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The Master | Movie Review


The Master, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is a thought-provoking drama that will leave you either for the better or for the worse. Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, an alcoholic Naval veteran who is obsessed with sex. There isn’t much going on for him in a post-war society; he is hot tempered and with unpredictability that is worsened by his eternal drunken stupor. Freddie eventually meets the charismatic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), better known by his followers as the Master of ‘The Cause’, a philosophical movement established by him.

These two characters are a clear contrast of each other—with Freddie, primal and caveman-like in thought and behaviour, and Dodd, with his belief system that transcends modern man. Throughout the film, it is almost as if Dodd is trying to tame and civilize Freddie using methods such as repetition, and the idea of ‘The Cause’ brings question to why these individuals have been drawn in to something so unusual based off the preaching of one man. Is it to look for hope or comfort in a society that has now been changed by the days of war? Or perhaps it is to find purpose in life, such as what Freddie thought he had found in following Dodd.



The Master is not a film that is driven forward by big events within the story. What moves it along is the characters and what they hope to achieve. Most of the film runs smoothly, gliding from one plot point to another without evident turning points. It is only in the last few moments that one may begin to feel rather confused by the sequencing. Nevertheless, the amount of thought put into this expertly written script will shine through.

The film is visually stunning, and the incredible performances by the lead actors further contribute to its artistic excellence. Phoenix wholly embodies the character of Freddie, down to the odd mannerisms that set him apart from everyone else in the story world, while Hoffman deliberately plays it on a lower, calmer note, making the on-screen interaction between the two simply riveting.

Chances are, if you are no cinephile, The Master may bore you (I witnessed a couple exiting the theatre before finishing the film). It is essentially a think piece, and it may require more than one viewing to fully embrace the true meaning behind it. However, if you are a fan of complex films and of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work, The Master will not fail to compel you.




Text by: Jillian Tan




*Images sourced from Internet

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