The Master

The Master ★★★★★

Sinister, cryptic, sidelong, dislikable. The second in a series of PTA films that are like adaptations of imaginary classic American novels. (PTA's There Will Be Blood, while credited as adapted from Upton Sinclair's Oil!, really bears almost no relationship to that novel.) Here, PTA follows up the mythic rise of heroic/antiheroic capitalist Daniel Plainview--a maven of physical goods, a bleeder of the earth--with what PTA pegs as the defining category killer of the modern, meaning postwar, world: one who sells dreams, fantasies, fictions, past lives and above all future lives: we will meet again "on that landless latitude." The ultimate movie not designed to win the weekend, THE MASTER is not for 2012 or maybe 2014 but for eternity. It exists to define the human crisis of our misidentification of needs: a jiggy-legged hairy ape (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes the "guinea pig and protege" of a comically florid charlatan (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is either selling laughably transparent frauds, or elegantly designed fictions, or both. The picture pointedly--painfully--refuses to divulge its point of view on the subject, driving the average viewer as mad as if he were racing back and forth between a window and a wall.