TajLV’s review published on Letterboxd:
Part of My Autumn Rewatches 3.0 Challenge
Task #7: Revisit a film that the Catholic Church has condemned as Morally Offensive.
Having recently watched the stellar performance of Joaquin Phoenix in "The Joker" (2019), I was eager to rewatch his somewhat similar role as traumatized Naval veteran Freddie Quell in this highly acclaimed drama from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. As I watched the DVD's 16 minutes of teaser-trailers, I noticed how little seemed familiar, but then I read on IMDb that Anderson had created them himself, without studio permission, mainly using footage not featured in the final cut of the film. Good for him, I thought... and I'm not losing my memory. Whew.
Things I never forgot:
Seaman Freddie as an alcoholic, drinking ethanol and torpedo juice to get high. V-J Day. The Rorschach exam. Freddie as a department store portrait photographer, drinking chemicals in the darkroom. The fight with a customer costing his job. Working as a cabbage picker. Drinking anything to get high. The "poisoned" farm worker Frank (Frank Bettag) losing Freddie that job. Seeing the ship Alethia pass by in San Francisco and awaking the next morning aboard her. Meeting the Commander, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). That Dodd and his cult "The Cause" are modeled after L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. How excellent Hoffman was in this role. Freddie hired on board as an "able-bodied seaman" and an expect at concocting brain-addling elixirs. Amy Adams as Dodd's wife Peggy Dodd, and Jesse Plemons as their son Val. Freddie's "informal processing" with Dodd. The New York arrival and reception. Freddie as "defender of the faith." Aggressive Peggy recommending they go "on the attack." Freddie's visit to a detractor. In Philadelphia, Laura Dern as believer Helen Sullivan and Barlow Jacobs as her husband James. Peggy's attempt to put Freddie on the wagon. Son Val as skeptic. Dodd's arrest and Freddie's breakdown. The Wall-Window exercise. Literally digging up Dodd's life's work. Publication of his second book, "The Split Saber." Freddie canvassing folks on the street with flyers, making a radio spot and taking photos of Dodd. The 1st Phoenix Congress. The motorcycle scene. Freddie's disappearance. Meeting up with the Master at the school in England. Peggy's merciless rejection of Freddie, followed by Dodd's ultimatum.
Things I had forgotten:
The opening scene on the beach with Freddie humping the sand-sculpted female. Ella Fitzgerald's lovely rendition of Irving Berlin's "Get Thee Behind Me Satan." The store's roving mannequin Martha (Amy Ferguson) as Freddie's initial lust interest. The wedding aboard ship. Ambyr Childers as the Master's daughter Elizabeth marrying Rami Malek as Clark. The hypnotic regression to past lives. "Man is not an animal." That humans are not ruled by emotions. Freddie's remembering 16-year-old Doris Solstad (Madisen Beaty). The skeptic John More (Christopher Evan Welch). The nakedness in Philly. All the master-bation. Clark and Freddie processing. Freddie beating up a critic. Helen questioning the processing platform change in the new book and Dodd's knee-jerk reaction. Freddie visiting Mrs. Solstad and learning Doris married Jim Day three years earlier. Watching a Caspar cartoon in the cinema. Dodd's memory of Freddie from a past life in Paris, fighting against the Prussians. Dodd's singing of "On a Slow Boat to China." Freddie making love to Winn Manchester (Jennifer Neala Page in her feature film debut) while processing her. Memory of the sand sculpture.
The film received three Academy Award nominations: Best Leading Actor (Phoenix), Best Supporting Actor (Hoffman) and Best Supporting Actress (Adams). At it's Venice debut, the film won Anderson the Paul Thomas Anderson and the Silver Lion, along with a nomination for the Golden Lion, while Hoffman and Phoenix took home the Volpi Cup. My rewatch was informed by films I've watched on Scientology in the past few years, as well as a greater familiarity with the work of Anderson. As a result, I've upped my rating of the film to four stars. It really is excellent, especially the acting, although it left me feeling something was still missing that I can't quite put my finger on.