The Master


(screenshot courtesy of Polygon)

After Quell boards Dodd’s ship in San Francisco, he undergoes processing

The Master is a 2012 psychological drama directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. The film follows Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell, a terse, lonely World War Two veteran who becomes wrapped up in a new philosophical movement created by Lancaster Dodd, portrayed by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The Master is an incredibly heavy movie, and it’s meaning is up to the viewer’s interpretation.

The film is not a plot-driven movie. Instead, it is about the intricate relationship between Quell and Dodd. The former is a lustful loner, while the latter is a charismatic, natural leader, whose movement (“the Cause”) is under some scrutiny from his family. What makes their relationship so special is that, at least in the beginning, it is symbiotic. Quell finds a family, and Dodd gains a zealous follower. However, as the film progresses, it becomes apparent that the relationship is not what it seems. Quell contradicts the Cause on several occasions and Dodd loses his temper towards those that question him. At the film’s conclusion, Quell has ‘won’; he has become his own master and begins his own family while Dodd capitulates to his wife’s control.

What makes the Master so special is that Anderson was able to make a 137 minute movie about two men’s relationship so captivating. There isn’t much of a linear plot to follow, rather, the viewer watches a relationship, begin, rise, fall, and conclude, and make all of the thematic associations that go along with it. While it debated as to what the film is really about, the most popular theories relate to Scientology, dianetics, and the vulnerability of post-war America. Some viewers see it as nothing more than an exercise of acting from Phoenix, Hoffman, and Amy Adams, who portrayed Dodd’s wife.

No matter how it is interpreted, the Master is undoubtedly one of the best films of the 21st century. While not a light watch, it certainly warrants a viewing.