Have you ever been in the waiting room at the dentist’s office and come across a Magic Eye book? You know, the pictures that you’re supposed to stare at and see an image. Everyone has different opinions towards Magic Eye. Some people see beautiful 3D images, others just see a bunch of pretty lines. ‘The Master’ is viewed in a similar fashion. But whether you love it or don’t know what to think of it, the one thing we can agree on is that this movie is a piece of art.
Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a part-time photographer who seems to have a strange obsession with alcahol. He comes across a mysterious writer named Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who is the leader of The Cause, a firm belief in past lives and man being superior than the animal kingdom. He and his wife, Peggy, (Amy Adams), do everything they can to get The Cause off the ground, but Freddie begins to suspect that Lancaster is insane, and is making up everything as he goes along. Freddie starts to get homesick, and as Lancaster and his Cause remain on the line between comforting and threatening, his world starts to fall apart.
As I said, everyone views this movie differently. Like Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’, Paul Thomas Anderson acts to show you these people and events and allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions, rather than forcing the moral on the audience. There aren’t any clear answers, but there are a lot of interesting questions. And the screenplay cleverly handles the story in a nonlinear way while still managing to get the audience invested. The craft categories all do their jobs well, with highlights being Cinematography and Score. Seeing as how the protagonist is a photographer, it makes sense to picture each shot as a clever photograph, and the music reflects the mood you might hear upon looking at these photographs. Special mention to the ‘masterful’ editing and sound mixing.
But let’s get down to the main focus of the movie: the acting. Phoenix manages to carry the weight of the film on his shoulders, and in my opinion, deserves an Oscar nomination. All we know is that he is not all right in the head, but we don’t know if his intent is good or bad, as the opening scene cleverly shows us. Adams, while not calling attention to herself, brilliantly portrays a woman helplessly stuck in her husband’s beliefs, almost more addicted to The Cause than her husband is. But the best actor in the movie is Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who manages a perfect blend between charisma and insanity, to the point where you almost start to believe in The Cause yourself. And I’d give him Supporting Actor in a heartbeat.
But I can’t say that ‘The Master’ is a perfect movie. Maybe it’s the fact that it fails to bring anything new. Maybe it’s the fact that it doesn’t tell a linear story and that the director’s intent is confusing. Either way, ‘The Master’ is a film that everyone will see differently. You can decide for yourself if you want to watch it. I’d say that I was happy to watch it and that I might even be watching it a few times more.