The Master

The Master

Star rating temporarily withheld

If nothing else, this film reminded me of the unique pleasure of letting an opinion germinate. Over the past decade-plus, I've conditioned myself to crank out an instant reaction to pretty much everything. It didn't used to be this way. I used to have patience, giving a book or a movie or an album time to grow on me. It's easy to blame Internet culture, of course, where every opinion needs to be shared immediately. But this isn't really about adding my voice to the mob as quickly as possible. It's more about the fact that we live in a world where everyone has access to everything all the time. It sounds incredible, but it's true. It's 11:15pm on a Monday, and if I wanted to, I could sit in my living room and listen to just about any album that's ever been recorded. Or I could watch any one of tens of thousands of movies. Or I could turn on my Kindle and read any book I've ever wanted to read. Instantly. Easily. It's insane. So to keep my sanity, I have developed this nasty habit of mentally separating the wheat from the chaff as quickly as possible. I seek out that which is instantly gratifying (or edifying, or mystifying) because I know that I have a limitless supply of such things. It's hard to make room for the not-immediately-lovable when there is just so much else that's available.

So what does my rambling prelude have to do with "The Master?" Well, this is a film that, more than any that I can recall, demands a second viewing. And probably a third. The adjective that I kept mentally repeating as I left the theater is "dense." This is a heavy, heavy film, filled with layers of psychological, theological, and familial themes that left me fascinated but befuddled. Or maybe befuddled is too strong a word. Bewildered? Yeah, maybe. There are large chunks of this film that left me bewildered and unable to fully digest. At some point I got so caught up in everything happening on the screen that my brain stopped working on a level where it could immediately ascribe something as good or bad.

Don't get me wrong -- this is a good movie. I know that to be true. I found it hypnotic and grand. Philip Seymour Hoffman gives his best performance since "Synecdoche, NY," and Joaquin Phoenix gives the best performance in an American movie since Daniel Day-Lewis in the last P.T. Anderson opus. The cinematography, music, production design, editing? All sublime. But as to the story, I often found it impenetrable, which I mean in the best possible way. And I guess that's why my desire to see it again is so palpable. I can't yet ascertain whether it's merely good or if it's a masterpiece on par with Anderson's latest pictures. There are mysteries to this film that refused to be uncovered while in the act of first watching it.

This review isn't helping. I'm sorry. If you're on the fence about seeing it, then I don't think I've said anything to persuade you. But if you really want my opinion of "The Master," it is this: see it. Twice.

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