Mary Conti’s review published on Letterboxd:
Having read many reviews, I was worrying about the signs that many people walked out of The Master confused and not sure what they made of it. Some even called it empty. Was I going to walk out just as perplexed as they were? Was I going to be disappointed, or worse was the film going to be mediocre? The credits for The Master rolled not even an hour ago, and I am absolutely 100 percent convinced that Paul Thomas Anderson has yet another masterpiece in his hands.
If there's one thing I felt the year of 2011 lacked, it was a confident film. I don't think a single film last year truly went all out with the confidence that Anderson's film has. If The Master was a guy, and I was a cute girl in a bar, I'd have to let The Master take me home and make love to me because of how confident the film is. In many ways, the film actually did just that.
P.T. Anderson has never been more confident in his direction than he has been here. There's a stunning montage in the film that had to have lasted 10 minutes, but it didn't even occur to me just how long it was going on. I was just captivated by it all. Most of the film is captured in long takes, but your eyes will be glued to the screen so much you won't even notice it.
Combined with the cinematography, we're also given a dreamy score from Jonny Greenwood, and absolutely no stupid rule can keep him from getting nominated this time. It's the best kind of score. One that is always present and doing its job, but never getting in the way of the film.
Then of course, there's the acting, which is absolutely flawless. I don't think there was a single moment where I was conscious of these people being actors. Everyone is perfect, and I could write an essay on how amazing they are and how much they nail their characters, but I won't do that here because I have a lot more to write.
It's with all these amazing ingredients that PTA comes together to make The Master. But there's been so many complaints that The Master really isn't about anything. This couldn't be farther from the truth, because The Master is about a lot of things.
Through the process of Freddy Quell's (Joaquin Phoenix) interactions with The Cause, a religious cult founded by Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the film manages to be about many things. The film has been noted for its parallels to Scientology, and while they are present, the film is still mainly about religion: What it does for people, who founds them, who they are for, and what their overall purpose and basis is. This film is far from empty, and despite probing a lot of the film's substance, I fear I have barely skimmed the surface.
I'll probably write another review where I go further in depth with spoilers included after a rewatch (I do plan of seeing this again), but until then, I think I'll write down what I think the film is about at its core:
The film is about how religion is founded by and for men who are lost. Freddy is lost when Lancaster meets him, and we can see that the two share similar histories. Perhaps Lancaster was once lost too, and he wants to help Freddy. The film's overall purpose sees Freddy being used as an allegory for the kinds of people that flock to various religions, and Lancaster is the representation of the kinds of people that try to help them.
With the arrival of The Master, the fall season has truly started. If the rest of the year sees films even close to the level of quality of The Master, then 2012 has been salvaged from a disappointing start, and can finally live up to being the great year it's meant to be.