This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Da_Bill’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
This is incredibly involving. Right from the beginning Phoenix gives an incredibly nuanced performance as Freddie, a man who's mind and worldview have been completely warped by war and, it is later briefly suggested, a genetic history of mental problems.
Then, following his destructive attempts to rejoin the post-war world, Freddie stumbles into the life of Lancaster Dodd 'The Master'. Dodd's slow, subtle manipulations of Freddie are the main strand of the plot, but really they are a window into the slowly growing cult Dodd runs and what is truly scary (and brilliant to see) is the sense of normality that exists throughout.
Here we have a family man, happily married, hard-working and socially and politically savvy. Who also happens to be creating an alternative belief system and making money out of it.
While there are clear parallels here with Scientology, this really seems more focused on the family life that exists within it.
One thing that did confuse me slightly, was the ending.
Basically, I was confused by the message because ultimately Dodd's methods are relatively successful in pushing Freddie to confront some of his issues and move forward with his life. And what's more is that Freddie severs his ties with his Master yet remains unscathed and even better off.
Perhaps I was missing some subtext or other but really the story felt unfinished and unsatisfactory. I wanted to know what happened next for Dodd, I wondered where Freddie went next. It is possible to end a film ambiguously and for it to still be satisfying. But here I just wanted more, particularly as what we did see was so well written and brilliantly performed.
This isn't the sort of film that would have a sequel (even if the wonderful Philip Seymour Hoffman were still with us). It is the sort of film that cannot be repeated. Yet it is one of those films where I almost wish there were a sequel as so much is left unsaid and unknown.
That's why it doesn't get the full 5 stars. Because is brilliant as it was, it just didn't go far enough for me.