This year’s offering, The Master, focuses on the Freddie Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a satyriasis sailor suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who is trying to adjust to post World War II America. He soon meets the charismatic Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and is accepted into his movement “The Cause”. Possibly the less known about the film, the better.
The film captures a post-World War II America struggling to find itself after the socio-economic developments. With costumes, sets and music contribute to the feel of the period. Stylistically, the film is made similar to a film of the 1940s, Anderson employs sharp focus heavily which directs the eye where to look. Also the editing is constantly unhurried throughout which makes the filmmaking very slow as long takes are often employed to create tension and strain for the viewer. Anderson used 70mm film in its conception to create authenticity, a rarity medium for a modern film.
…a deliberate decision…
However, a problem for new comers of Anderson films will be the use of little plot especially as the film is 143 minutes long and could lose viewers attention. There is little development in the story nor a climatic ending which seems unusual as many scenes throughout culminate to a tense situation. This lack of traditional narrative arc could leave some unfulfilled or cheated, however, I feel this is a deliberate decision on Andersons part to show the lack of belonging and sense of straying in the late 1940s after the war.
With no resolutions the film is challenging and open to interpretation. One scene in particular lends itself to interpretation, in which Dodd sings to a crowd in which the women spontaneously become undressed. Perhaps a point-of-view fantasy shot? Or a dream sequence? But from whom? Either way Anderson is not following Classical Hollywood narrative techniques. Also the themes of the film are very enigmatic and subjective, with issues from patriarchy, birth of cults, post-Freudian discovery and pseudo-science. It is no surprise that a correlation between Dodd and L. Ron Hubbard and the early days of Scientology have been noted. Perhaps more novel interpretations will surface. Just as Quell in the film is subjected to the Rorschach Test so is the audience whilst viewing the film, with the advertising campaign being a sign of this.
The film is a must for the performances displayed alone…
One thing that is undeniable about the film is its great central performances; from Joaquin Phoenix’s mentally tormented and physically deformed lead to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s darkly charismatic chief to Amy Adams’ imperceptive wife. The film is a must for the performances displayed alone.
A strong recommendation to both Anderson fans and new comers, but a challenging and intense watch: a must in 70mm for a grand cinematic experience mimicking a bygone style.