Movies: The Master

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written By: Paul Thomas Anderson
The Weinstein Company
R; 137 min
1 star (out of 5)


It would have been zero stars except there were moments I was able to make fun of the film and make myself laugh. These moments proved to the be only entertainment value in the entire movie.

But wait: let me start by asking whether Joaquin Phoenix had a stroke I never heard about? That's probably insensitive of me, but I really want to know. Maybe they just injected him with a bunch of Botox. It hardly matters.

The setup: Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a Navy officer who comes home from war and goes from job to job, suffering from episodes of angry violence tempered with drinking binges. When he stows away on The Master's (Hoffman) borrowed boat, Freddie is taken in—in more ways than one. The Master is head of The Cause, a Scientology-like movement in which people are "processed" (as opposed to "audited") to regress through past lives and free themselves from their invisible burdens. After any number of failures, Freddie finally has a breakthrough. And then he breaks away from The Master.

It isn't that I didn't understand the movie. Critics will say those that don't like The Master must not understand it, but I have a media and cultural studies degree in Radio-Television-Film, and I fucking well understood this movie. I could deconstruct it fifty ways from Tuesday, but no amount of taking it apart, looking at its themes, and poking it for metaphors could make me like it.

Here's what there is to understand: Freddie gets brought into The Cause. He comes out a better person. (He really does; this is proven by his calm interaction with his lost sweetheart's mother.) When he gets called back to The Master's side, like that dog in the old RCA ads, they try to tell him he's still sick and needs to get better. But at this point it's clear he's surpassed them. They're still sick. Freddie is better. And then Freddie goes on to use The Master's methods as a pick-up line. It all gets reduced to a lay.

Whatever. The Master was mostly trudging, except when unintentionally funny. Anderson showed his usual obsessive interest in anger and violence and a juvenile, ogling interest in sex and farting. The acting was good (given the material they had to work with) but the directing and/or cinematography was lazy. And I was subjected to way more of Philip Seymour Hoffman's singing than I ever wanted or needed to be. Also a lot of ugly naked people. Mostly women. I suppose Anderson is not brave enough to show me a hot naked guy for a change.

Look, I loved Magnolia, and I'm one of the only people on the planet who seemed to like Punch-Drunk Love. There Will Be Blood was okay, too, though I didn't like it as much as a lot of people. But The Master is just . . . Not good. It's total Oscar fodder; I'm guessing we'll see it get some nominations, but I never want to see it again. Ever. I go to movies to enjoy myself, after all, and to be entertained. If there's something edifying in the experience, that's fine. But when you're trying to hit me over the head with your supposedly deep and meaningful thoughts and ideas, and then fail to entertain or engage me at all besides, well you have earned an epic fail.

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