Ever get that feeling when you know a film is good, and you can appreciate the base elements of it, but you can’t really enjoy it as a whole? That’s my relationship with Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012). The film is highly aesthetic, beautifully shot, and well-written but the whole idea of the topic matter and how it’s presented to us just left me longing for something a bit more gripping. It is by no means a bad film in my eyes, but considering the high critical praise it’s received, especially lauded by some as one of the best films of 2012, I just couldn’t connect.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Freddie Quell, a mentally disturbed and mildly damaged sailor who’s dismissed from the navy during the war. He acts like a child, vastly inappropriate at times, hiding from his past and refusing it he develops nervous twitches and tries to forget. He crosses paths with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who takes Freddie under his wing as he’s fascinated by his intricacies and quirks. Lancaster is a charismatic scholar who dabbles in that of the psychological, as he attempts to hypnotized and ‘process’ Freddie’s brain. He attempts to cure him, as they adventure together as they learn more about one another under the watchful and skeptical gaze of Dodd’s wife (Amy Adams).
Joaquin Phoenix was certainly convincing as Freddie, and clearly had put a lot into the role. However, I found it hard to emphasize with the juvenile protagonist, and as an issue I could barely understand a lot of Freddie’s lines which were fairly garbled. This was in order to make Freddie sound very underdeveloped in his language, with Joaquin only speaking from a side of his mouth as a nervous twitch. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the eloquent gentleman, with an aggressive side for assertion quite well. In addition Amy Adam’s muddled mix of maternal, and the aggressive in the form of the very passive wife is also perfect. All three actors received Oscar nominations for their corresponding roles of Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress.
It’s themes are highly based in the unexplained nature nature of mental repression and damage. Not to mention The Master is roughly set in the 1940’s meaning that Lancaster must constantly assert and defend his theories which many regard as baseless nonsense, particularly when he implies in his book that his treatment could help cure some minor cases of leukemia. Ultimately the conclusion is muddled, Freddie isn’t exactly cured in the aggressive and inappropriate way he acts. But he does face his fear, and confront his old love Doris only to find she’s long gone with two kids, and a husband. He flees from Lancaster, as he rides into the sun on a motorcycle as part of an exercise, though he never returns until asked to later. They offer for him to come back, or they can no longer help him. He leaves as Lancaster says a sad goodbye.
The ideas and motifs especially the whole father/son, subject/researcher relationship that Freddie and Lancaster have do mesh together well. In addition there is some good method acting, and certainly some very vivid and appealing cinematography and score. However the whole thing just felt very isolating and overall as a piece of cinema I can’t really say I enjoyed it. I’m not sure why, if I’m completely honest. However, it at least shows Anderson’s fantastic direction as the film is certainly built to his purpose. Anyway, that’s all for this time. Thanks for reading, and follow me on Twitter @Sams_Reel_Views.