Simone’s review published on Letterboxd:
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this is PT Anderson's best film yet. Yes, I think it's even better than There Will Be Blood. It's his most challenging, dense, and assured work to date. It forces you to look inwards in order to connect on an intellectual and emotional level, but it also challenges you to contemplate the entirety of human nature and what drives us. Just like PT Anderson's other films, it's extremely rich thematically, exploring control, power, regret, loneliness, action, belief, and truth. It's dense, but it's rewarding.
To say this film is stunning is a gross understatement. The richness of the picture is something that probably has to be seen on the biggest screen possible to truly appreciate, which is why I'm jealous of those who get to see it in 70mm. However, even with digital projection, it's truly immersive. From the very first frame, it sucks you in and doesn't let go. The camera is slower and more static than his other films, which allows you to drink in every moment and focus on the dialogue and the acting. It has a meditative and slow pace, but every now and then, you get a punch in the gut and a slap across your face by something unforgettable. The Master has to be experienced and absorbed, making it very difficult to analyze and understand with just one viewing. If you leave feeling confused and uneasy, and hours later Freddie's face is still plastered across your mind, you're not alone.
If you think about the way the world works, it revolves around power, communication, and connection. Freddie Quell is extremely inept at grasping the nuances and complexities of those three things, foraging and chasing after them like a scavenger. He's a terrible communicator, he is powerless to his PTSD, and he isn't connected to a single person or place. Then he meets Dodd, and suddenly he belongs. He is accepted as Dodd's exciting new project and guinea pig for his controversial and dangerous psychological techniques. The classic scene from this film will forever be the first "processing" session, featuring the most intense dialogue and best acting I've ever seen. I could recite the entire scene word for word after having only seen it twice: that's a testament to how powerful it is.
Joaquin Phoenix… there are no words to adequately describe his performance here but I'll try. It's superhuman. It's like he had to become the worst possible manifestation of a generation of wounded and broken men returning from WWII and concentrate all of that confusion, fear, and hopelessness down into one human-like figure. His physical presence with those harsh facial expressions and the contorted body shape is a more realistic character than any real person he could've been trying to mimic. He literally plucked this character out of thin air and conjured him into this unforgettable Freddie Quell persona. If he doesn't win an Oscar… well, I don't know why I'm speculating. No one will be able to touch this performance this year. No one.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant as the charismatic cult leader. When he gets angry, you can feel the shuddering of the person he's talking to in your bones. I was hanging on every single word. I WAS the audience he was aiming to reach. I was lost in his teachings, trying to make them make sense, and then most of the time not caring whether or not they made sense. Take me back in time, Dodd! Hypnotize me! Do whatever you want to me, just don't stop talking! You're wonderful! The other actors held their own as well. I'm not 100% sold on Amy Adams' performance, but I can't say it took anything away from the film even if I eventually decide that I didn't like it.
PT Anderson's views of the world are constantly evolving. It's easy to see his personal growth process and enlightenment if you follow the films throughout his career. Here, he is basically surrendering to the ambiguities of the world, and that it is wholly designed for failure. Freddie is basically the personification and embodiment of failure. Dodd's struggle for power and dominance over this group of people through his cult shows that he is also afraid of something, just as much as Quell is. I won't reveal what I think he is afraid of in this review, but maybe after more people have seen it, I'll be able to bring it up in discussions.
See this as soon as you can. And then seen it again.