Re: Paul Thomas Anderson's-"The Master
Potential spoilers (or spoilersish) may lie below...
Three days ago, Grace Sloan posted a link on her facebook about a benefit screening at the
Castro in San Francisco. It was for The Master
, and as soon as I saw the
link, I bought two tickets to what I thought would be the
movie of the
year. What I ended up seeing may very well be the
movie of the
year, or it may have just been a movie from a year that's seeking a movie of the
year. Let's see what I mean...
Yeesh, where do I start? Well, let's start out with the
conditions under which I saw the
film. It was a 70mm print, so that part was fantastic. The
image was crisp and clean but still reminiscent of film. Let's not celebrate film's departure just yet, because man does 70mm look ballerific. The
sound was a problem, but that was largely because of where I was sitting (see below). Joaquin Phoenix spends most of the
film mumbling, so it's safe to say I missed what would add up to be a good chunk of dialogue.
Folks familiar with Paul Thomas Anderson are probably aware that his films tend to have a focused narrative. Boogie Nights follows Dirk Diggler sashaying into Pornland, Magnolia follows a whole bunch of fucked up people and their relation to frogs, Punch Drunk Love follows Adam Sandler in his quest to facefuck that British chick, and There Will Be Blood follows the
ups and downs of a man trying to live his life by way of oil. The Master
's not like that. I mean, it can still be summarized: The Master
follows this Freddie guy on his exploration of The
Cause and the
people surrounding it. I guess what makes The Master
different, then, is how it's presented and how it's resolved.
All of PTA's previous films have a clear resolution. Sometimes the
implications are ambiguous, but in context of the
narrative, shit's tied up. The Master
's not like that. A lot of questions go unanswered and a lot of threads are intentionally left untied. This is PTA at his most Malickian, a step in a very different direction from the
Kubrickian air of There Will Be Blood. There's no real sense of a middle or end. There's a beginning; it begins with Joaquin Phoenix hobbling about the
country, trying to find a permanent job in an unforgiving America. Once he meets Philip Seymour Hoffman, though, the
film just wanders. This isn't a complaint, but it's not a compliment, either.
I don't have a problem with a film delivering something different than what it promised or what I expected. I'm only concerned with what a film is trying to do and how successful it is at accomplishing its goal. I guess I can't tell you whether or not The Master
is successful because I'm not sure what it's trying to do. Is it a reflection on religion? Is it a look at postwar disillusionment? Is it just a character study with the
backdrops of religion and postwar disillusionment? Is it something else entirely? I don't know. I do know that individual scenes are riveting, for example when Joaquin Phoenix's character is getting processed for the
first time. There are other scenes, though, that, while they're not boring, don't make a whole lot of sense upon first analysis.The Master
is a film, though, that deserves more than one analysis. There are moments in the
film that make you question what you're seeing, if it's real, if it's a fantasy, if it's a flashback. I'm lost as to why PTA employed these ambiguities, but I'm also intrigued. I will see it again. For now: ***1/2 out of *****