Paul Thomas Anderson – The Master

It is certainly more appropriate that I discuss Anderson’s latest film now and not a few weeks ago when I had initially viewed it.  With the story’s fictional religious therapy resembling the severely protected and renowned Scientology and the film’s award-guaranteeing return performance of Joaquin Phoenix,  the media’s excessive hullabaloo kept critics distracted and subsequently disappointed that the film didn’t arch with the same sensationalism of its media coverage.  But now that the dust has somewhat settled, we can take a clean perspective of Anderson’s masterpiece sans hype.

By the first day of public screenings of The Master in glorious 70mm in NYC and LA, it was already common knowledge to cinephiles that Anderson had cut a lot of the more plot-driven scenes, and the result was a subtler, sparser interaction between characters moreso than a tale about a cult founder’s manipulation of a common drifter.  As common with Anderson’s style, we are lured to his film with the illusion of a fascinating story, but such is merely a guise, an excuse to present something far more substantial: raw human moments embedded in cinematic ecstasy.  The film lacks a real climax, and there is no resolution to any of the numerous issues and dilemmas presented in the film’s tense atmospheres.  And for all these reasons The Master is a truly valuable work of art.  What you have here is human drama, bullshit, misunderstanding, and every character falling short of redemption and left with a flatness of unfulfilled desires.  You have an unwise teacher who marvels at his student’s innate nihilistic enlightenment.  You have an animal who can not be made human and drags the rehabilitating human down to its filthy level.  You have everything and nothing.  You have a big-titted woman carved in the sand.  You fuck it, you lay with it, you allow it to wash away.

And as Joaquin Phoenix’s character paces to and fro between two walls, touching them, feeling them, reaching bodhi as the surfaces metamorphose into objects of nature, so does the audience oscillate in manic rhythm, frustrated from unfulfilled questions and anxiously quivering on the tip of near-euphoria.

This is a challenging and brilliantly edited piece of work.  Hard Eight put Anderson on the map, and every subsequent film has darkened that spot.  The Master has torn a hole in it.  We can all die now.

-Jared Micah


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