BY JENNA SIMPSON
The Master is an intense and interesting film by Paul Thomas Anderson about a strange and troubled friendship between two men. Joaquin Phoenix plays a troubled WWII veteran suffering from alcoholism, PTSD, and other addictive and impulsive behaviours. Philip Seymour Hoffman (my favourite actor), plays the title role, a charismatic and controversial leader of a philosophical movement. The two men encounter each other, and Hoffman takes on trying to heal Phoenix’s mental health problems using a strange kind of invasive psychoanalysis that he pretty much made up. Hoffman’s character was loosely based on L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology.
Paul Thomas Anderson is something of a cinematic genius. His movies are always intriguing to watch and to look at, with engrossing, seductive, captivating characters. In some of his movies (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia), there is a character who is a total unrepentant, unremorseful asshole, perhaps even a sociopath. And that character usually has a formidable opponent. The Master isn’t so different, but it is softer, and it is hard to tell at some points who is the sociopath and who is the opponent, and whether, in fact, the two men are indeed opponents after all.
Anderson also manages to get exceptional performances out of his actors. Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood, Tom Cruise in Magnolia, Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love, and Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights–all were fabulous, unexpected performances. Hoffman (a frequent collaborator of Anderson’s–PSH has been in 5 of Anderson’s 6 feature-length films) was wonderful, as always, but Joaquin Phoenix’s performance was absolutely incredible, like nothing I’ve ever seen him do in the past–like nothing I’ve seen anyone do. Phoenix is an incredibly gifted actor that I wish we got to see more of. (Both Phoenix and Hoffman were my personal preferences for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor at the 2013 Academy Awards; alas, neither went home with the honour.) Amy Adams was also the best I’ve ever seen her. And I’m always a fan of a rare Laura Dern appearance; here, she plays an acolyte of Hoffman’s.
I saw The Master several months ago, in the theatre, and I have to say, I’m sorry for you if you didn’t see it on the big screen. It is a masterpiece of cinematographic excellence. Shot in rarely used 65mm film, it is truly a beautiful thing to watch The Master in a way that really envelops the senses. Nevertheless, I think you should rent it and watch it anyway, even if all you have is a little black and white TV. It really is a spectacular film, and it will have you thinking for days. You might not like it, or understand it, but it will definitely impress you.