Master! What is The Master?
The craft of Paul Thomas Anderson’s (PTA) The Master will trigger your deep, hidden emotions to surface as incomplete catharsis. Just when you think you’ve got your closure, the experience ditches you midway, inertia sets in, and the process starts all over again. It’s akin to quenching your thirst only to be dehydrated the very next moment.
The Master is difficult cinema, difficult to view, to review, leave alone deconstruct or interpret. Or call it intellectual incapacity on the part of this reviewer.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
What is The Master?
Art for art’s sake or truly a masterpiece? Kubrickian audio-visual imagery made effective by Greenwood’s compositions, PTA’s surreal meets real technique, uncanny performances by the lead actors Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and an unnerving narrative that interchangeably disturbs and quietens; how does one define such perplexing work?
So, what is The Master?
A sham? Lancaster Dodd’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) philosophy borders between the esoteric and the mystical never gaining the validity of scientific reason. This makes him a godman at best, a madman at worst. We don’t take him too seriously and concur with Dodd’s son: He’s making all this up as he goes along.
What I’m saying is Dodd, the master, is not this enigmatic cult character you thought him to be. It’s probably just a sham? Or is it?
And, what is The Master?
An allusion? A weltanschauung perhaps? The characters—Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) and Dodd—are not direct allusions but their worldview’s are. Freddie is a hooch-making, instinct-driven animal whose libido overpowers him; he sees the world with perverted eyes. An allusion to Freudian theories?
Dodd on the other hand propagates that the spirit exists in many “vessels” over time and sells his “processing” (past-life regression) as a panacea. Again, an allusion to Jung’s personal unconscious and reincarnation theories? Yes, these alone do not constitute the entire gamut of Freud’s or Jung’s works but are, nonetheless, representative allusions that hint at a war between two worldviews—the Freudian and the Jungian.
Maybe further extrapolated to Western and the Eastern worldviews.
OK! SO WHAT IS THE MASTER?
From the very beginning, Freddie seems to inspire something in Dodd. And vice versa.
Dodd, a master, refuses to give up, or let go of the slouchy, sleazy, incurable alcoholic Freddie? Why? Does Dodd envy Freddie’s listless existence? Something which Dodd himself could never achieve despite his so-called intellectual prowess? Is Freddie his protégé or his mentor? Is the mentor subconsciously searching for the real mentor in his protégé?
Freddie’s dilemma is no different. He only knows to exist the way he exists. Dodd’s repeated attempts have little or no effect on him and yet he shares an inexplicable bond with Dodd. Why? Has he truly learned something from Dodd? The film’s closing scene might hint at that, or might just be a big joke.
They part to walk their own paths. To each his own.
Master! Who is the master?
One who preaches,
One who prays,
Or the one between,
Me and ye?
Master! What is the master?
Master! Where is the master?
In the sea of life
On the shores of death?
Master, mentor, protégé,
Reside in me.