The Master

October 12, 2014


In following from last week’s Short Term 12 review, whereby there was a focus on the fact that broken individuals exist because of improper educational nutrition, The Master concerns itself with a passive grandiose identity if not megalomaniac who believes he can rid the world of evil, starting with a broken soul by the name of Freddy. And what is interesting with P.T. Anderson’s use of his genius in this instance is the sincerity that is conveyed between master and would-be servant. A less talented artist would paint the pseudo-L Ron Hubbard played by the unfortunately late Philip Seymour Hoffman with stronger contrasting colors. But not to reiterate the obvious, Mr. Anderson has a way of giving characters more than flesh and complexity – he gives them a soul.


Thus one might ponder from the outset if Mr. Anderson is indeed sympathetic to Scientology. No, this film is not about the genesis of that group, but it is a historical fiction of a similar persona. And this persona is an inquiring man who we find surreptiously becoming a master over a herd of followers because he believes he has figured it all out, the meaning of life. And before critiquing what the master has mastered, we must meditate on the aforementioned sincerity of the character. It is clear that he himself is searching for meaning, just like every actively waking human in history has. He is no different than a Buddha, or a Mohammed, or a Confucius, or an Abraham. Indeed if he existed before the dawn of the scientific age, he might now be remembered as a religious figure in history. But why? Well again, his search for truth and efforts at creating a practice or technique of spiritual perfectionism – truly the basis of all religion in humanity – comes not as a practice of sorcery, of feeling powerful by having people obey his word, but out of love of life. This is a man who is accomplished yet still feels empty – a man who has lived well but still yearns to give more of his life, to live even more. His commitment toward creating a new myth of man is only affirmed by his followers, which can be a blessing and a curse as the film shows.


Freddy runs into this struggling mystic out of necessity. And Freddy never volitionally subscribed to the beliefs of the master. He performed the rituals out of indebted obligation. He evangelized too out of repaying his debt as being rescued as it were, from a wandering, practically aimless, life. But the Master hits home on Freddy’s detour from the improper road, and is perhaps the galvanizing propeller of his entire movement: troubled memory which leads to confused living and dissatisfaction with life. In Freddy’s case, the film shows that his life was shattered because he could never connect with his hometown sweetheart after the war. He was unable to cope, likely because his family upbringing was chaotic to say the least. His inability to control his emotions, particular anger, is the constant of his imperfectness throughout the film and what Dr. Dodd attempts to exorcise but never can. And it is in these attempts that create a dependency of the good doctor on an incurable patient, incurable simply because he does not have the desire to change himself.


And this is perhaps why the doctor became so attached to Freddy; if he could not get through to him, how can his movement ever achieve the mass success he was aiming for? The very certainty of Dr. Dodd’s on quest, and his conviction that he has found the way, was tested by this failing man. For the entire premise of Dr. Dodd’s spirituality was a treatment of a spiritual affliction. His entire movement becomes shattered without a successful conversion. But beyond that, his entire thesis on living life becomes demolished. The Master is a film pretends to be concerned with Freddy, but is actually a meditation on the persistent quest of man to find meaning in his life. Freddy is simply a vesicle to arrive us toward the title character and his flailing efforts at trying to understand it all.


Grade: A-



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