The Master

The Master ★★★★

"Free winds and no tyranny for you, Freddie, sailor of the seas. You pay no rent, free to go where you please. Then go, go to that landless latitude and good luck. If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you? For you'd be the first in the history of the world."

Philip Seymour Hoffman's tragic passing motivated me to revisit this film, which contains what is arguably his best performance, and the result was both saddening and relieving. It is indeed disheartening when we lose such a phenomenal artist, yet he left behind such a terrific body of work that he will always be remembered as one of cinema's finest. His performance as the titular master, Lancaster Dodd, is my favorite of his - thriving on sophistication and charismatic, intellectual charm he captures his character perfectly. He (and the rest of the cast) really elevated my enjoyment of the film. It's a wonder when P.T. Anderson pulls back for a moment and lets his actors carry a scene. In particular, the jail scene is wow-inducing. I wouldn't be surprised if this film is shown in acting classes for years to come.

The film itself is a philosophical one, just as its title character is. Primarily, it seems to focus on isolation and humanity's need and desire for company and community, but there are other elements that leave me a bit perplexed. Sex obviously plays a big part in the film, but is it simply a part of Freddie's character and his journey, or is the film making a comment on the subject? Questions like this can be applied to other motifs in the film, such as alcoholism, religion, idolization, etc., but I'm not totally sure of everything The Master is getting at. Maybe I'm missing the point, but it certainly leaves much room for debate - an always welcome attribute.

Other than Hoffman's tremendous performance, Joaquin Phoenix gives him a run for his money. His character of Freddie is a complex and deeply troubled man, full of subtle movements and motivations that make him so interesting to watch. As I was watching, I thought of his performance in the recently released film Her, and just how different his performance was there compared to the one I was watching. Phoenix is an example of perfect diversity when it comes to acting, as he becomes completely enveloped in his characters, giving them different attributes that - while sometimes appearing small - can make all the difference in the long run.

It's arguably Anderson's strangest film, but possibly his most intelligent. The Master is chock-full of memorable moments - from the breathtaking cinematography, to the incredible acting, to the layered subtext. An excellent cinematic achievement.

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