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The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson

I hated this film when I saw it in theaters. I cannot watch films like this when I'm out. They require attention and replay capabilities I simply don't have when sitting in a public seat.

This is my third time trying 2012's The Master, and this time I made sure to have no distractions, no foul mood, and no expectations.

I've known all along that Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix are acting giants and served this film well, even though I thought the narrative was complete garbage and that the pacing was an insult to the public at large.

After about ten minutes into the film I decided to enable subtitles so I wouldn't miss a word of the script. I often have trouble hearing certain garbled dialog, and this film has plenty of that. This was a very smart move on my part because with that small adjustment, I was finally able to enjoy this movie exactly the way I should have all along.

PTA films post Boogie Nights and Magnolia have forced me to warm up to them. With PTA's first three films he practiced an accessible feast for general public with the bonus of sensibilities not usually found in commercial cinema. I should note that I've also hated There Will Be Blood, but reconciled a year or so back, and now consider it masterful film making.

With most of PTA's later output, I just needed time to digest it. I don't believe it's that I am slow or stupid, I think it's because I need to be in the mood to really take it on and play around with the inner text. There's a lot to see and hear in this picture, so trying to follow an obnoxiously slow pace was a chore the first two times, and I resented this film for it, even though I champion slowly paced films. I can't figure it out. What's wrong with me? Nothing. It's called changing tastes over time.

Now, I know damn well that this film was an experiment and that the narrative isn't, or wasn't meant to be as clever as some say it is. Essentially it's a lot of things. It's a story about a smooth talking intellect who takes a shine to a wild and bullish man because he is reminded of his own inner animal. It's about control and conceit. It's about the roots of L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics. It's about sexuality and how it drives you mad. There is a lot going on. A lot.

Freddy is a mean spirited child. He bullies his old flame's mother on her own doorstep. He bullies and humiliates a portly man getting a portrait taken for his wife. His knack for evading responsibility is illustrated at one point when his hooch kills an old man working in the fields at an odd job Freddy briefly holds down. He's a wicked gypsy man child with volcanic rage.

Dodd on the other hand is a charming, energetic and very composed picture of a father. He shows Freddy a way out of his torment, even though Freddy admits no such thing exists. Eventually, their relationship becomes an enabling joint venture. Freddy is Dodd's muse and bodyguard, and Dodd is Freddy's father figure, as well as his financial ticket. Freddy constantly sizes up net worth in Dodd, his writings, and his fine porcelain. As much as a friend as Dodd is to Freddy, Dodd will not be shut down by anyone. He has two episodes where he is called out by onlookers or devotees and his temper flares.

There are several well placed comedy moments in Anderson's script, and the actors are up for the fun. This is very much, like TWBB, a comedy with tones of drama and thriller. Some of this movie plays it so over the top you feel as if you're getting the piss taken. You are. There's no question that PTA is pulling the viewer's leg at several key moments. Fat Matt Damon introduces himself as Dodd's son. Quell remarks "Yeah, I see the resemblance". I suspected a lot of the time, all of the drama was somehow a private joke, and I later confirmed it with viewing the outtakes to the film, not the bloopers, but the deleted scenes. These guys were having a laugh.

I'll say, as an experience in cinema, especially american cinema, you can't get much more rich than The Master. It looks beautiful, sounds regal with Jonny Greenwood's symphonic score always gnawing at dissonance, and time spent with the two leads is a real treat because they are so into their characters, it just comes off like a big shlt eating grin joke. It's so intense.

Also, Amy Adams shouldn't go unnoticed in this review. Her portrayal of the co-brain of the entire Dodd operation is nicely played, if not overwhelmingly camp like that of Quell and Dodd.

So on this viewing I was right at home with the pacing, even during the most dreaded scene for me; when Quell walks back and forth between a window and a wooden wall panel, eventually explaining his experiences that illuminate some of his well shrouded plight. On this viewing that scene was rewarding. I noticed inserts of Dodd eating on his patio, watching Quell, demanding he go again while he is perfectly framed between the fine white picture window drapes.

The final note of the film left me feeling miserable. Quell makes love to a woman he meets at the pub, and he starts riffing on Dodd's teachings - badly. We're left with this as a pathetic end to their relationship, and the promise of them being at odds with each other in the next life.

R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman
There is no greater actor at this time