There is serious award buzz swirling around Paul Thomas Anderson's film "The Master," but Father Steve Grunow wonders if perhaps the buzz could have been amplified by a redeeming character or two. Today he takes his signature enlightening look at the messages of the movie, and what we can and should take away from it all.
“The Master” is the latest cinematic creation by director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Magnolia,” “Boogie Nights,” “There will be Blood”). It is the story of an addled alcoholic by the name of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) who has tendencies toward violence and sexual deviancy and is taken under the wing of self-proclaimed mystic, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). The relationship of the two men is the focal point of the movie and the viewer is meant to discern from their interaction why this story is worth telling. It is not a short story. The running time of the film is nearly two-and-a-half hours. The movie’s presentation of Freddie Quell’s disturbed mind and behaviors is graphic and visceral, and in these respects, let the sensitive and squeamish beware.
“The Master” is also the current darling of the critics. One is hard pressed to find a negative review of the movie. Praise for Anderson and the acting ensemble he has assembled gusheth over. Oscar buzz is buzzing. If one is looking for a negative appraisal of the movie, Barbara Nicolosidoesn’t pull a single punch.
The character of Lancaster Dodd is a thinly veiled version of the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. Scientology is a system of convictions that is known for the most part because of its celebrity adherents. However, I would hardly describe “The Master” as an expose of Scientology’s alleged excesses. The esoteric philosophy of Lancaster Dodd is an expression of the kinds of beliefs that one frequently finds in the American Gnostic and therapeutic culture. Freddie Quell is hardly a victim of Dodd, as both receive a kind of benefit from their troubled master-disciple relationship. It is clear that both men are early on learning how to use one another to achieve immediate needs and long term goals. The methods that Dodd applies to Quell ultimately prove ineffective, but seemed little different from gestalt therapy. By the end of the movie, when it becomes clear that the link of dependency between Quell and Dodd has been severed, neither seems the worse for wear. In fact, neither man has changed at all. Is this the real indictment of Dodd’s system? Or is it the man who failed, not the principles Dodd purported to be true?...