Mastering ‘The Master’

master (noun): (1) a man who has people working for him, esp. servants or slaves; (2) the original print of a film from which theatrical copies are made; (3) a shot that covers an entire scene in a single take.

Stephen Farber is not alone among thoughtful reviewers (LA Times, Sept. 29) in castigating Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master for an underwritten narrative that leaves characters in the lurch and fails to live up to its European art cinema pretentions.

Granting the film’s purposely non-traditional technique, Farber nevertheless objects to the dearth of motivation offered for Freddie Quell’s (Joaquin Phoenix) lost soul and for cult leader Lancaster Dodd’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) instant taking to the rotgut-concocting, violence-prone Quell.

A closer look at the film overrules both objections. Several factors for Freddie’s “animalistic” behavior are proposed. A prematurely deceased (likely abusive) father and mentally institutionalized mother are clearly not the greatest confidence-builders, much less for a boy-man with a hunchback and a hair-lip—nor could a stint on a battleship in World War II have proved therapeutic. Continue reading “Mastering ‘The Master’” »