Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master’

The Q&A above might be a bit long for some, but Paul Thomas Anderson manages to form some great answers, even to the occasional, poorly phrased question. One of his observations about The Master highlighted the tone of the film particularly well.

‘It’s probably a movie that’s more minor key than major key … there’s no kind of big moment … nothing big happens.’ (12:30)

I finally saw The Master the other night in 70mm. Indeed, as Anderson described, it’s a quiet film. Gone are the drills, flames and explosions of There Will Be Blood. This is different, at least on the surface. The characters are just as passionate, just as driven, even if some of them don’t quite know where they are going.

This is not an exposé on a fanatical cult. For once, their ideas aren’t overtly challenged any more than a traditional religion, which some people may find surprising, but that isn’t the point of the film. ‘Master’, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is presented to us, first and foremost, as a charismatic and understanding man. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), on the other hand, is erratic; animalistic. I almost empathised with Dodd’s desire to ‘help’ him, however selfishly motivated it may have been. Phoenix manages to pull off a challenging character, maintaining a certain endearing quality all the while, and Hoffman radiates power and charm in equal measure as the L. Ron Hubbard inspired cult leader. Amy Adams is also captivating in her role as Peggy Dodd, believably portraying a cold and quietly controlling figure, who seems to have more sway over the cult, and Master himself, than anyone.

 

The trailer includes footage which didn’t make the final cut, but will probably end up on the DVD.

Jonny Greenwood’s score, calmer and subtler than his work on There Will Be Blood, combined with beautiful period tracks, meshes so well with Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s 70mm cinematography, that they create an aesthetic which defines the tone of the film. It is interesting to see large format film starting to come back in fashion, while film projection (and to a slightly lesser extent, production) all but disappears. This year alone has seen The Dark Knight Rises with over an hour of IMAX footage, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, shot in 5K HFR 3D. It’s strange for what could be considered the two biggest films of the year to be shot so differently, and while it may have had a more limited release and reception, The Master cannot be forgotten as the first feature film to be shot on 70mm in a very long time, even if it is simply to reproduce the period aesthetic.

Ultimately, what the film (and it’s interesting that for once I can genuinely say ‘film’ without feeling as if I’m using an archaic term) presents is a completely relatable character, whose ordeals, lost loves, and desire to be accepted allow us to believe him joining something as ridiculous as The Cause. We all want to go back through the ‘time hole’; not just to see, but to relive those moments we miss so much, and imagine (or delude ourselves of) past lives and futures we can only yearn for.

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