September 16, 2012

MOVIES: The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)

The Master is an extraordinarily dense movie, and I think I'm going to be digesting it for a few days; I may even go back and see it again, which I very rarely do. It is not the Scientology expose that some of the rumors might have led you to expect, though there are certainly similarities between the movie's Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), leader of a movement called "The Cause," and L. Ron Hubbard.

The movie's other central figure is Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a WWII veteran suffering from what we would now call PTSD who winds up in Dodd's orbit; he's tightly wound, sexually obsessed, and prone to violence. Dodd adopts Freddie as his "protege and guinea pig" with an eye towards using his new theories -- a mix of psychoanalysis, exercises that seem to be lifted from bad acting classes, and past-life hypnotic regression -- to help Freddie find serenity.

Phoenix is astonishing here, and I find it hard to imagine that I'll see a better performance this year; Hoffman is also very fine, and this deserves to be the first movie since Amadeus to receive two Best Actor Oscar nominations. (But I'll bet the studio wimps out and pushes Hoffman for supporting.)

The movie is visually stunning; Jonny Greenwood's score is a fascinating mix of thick string chords and clattering percussion; and you'll hear a performance of "Slow Boat to China" that I'm still trying to make sense of. I'm not sure I entirely get the movie yet, but I'm certain that it's worth getting.

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