A Few Thoughts on The Master


The easiest way to become a master might be understanding what it is to live as a slave. I cannot stop watching this movie. It could be a sign that it's infinitely great or indescribably bland. Repetition is a coming theme in this movie so maybe this is the desired effect. I love most of PT Anderson's output, and this one is easily the least accessible. Maybe I'm over-intellectualizing it because all his previous movies are chock full of metaphors. Maybe that's true, because it was the third best movie of 2012, making 334 top ten lists and 56 top spots.

The first viewing was under the impression it was a lashing out against Scientology, wrong. The second, that it was secretly a movie about cinema, wrong. Then I thought maybe it was a general indictment of religious belief and groupthink, wrong again. The movie does appear to have a lot festering beneath the surface. It's all those things and then some. But to further confuse the view, this movie is far from black and white. It's just as fair to the arguments it opposes as the arguments it agrees with, or more accurately, the arguments you think it agrees with. A lot of reviews I've seen complained about this, the movie's perceived lack of point. Because the director is easily one of the United States most important directors, it's hard to discern the ideas presented in this movie without comparing them to his prior work. The result is, "He made things this way before. He must be making things this way now."

Here, instead, is a large departure. A movie that strives to be even more fair than his previous work, and sympathize with all sides. This makes things open-ended and ambiguous. This makes the movie harder and heady, it makes a view impatient and may induce headache. The movie has a message and things to teach, and it's certainly not an easy pill to swallow. There is no judgement in this movie. It's research without advice. Every drama and conviction is personal to each individual character, and not forced upon the audience as an opinion or social critique. It's something that makes this movie damning, and also addictive.


The movie is beautiful to look at in almost every scene. It was shot in 70mm film. I don't know what that means in technical terms but it sounds cool to mention. The movie has so many hidden visual cues that are pretty obvious when once you pause it and re-watch it. It starts with the Kubrickian influence, like 2001, with its protagonist Freddie at his most carnal. He's climbing up trees, hammering shit, obviously sexually repressed. One of the hidden metaphors for this is a scene where he's laying high up on the ledge of a ship and his colleagues chuck bananas at him.

As far as meaning, In My Glorious High-Caliber Multiple-Viewing Expertise, I would say if anything the lesson is that for a restless will, the most satisfaction will come from an untethered life. Maybe that's why Frankie finds some solace out in the sea, and why Master Dodd mentions it toward the end. In the end, the emotional reveal involves a mentor singing praise for his student, trying to earn his affections. Freddie seems at peace at the end, having dropped the weight, lost the anchor, and learned to ride the wave.

With There Will be Blood he created an American masterpiece that is arguably the best movie in 20 years. Joaquin Phoenix's performance here is close to Day-Lewis's performance there. This movie was robbed of a few awards but I don't even want to acknowledge said organizations anymore. With The Master, PT Anderson's last three movies have been more or less favorites of mine. This one is certainly my pick for the last year, and I'm guessing there's quite a few more viewings left in me.

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