The Master

The Master ★★★★½


Fifth viewing; down just slightly from 91, which was probably an overzealous reaction to having seen this such a large amount of times in a relatively short time span. And, as I’ve found with many of PTA’s films (esp. THERE WILL BE BLOOD), my precise reaction hinges heavily upon my mood that given day. (All that is to say, this could easily bounce back into five-star territory upon viewing number six, whenever that should occur.) In any case and despite the small reduction in score, this is still the pinnacle of Anderson’s oeuvre and, more important, still one of the greatest movies of its decade. I had written some musings about the film that have since been removed, but it outlined the various possibilities of how one could read this stunning character study, turning it into a violently beautiful Rorschach test. You’ve got the fight between the id (Freddie), ego (Lancaster), and superego (Peggy); the various and shifting power dynamics; the homoerotic undertones; the gender-specific direction of flow; the psychological ripple effect; right down to the rumination over who the title is referring to. Ostensibly, it’s Lancaster. But there are numerous implications that Peggy is rightfully his master. Freddie’s only driving force beyond Lancaster is a girl he left behind when he joined the Navy; it would not be ludicrous to assume that the idea of one’s master is simply whichever aspiration, be it another human being or a something inanimate, keeps them getting out of bed every morning. The ending, however, has always made me think that we are truly our own masters—it may just take some time and finagling to realize it. Flagged a bit for me ‘round the midsection this time, when Freddie is being put through the ringer, and I found his reappearance to Lancaster’s conference mysterious in ways that I never previously questioned. But that ultimately leads to one of the greatest exchanges in the movie, so I can be lenient.

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