The Master (2012) – Do you really need Paint thinner to make Moonshine?

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In the days of comic book adaptations and remakes, Paul Thomas Anderson‘s sixth film had us gasping and begging for more real-life correlations such as The Master, but this is no roman à clef, and there is nothing more to this film than one man’s imagination – It is not a good film – it is a GREAT film, and – Definitely an utterly mesmerizing one.

This impressionistic patchwork that ebbs and flows, reaching a breaking point rather than a climax in the usual sense has quite a few influences, the very first being – Jonathan Demme‘s Melvin And Howard, then, of course, there’s also Elia Kazan’s love story Splendor In The Grass and let’s not forget the drawings from the lives of Depression-era author John Steinbeck and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

As we go forward we realize that there are no hidden meanings here, nothing to “get”, other than perhaps that there is actually no real master, just two sides of the same coin, each looking to the other for the answers. With Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, the fight between ego and superego is what drives the film. This can pretty much just be highlighted as being synonymous with a father-son relationship which is definitely something that springs up in almost all of PTA’s movies. What makes us mention this point with such confidence is that the tension between yin and yang which flows between these two men, where for Freddie – Dodd is The Man, with his smart suits and boss like qualities, but at the same time according to Dodd, Quell’s style of having no aim and living life at the moment is what he feels is the best way to live.

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Thanks to Dodd the audience is introduced to a whole new side of Hoffman’s talents of being funny, charming, and surprisingly light on his feet. At the same time Phoenix is a little less of a revelation, as his performance is not in any way predictable – tender when it should seem shocking and vice versa, thus creating a superbly unreadable and unlikely hero.

So What is The Master About? (Spoilers ahead, you have been Forewarned)

Because, if there is a third wheel here, it is not Dodd’s tough, business-like wife Peggy (Amy Adams) but in fact the girl that refuses to leave Freddie’s mind since the unfinished business he left behind, not simply because she was too young for him but because her love for him overwhelmed and overloaded his very inexperienced yet rusty heart. And that is what motors the film, as at its core, The Master is really about Freddie and the strange, secret romance that holds the key to his violence. This is the true Fuel to the Fire and what gives The Master its deceptively subtle power.

While the ending will disappoint those hoping for a similar to There Will Be Blood kind of last-reel crescendo, The Master seems to be quite positively light sometimes as it touches on themes of –

  • Recession
  • Demobilization
  • Survival
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In this story where two men try to make sense of post-war life, with one crafting out a new kind of order while the other is just simply trying to create a new normal. America’s withdrawal from Iraq gives it an unintended topicality since The Master isn’t an allegory, just a very poetic, lyrically shot, and seductively scored film about how a country dusted itself down from World War II. In Dodd and Freddie, we have two archetypes: one is ambitious and entrepreneurial, the other is in a constant search for stability and a family.

Written By – Siddhi C.Shekhar.


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The Master is streaming on Netflix.

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