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The Master

Such a tough film to unpack, but boy is it worth the effort. I can completely understand why PTA seems to be a director that cinephiles either love or don't care for. He really doesn't cut the audience any slack. Rather he grabs them by the neck and makes them decide one way or the other how they feel. His characters are written in a very challenging way, and The Master may just be the greatest example of that. It is not easy to get a hold of either the intentions or motivations of Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd. Quell is such an interesting character. Certainly one that is searching, but one that would on the surface seem unlikely to fall prey to the religion being crafted by Dodd. He is a free spirit whose personality would seem to be unwilling to allow itself to be penned up by such a rigid lifestyle. He does allow himself to be penned up though, even if it is only for a time. Does he see Dodd as a father figure? Does he love the feeling of belonging that can come from organized religion? Is he just biding his time until he sees a train that he would rather jump on? Probably a little of all of those at different times. I do think he grows to love Dodd. Much of that probably has to do with the way Dodd feels about him. It usually becomes very easy for us to fall in love with people who are showing us love.

So why does Dodd become so infatuated with Quell? It certainly can't be as simple as his love for his swill. Putting turpentine in your water can't be so addicting. I feel he is enamored with Quell's freedom. Dodd is the master of the cause, but he is also a prisoner to it. We see him become frustrated whenever his thoughts are challenged. We see his wife dictating their next move as if they were involved in chess rather than changing lives. Although he sets the pace, he is a man whose life has been dictated by his own motivations. I believe he wishes to have the freedom that Quell has many times, but he can't go back. Perhaps because he does believe in the cause. It is also a question that is raised of Hubbard. Did he really believe the religion he was putting forth, or was it all for money? We have the same question of Dodd, that largely goes unanswered.

That's The Master. These two characters walking through this part of their life. Searching and trying to reconcile who they are and who they desire to be. Every step forward is followed by two back. Sometimes connecting and sometimes needing to separate. It is a stunning character study. One with all the answers and no answers at all. This is my third time viewing it and it grows with me each time. I love it more and more. In addition to these two amazing characters The Master also has a dynamite score. One of the things PTA does extremely well is allow the score to speak to us when there is no dialogue. In The Master I especially enjoy this aspect through the first part of the film when we are getting to know Quell. The cinematography is also beautiful in this film, as it is in all PTA's films.

The Master is certainly one of the great cinematic achievements of the last ten years, and possibly ever.