Archive Review – The Master (2012 Paul Thomas Anderson)

What exactly does one want from a work of art? To understand it completely? To be entertained? To be able to giddily talk about it to others in complete and unabridged detail afterwards? I expect the personal experience for everybody who goes to watch a film depends on the self. Unlike other individuals, I am not going to criticise someone I have never met for their tastes in film. If you are a grown-up male and you like the Twilight films, so be it. Who am I to judge you? Similarly, if you say that the new Marvel film is a fantastic piece of film-making in your opinion, I would say ‘power to you, you obviously jump wholly into the whole CGI thing without question…but I will make up my mind when I see it, thanks!’. See, that’s not judgemental at all! I don’t think people are mad for getting carried away with the things they like i.e. the latest commercial releases. As for me and the latest arthouse releases, well, it really happens to be a haphazard journey. For example, I gush over Wes Anderson’s  new films every time. The reason why doesn’t need to be elaborated here. But not all films that appear at the local Cinema Paradiso with a stamped approval from the critics make the appropriate grade for me. It’s just a matter of taste.

So to Paul Thomas Anderson’s bizzare, whirlwind of a near masterpiece. To attempt a full interpretation of it would be silly (vaguely I suppose it has something to do with misunderstandings within the human mind and the primordial instincts that drive it in random directions). But it is better to focus on the excellent production and direction of Anderson and his crew and cast. Pheonix provides an absolute awesome and very physical performance, which should go down as being the most memorable in modern cinema. His gaunt, sickly demenour and his heartfelt, painstaking rage allows for an immediate connection between the character and viewer. Freddie is truly one of a kind – lost, searching, funny, sad, joyful, playful, ultimately confused and sexually frustrated. When he runs across the ploughed fields away from the chasing mob or when he drives away on the bike across the desert, you are escaping with him (well, I was anyway). And it is a tremendous achievement for Phoenix to upstage Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is brilliant too by the way. Playing this representation of L Ron Hubbard seemed to be effortless for him but I put this down to the fact that his character in the story is really only incidental. And this is the brilliance of Anderson’s storytelling. Whereas most synopsis of this film will emphasise on the origins of Scientology, it actually serves as a treatise on one’s journey through the mire that is post-war America, where souls have been lost and imagination is just about to regain some sort of credence. Freddie just drunkenly and literally stumbles onto the party boat that is Scientology! Hoffman and Adams brilliantly undertake the roles of un-masterly masters to Freddie’s isolated life. Then there is also the way in which music provides a comical but well-judged accompaniment to the story. Basically, Johnny Greenwood knows what he’s meant to do. Ella Fitzgearld’s Get Thee Behind Me Satan being a highlight. There are some magnificent long-running moving shots too, which have now become a trademark of Anderson’s style. Always natural, never improvised. Not enough directors do that these days.

And so it brings me back to the original question, what does one want from a work of art? I know you all have your own individual answers but to me, it’s about how challenging it can be or how long it will stay in your mind afterwards. Of course for this to happen, it should be usually permeated with enough intellectual entertainment for the mind also.

Rated 5/5 ♦♦♦♦♦

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