The Master

The Master, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams.  The two male leads dazzled me with their full-bodied performance. Whether it was Hoffman’s face, which combined humor and sinisterness (ala Jack Nicholson) or Phoenix’s posture and gait, of which he constantly struggled to gain control of, both deserve to win best actor awards, as they did at the Venice Film Festival.

This is a movie that you must watch more than once to speak intelligently about it.  I have seen it only once.

That leaves me with questions for my second viewing:

  1. How closely do Lancaster Dodd’s purposes and tactics parallel scientology’s?  If such a strong comparison exists, does it extend to Lancaster’s physical and threatening behavior?  [You simply must read The New Yorker’s  expose on Scientology…]
  2. I missed some of the dialogue in the bathroom scene.  I know what I see, but I don’t know why it’s going on beyond a creepy power battle between husband and wife.
  3. How innocent is Dodd?  How sinister?  Does he change during the course of the movie?
  4. Why is Freddie so aggressive and addictive to near-poisonous alcoholic drinks?  Beyond his military service experiences, has he always been so flawed?
  5. At one point we hear a faithful follower puzzle over the second edition’s revision from recalling to imagining.  She realizes that this departs drastically from the premise of returning (Plato-like) to a core self through Dodd’s recollection sessions.  The second edition’s imagination replaces the first edition’s nostalgia.  Dodd takes a minute to understand her confusion and the import of his (unintentional?) revision.  However, we understand immediately that to imagine is to create, not recreate.  He has left Plato behind and embraced Aristotle.  But he has no clue.  Is he an idiot?  A pawn?  After all, we’ve seen his wife dictating to him what could be the new manuscript.  Who’s running this cult—Mr. or Mrs. Dodd?  If she’s the brains behind it, did she intend the transition to imagination  because her philosophy has evolved?  Or is she trying to set him up for failure?
  6. Where is the son-in-law at the end of the movie?
  7. At the end of the movie, Lancaster threatens Freddie—not just in this life but in other lives.  Why is he so angry?  Threatened?  Why isn’t Freddie that phased?
  8. At the end of the movie, Dodd challenges Quell:  “If you ever figure out a way to live without a master, any master, be sure to let the rest of us know, for you would be the first in the history of the world. “ Who/What is Dodd’s master and why is he controlled by him/it?  Who/What is Quell’s master?
  9. The music offers an important dimension to understanding the movie.  It requires more attention upon a second viewing.
  10. So do the set designs and costuming.

Check back later for a better mastering of this film’s message.


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