Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film The Master has been preceded by much speculation that it would be an exposé of L. Ron Hubbard, the late concocter of Scientology. It does score a number of telling points in that regard and one can easily imagine Hubbard’s hyper-touchy heirs being ticked off. But the movie’s focus is firmly on Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Freddie Quell, a whackjob drifter who blunders into the orbit of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a bluff, jovial spiritual hustler whose book, The Cause—a declaration that all mental torments can be traced back into the womb, and beyond—is attracting many followers. The movie is set in 1950, the year that Hubbard published Dianetics, the root text of Scientology.
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