Reason Writers at the Movies: Peter Suderman Reviews The Master


Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman reviews The Master in today's Washington Times

It's tempting to call "The Master" a revelation, except that I'm not quite sure what, if anything, this elusive and elliptical tale of character, will and power actually reveals. But it's certainly a confirmation of director Paul Thomas Anderson's status as one of the most fascinating and visionary directors working today.

Also one of the most difficult.

Mr. Anderson is the director of five previous features, including at least one masterpiece, 2007's "There Will Be Blood," a dark and sweeping story of oil discovery in turn-of-the-century California. Like that film, "The Master" is an American period piece that deals heavily with religion and worldly success, and a power struggle between two towering figures locked in a surrogate father-son relationship.

The first of those figures is Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a rootless World War II Navy veteran who arrives home and takes a series of odd jobs before inadvertently ending up in the company of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a man known to most as the Master. Dodd is the leader of the Cause, a burgeoning, cultlike group with pop-psych self-help overtones and quasi-religious undertones. He takes Freddie on as a sort of test-subject to help him perfect the techniques of mental mastery he's developing. Between them lies a third power, Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams), Dodd's young wife, and a quiet but not-so-subtle influence on his movement.

It's clear that Mr. Anderson, who also wrote the script, based the Cause on Scientology, and Dodd on its founder, L. Ron Hubbard: Both use psychological techniques to achieve mental control, and both have a mystical element tinged with sci-fi outlandishness. It's just as clear, however, that Mr. Anderson has little interest in any kind of straightforward debunking or expose. Scientology is not the movie's subject but the springboard for Mr. Anderson's considerably more abstract ideas.

Read the whole review.

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  1. Don’t forget to take a towel!

    1. You mean a spankerchief?

  2. Paul Thomas Anderson’s status as one of the most fascinating and visionary directors working today.

    “Happiness” was a far better movie then “Magnolia”.

  3. I am less impressed by Anderson than Suder-Man. He’s not a bad director at all, but nothing he’s done has made me go “wow”.

    1. Are you trying to be a hipster douche?

      1. ‘Cause I’m staying home and watching Pawn Stars. Good times.

        1. You disgust me.

          Well, to put it simply, the only thing I remember from Boogie Nights is Heather Graham naked on some roller skates. What does that say about the story and direction?

          1. What about da erection?

            1. The what? Are you referring to the end where he whips out his dick? It wasn’t tumescent if I recall, but like I said, I really only remember naked roller skates.

          2. I think the baking soda drug deal was more memorable than Heather’s tits, impressive as they were.

            1. Youtube is a hate site (sight?) shame on you.

            2. That was one of the most intense scenes I’ve watched in any film ever.

  4. I wish I could be like Phillip Seymour Hoffman and not care about my stomach.

    1. Hoffman is usually good. He was great in Capote.

      1. Meh. I liked him in Twister.

      2. He was really good in Pirate Radio.

  5. By the way, can we get T o n y in here to give us his take on The Master. He usually raises the level of the conversation when he comments on an article.

    1. Thank you. Haven’t seen it but definitely will. I’m in the camp who thinks There Will Be Blood to be one of the best movies ever made.

      1. Dumb question – did the “I drink your milkshake” scene really happen, or was the main character dreaming?

        1. No–no harp music or fuzzy edges.

          1. There are some scenes in The Master that the main character is probably imagining, but don’t have fuzzy edges.

            Interesting film, saw it tonight in 70mm.

    2. He usually raises the level of the conversation when he comments on an article.


  6. I’ve been waiting for a long time to have a good discussion about Hubbard and Scientology, and now this movie comes out at it’s not about Scientology? gawddemmit.

    Anyway, if any of you folks have taken the time to read Hubbard’s Mission Earth series all the way through, I’d be interested in your comments on the following:

    What does his characterization of Gris and Hisst’s paranoia, megalomania, and hatred of people say about Hubbard?

    Did Hubbard see himself as a victim? A ruler? Did he really just diagnose all his fucked up psychological problems through a not-so-subtle autobiographical expose in the person of Soltan Gris?

    Did Heller represent a real person to Hubbard? A hated alter ego? An ideal he never met?

    What happened around Book 8 when the narrator changed? Did Hubbard just get too crazy to write anymore? Had he died before it was written (he definitely dies before it was published)?


    Did Gris’ exile to the Widow Tayl’s estate, locked up in the attic, watching all the perversions that her scions committed, represent Hubbard’s loss of control of the CoS?

    1. And did Hubbard manage to write this entire series on the weirdness of the CoS under their noses, and actually get them to publish it for them, all along knowing that even though they controlled him, they were too unself-aware to recognize a satire of their own organization?

  7. Those guys totally crack me up man, Wow.

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