Saturday, March 09, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Master (2012) ***

R, 144 min.
Director/Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern, Ambyr Childers, Rami Malek, Jesse Plemons, Kevin J. O’Connor, Christopher Evan Welch

I can’t believe that people are still questioning whether Joaquin Phoenix is “acting” in his new role as an unhinged WWII Naval boat veteran in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest movie “The Master”. He was acting in the mockumentary “I’m Still Here” about a fictionalized version of himself quitting acting to start a new career as a hip-hop artist. He’s certainly acting in this movie, and it is some of the finest acting of his career.

Perhaps people’s questions arise because he is so good at this unhinged mental case bit. What I find interesting is that people aren’t talking about what his character is going through. With all this debate about handguns vs. mental illness in the news media due to recent mass shootings, you’d think people would be latching on to what the real issue is at the heart of this movie—the marginalization of those fighting mental illness in our country, especially those who have come into that condition through their service to our country.

“The Master” is not writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s best film, but he tackles something he rarely does here—an actual relationship. Many of Anderson’s protagonists are people who isolate themselves on an island of their own making. Here he gives us two men who have certainly done that in terms of everyone else in their lives, but with each other have found a connection.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the master of the title, who is an obvious allusion to the controversial father of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. Perhaps he only sees an opportunity in Phoenix’s broken Freddie Quell. His methods are questionable, and they represent how after all of our modern progress we’ve yet to get a grasp on mental illness. But, these two men have an actual relationship with each other. In “There Will Be Blood”, Daniel Plainview has no genuine relationships. Not with the son who isn’t even his own. Not the brother, who’s blood relation is just as questionable as the son’s. Even in the hyperlink picture “Magnolia” is devoid of genuine relationships as it depicts all these lives that intersect and affect each other, but none of them ever genuinely connect with each other.

“The Master” gives us two men who genuinely interact and connect, but to what purpose, to what gain? In the end it seems that neither gains much from the other. The Master is still a con man, who searches for a practical application of his theories. Quell is still broken, using his former master’s con lines to create more false connections. 

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