The Master (2012)

the master poster 2012 movie paul thomas anderson
9.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman rule the screen with great scenery and sound

The story is not very structured

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Master

Studio:  Annapuma Pictures

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  September 1, 2012 (Venice)/September 14, 2012 (U.S.)

MPAA Rating:  R


I’ve got you’re back!

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) has returned from a tour in the Pacific after World War II and is hospitalized. Jumping from job to job, he sneaks aboard a ship bound for New York City and meets a man named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who will change his life. Dodd (aka The Master) sees Quell as a project and someone to test his methods from his book The Cause on. As Quell comes to see The Cause as a way of life, can he correct the mistakes in past or will Dodd’s growing success destroy him.

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master was met with much critical acclaim. With initial concerns by followers of Scientology, Anderson even screened the film for Tom Cruise who performed in Anderson’s Magnolia.  Many felt the movie was snubbed when it received only three Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Phoenix), Best Supporting Actor (Hoffman), and Best Supporting Actress (Adams).


Damn sand woman…you lookin’ hot!

The movie is very much like Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. In fact there were a few scenes in the film that were adapted from earlier versions of There Will Be Blood for this film. Like most of Anderson’s films, it isn’t necessarily the story that carries you but the power of the image and acting.

The story of The Master is a thinly veiled adaptation of L. Ron Hubbard’s life and the beginnings of the Church of Scientology. It isn’t the “L. Ron Hubbard Story”, but there are many parts that mirror Hubbard. The religious practices of Dodd have some similar aspects, and they were close enough to upset some Scientologists when Dodd’s son (played by Friday Night Light’s Jesse Plemons…a Matt Damon look alike and now I see him like Phillip Seymour Hoffman) states that his father is “making it up as he goes along”. I actually am surprised more Scientologists haven’t come out dismissing the film because the religion does come off as pretty bad in the movie.


Could we fit a few more people in this elevator?

What makes the religion bad in the movie is that it is kind of dangerous. The methods used by Dodd are very legitimate at points by using techniques like Freddie connecting to his past through the “don’t blink” exercise or the facing off chair-to-chair with Dodd’s son-in-law. These are techniques used by psychiatrists and they do have effective results, but in the movie Dodd uses them to get in the heads of his followers, insert the extreme methods of his philosophy, and control them.

Visually, The Master is stunning. Long shots (combined with an eerie continuous soundtrack by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood) combine for some amazing visuals. The movie isn’t flashy, but it still has such style that the movie looks fantastic with great editing. This spectacular shooting is combined with really pretty raw images like Freddie’s drunken fantasy of Dodd dancing among a bunch of naked women (young and old) back-to-back with Amy Adams pleasuring her husband in the bathroom with a warning for her not to let her find out if he cheats on her.


Smile! I’m crazy!

The real power in the film comes from both Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. They are backed by a nice supporting cast which includes Amy Adams and a small role by Laura Dern, but the two actors blow away anyone else in their scenes. Phoenix is just a perfect psychopath on a destructive path and Hoffman’s character sometimes seems to legitimately want to help him and other times appears to just want him as a poster boy for The Cause. They combine together for some great one-on-one scenes that hopefully won’t cancel out Oscar opportunities.

The Master is definitely a “thinky” movie. The story and ending don’t give you a lot of answers so you’ll just have to work them out yourself. I like movies that you just can’t leave when you finish and this definitely is one of them. This is not my favorite Anderson film, but Anderson continues to show why he is one of the best directors out there right now.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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