Larry’s review published on Letterboxd:
I was browsing a local store today for new Blu-Rays and goodies like that. They recently dropped the price down on the Alien Anthology Collection, and I swiped it up gleefully and started to walk up to the cash register. And then I spotted it.... Standing alone on the shelf, was The Master. I dropped the Alien Boxset, a deal of a lifetime, to get this film. It was calling out my name. And I answered reluctantly. Like the good little boy I was. The film from that point had me at its mercy. Much like Freddie is at the mercy of Lancaster Dodd. And what I found from this little trip was one of the most beautiful, frustrating, and meaningful experiences I've had in a while.
Now, this movie has been talked up to pretty much God-Tier status and I went in to it expecting great things. And I got great things. But, (hopefully PTA fans will forgive me) the film was far from perfect. I found that this was his most intellectually stimulating film, but where you have an abundance of one thing, you have an absence of another. And in this films case that was a flowing and even narrative. It was beautifully shot but with every breathtaking shot there is a vague plot point, a scene that is cut too short, or a jarring jump to the past or present just around the corner. It's something that I'm sure will get better after multiple viewings, but as of now they stick out as negative points in my mind. The film felt like it had a lot of holes that could've been filled with some great exposition, but with the run time lingering towards 2 and a half hours, this extra exposition might have hurt the film in the long run. I advise everyone to watch the bonus features and deleted scenes!
Fortunately the positives heavily outweigh the negatives. This films characters are incredibly well written and deep. Watching Lancaster Dodd deal with a heckler, or Freddie Quell exploding on someone who was rude to him both light the screen up with a ferocious intensity brooding deep down in the actors bellies. That is rarely seen these days. Why these two didnt win Oscars this year is mind boggling. Another snub for the Master comes in the category of cinematography. This film was gorgeous. PTA is just as good at showing us lush natural backgrounds as he is showing us the vibrant world of various 1950's small towns. And this is all just how good the Master is on the outside.
There are various different interpretations of what the movie meant. It probably means different things to different people, and for that its great. For me it displayed a man who is lost and is being fooled into thinking he wants to be found; when in all actuality he doesn't. And this is where the film I think makes a reference to not only Scientology, but to religion as a whole. Pastors, priests and other Holy Men live to guide lost souls. Do these souls actually mean anything to them? Or do they mearly serve as a superficial validation for what they are doing? Lancaster Dodd seems to be looking for a way to validate his own religion by doing what other religions are supposed to do: help people. But Freddie just can't be helped can he? I'm sure some priests and pastors have had this problem before. You try to put your leash on some people but they were born to be unguided. One of this films themes could possibly be the complete misunderstanding or unspoken conflict between the church and its people. The church is the master, and we are all Freddie Quell's being tugged along by our leash like the good little dogs we are.
Of course I could be wrong about all of this. But who cares if I'm wrong? At least there is a film maker working in this country today that challenges his audience to really think and make their own assumptions about the film long after it fades to black.