’re stuck with each other as they need one another to thrive.
The closest Freddie comes to breaking free of The Cause is with the Window to the Wall scene.
The window represent the freedom that Freddie is looking for, opportunity that The Cause hides from him.
They make him shut his eyes, so to make him one of them. The wall represents the closed mindedness of The Cause. There is nothing in the horizon for Freddie because he sees nothing there or as he puts it, “It’s just a fucking wall!”
While it seems he might be down for the count and is fully for The Cause he finally breaks through the cracks during a seemingly insignificant motorcycle sequence.
Not only is the scene shot phenomenally like the rest of the film, but it showcases Freddie finally breaking free from The Cause.
Lancaster Dodd can leave anytime he wants but chooses to come back to The Cause because unlike Freddie, he sees nothing in the great distance.
Freddie however, knows there’s something for him out there in the great distance and leaves.
Because he listens to no one…he becomes the superior species.
Lancaster and Peggy Dodd will never be able to leave their positions because they believe that there’s something in this facade of a wall they have created.
When Lancaster says to Freddie, “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 of the world.”
Lancaster now knows that Freddie will be his guide to living a life where he’s in control. Freddie will be the one that seeks that freedom he and Freddie want.
The Master by my definition is a perfect film.
It’s rhythmic and messy storytelling shows us the struggle of a man has when trying to find his place in the world.
Every performance will go down as some of the best performances of all time and the film will be considered one of the great classics of this decade.
I implore you that if you weren’t a fan of The Master and are now reading this rewatch it and I think you’ll be surprised at what you find this time around.
all images via TWC & Annapurna