Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Master

The Master is an uncomfortable piece of cinema. Characters are irritating, pacing is slow, and the plot is pieced together through flashbacks and the occasional hallucination. The movie will frustrate some and absorb others, but the gorgeous cinematography, evocative music, and fantastic acting make it a film worth seeing. Though much of the movie may be baffling, it raises valid questions about the human condition.

The story follows Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), an alcoholic and addled veteran of World War II. He stumbles across philosopher Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his group of followers. Lancaster, everything Freddie is not, takes him under his wing and teaches him about "The Cause," a way of living which includes acknowledging past lives.

Phoenix is astounding as Freddie, an embodiment of the id. His poisonous moonshine exacerbates his mental disorders. Unusual for the movies, he is completely unglamorous. Freddie's hunched over, thin form and gnarled but enthralling face contrast with Lancaster's paunchy figure and composed expression. Hoffman is, of course, excellent. Amy Adams (or her character) is slightly over-the-top as Lancaster's uncompassionate and creepy wife Peggy.

Freddie's existence disproves Lancaster's mantra, "Man is not an animal," which may be why Lancaster is so drawn to him. Freddie is by and large loyal to Lancaster, dangerously so. Their relationship is a strange love story of sorts. In the end, though, Freddie is his own man, a chaotic force of nature. Will the brainwashing techniques of The Cause work on him?

Deep, dark colors emphasize a sense of post-war paranoia, and the unique cinematography and music emphasize how strange people are. Everyone is searching for some kind of truth, be it through control or a connection. The Master may be full of symbolism, but its oddness makes one thing very clear: humans are silly and fascinating creatures.

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