Brian Henry Martin at the movies

Follow The Master?

Published Thursday, 22 November 2012
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Director Paul Thomas Anderson's latest magnum opus The Master has left some critics' and most audiences bewitched, bothered and bewildered.

For me, it is a masterpiece, a visually stunning explosion of pure cinema, emotionally charged with a penetrating psychological punch. If you are bored by this film, to paraphrase the great Samuel Johnson, then you are bored with life.

The Master is one of those extraordinary films that is almost impossible to review. Attempting to describe the plot and characters is a pointless exercise.

So here it goes. No seriously, I should just write '"Go, See!". But there is so much to say about The Master.

A very edgy Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a sailor returning from WWII. He's no hero but a lost soul, who's all at sea on dry land. In the fog of post-war, a confused Quell drifts from deadbeat job to deadend street, desperately searching for a purpose, a place, an inner peace.

We see Quell flitting along the quayside at night, darting in and out of the darkness. He then spots the light he has been looking for, a larger than life man dancing at a party on a glamorous ship.

But this is no ordinary man, this is The Master (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a new spiritual movement known as The Cause.

The charismatic Master is the centre of attention, so like a moth to a flame, Quell instinctively leaps on-board. He and we, are now stowaways on a strange and dazzling voyage into the human soul. "I'm a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher" The Master tells his new disciple "but above all, I am a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you."

Phoenix delivers a spell-binding performance as odd man out Freddie Quell, one of the most curious characters you will ever see on screen. It is the peculiar physicality of Phoenix that is so mesmerising. His broody eyes, his twisted lip, his hunched shoulders with crooked hands on bent hips. Within Phoenix there is a simmering rage and a pained vulnerability not seen since Marlon Brando or Montgomery Clift.

Quell tells The Master that his father is a drunk and his mother is in the looney bin. And we see this in every scene, where Phoenix brilliantly walks the line between the two.

"He's a drunk, he's dangerous and he will be our undoing" says Peggy, (played by Amy Adams) to her husband, The Master. But despite this forewarning, Freddie Quell remains in the flock. Master and follower, inexpicably drawn to each other in a bizarre love/hate relationship.

The interplay between Phoenix and Hoffman is electric, especially 'the processing' scene, where The Master unpeels his able follower with a repetitive series of piercing questions.

Obviously riffing on the real life of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, director Paul Thomas Anderson paints his captivating story on a huge canvas. Filmed on 65mm, this is widescreen cinema for deep thinkers. The period detail is exquisitely recreated, taking us on a beautifully crafted journey from the West Coast of America to East of Eden.

Of course, The Master, is a film which was never going to resolve all the puzzles it presents. But one knows, like all great art, the answers will reveal themselves when you are ready.


The Master (Cert 15) is screening in selected cinemas.

© UTV News
B. H. Martin
B. H. Martin

Brian Henry Martin is an accomplished documentary filmmaker and UTV's resident film critic, appearing regularly on UTV Live Tonight.

No matter what the film, there's a good chance Brian has seen it.

Twice.

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