When it comes to the films of Paul Thomas Anderson there's one word that can describe them - family. Whether it be the unconventional family of the 1970's porn scene or a makeshift one from the early twentieth century, all of his films deal with someone trying to find their own place in the world and Anderson's latest, "The Master," is no different.
Freddie Quell, played brilliantly and despicably by Joaquin Phoenix, is a World War II vet who drifts aimlessly from place to place. He's a boozer and a womanizer and lives for life's basest pleasures. One drunken night he takes refuge in a ship where he comes across Lancaster Dodd aka the Master, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Quell learns that Dodd is a "writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher," but above all he is a man, just like Quell. Dodd quickly takes him under his wing and introduces him to the Cause - which is loosely based on the tenets of Scientology. Dodd believes that through a sort hypnosis-based time travel a person can go into their deep past - which sometimes spans trillions of years - and uncover trauma that is affecting them in their current life. Quell is a lonely man and becomes the Master's right hand man - but his impetuous and uncontrollable nature threatens to destroy everything Dodd has worked for.
I've always been a huge fan of Anderson and I'm glad to see his latest film doesn't disappoint. When it first came out (before I got a chance to see it) the reviews on it were mixed, with some people saying that it was a complicated film and unlike his past projects. But after finally viewing it I realized that this is not the case. Is it complex? Absolutely. And there's no definitive way to describe the film, but it's one that can affect people on many different levels. One being on a familial level, another for those who deal with loneliness, another for those who are just looking to fit in, but that doesn't mean the film is an esoteric one, perhaps just one that the viewer should watch with no distractions.
The character of Quell and Dodd are fascinating creations. For as much as they are on the opposite end of the spectrum, they are both remarkably alike. Each are prone to outbursts and while Quell is much more likely to not care, when Dodd does it you can tell it's his instincts getting the better of him, for he thinks that humans are on a far higher plane than animals and when he has an erratic outburst he is betraying that thought.
The only disappointment here is that once the end credits roll, we realize that it will be another few years until Anderson can be release another masterpiece. His next one is scheduled to be an adaptation of the book "Inherent Vice." At least it's exciting to know what his next feature will be, despite the wait.