The Master (2012)

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Food:

Colin Spoelman, who makes handcrafted (and legal) moonshine at the Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn. He worked as a consultant for the film to help come up with the bizarre and clever ways the lead character created his own bootlegged alcoholic drinks.

Attached is an interesting article from Variety about the booze behind the film: https://www.vulture.com/2012/09/can-you-really-make-booze-out-of-paint-thinner.html

Film:

“The Master” (2012) is a well-regarded piece by Paul Thomas Anderson (known for “Boogie Nights” (1997), “Magnolia” (1999) and “There Will Be Blood” (2007). Inspired by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, the religion and potentially dangerous cult that has gained notable attention from its famous followers like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. (A scathing documentary that came out a few years after this film is “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” which dissects the abuses and practices of the controversial organization).

Anderson does  not use “The Master” to heavily critique Scientology, Hubbard, or any of the specific practices involved in the search for therapeutic enlightenment that the religion aims to find, but instead shifts its focus more precisely on the two leads: Lancaster Dodd (the Hubbard character) played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix).

The story begins with Navy veteran Quell on the beach with his fellow sailors excitedly receiving the news that the war has ended. As they hang around on the beach, and humorously build a sand sculpture of a woman’s body, Quell uncomfortably mounts the figure and begins to perform sexual acts on “her” as one would a blow-up doll. Quell is angular and alarmingly scrawny (Phoenix lost a significant amount of weight for the role, and it feels like a precursor to his physical embodiment of the “Joker”). He is evidently unwell, and spends much of his time fantasizing about girlfriends he had before the wall and concocting toxic alcoholic beverages from whatever he is able to find – paint thinner, medicine, Lysol. After serving a likely fatal gulp to a miscellaneous migrant worker in a California field, he hides in a stow away seafaring yacht and begins a life on the run.

The ship belongs to Lancaster Dodd, whom he self-desrcibes as a “writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher…” He is a book writing and the founder of this “therapeutic” cult, where he is praised by a slew of followers, including his doting wife Peggy (Amy Adams), their son Val (Jesse Plemons), and Helen Sullivan – a passionate acolyte (Laura Dern). The religion is called the Cause and the ship is en route to New York through the passage of the Panama Canal. Though, the film is not an expose, nor does it attempt at historical accuracy. There are moments that emulate aspects of the film that call to mind distinct Scientology practices, like Dianetics. But that hardly seems like the point of the film.

Dodd and Quell quickly develop a somewhat symbiotic relationship. Dodd sees a glaring opportunity in the lost and debilitated Quell as a perfect guinea pig for his debatable techniques. There are also scenes where they appear to be a composite of one person, each representing an opposing but complementary mind, championing some viewers to compare their kinship with The Narrator and Tyler Durden in “Fight Club” (1999). There is a particular scene that bolsters this idea when the two characters are side by side in jail cells and present psychological opposites: one is confident, portly, loquacious, the other thin, anxious, and even hysterical. Yet they yell at one another like a person might yell at themselves in the mirror – a reflection of their deepest insecurities and their attempts to ease them.

Some viewers speculate that the film is about the post war ennui, and the feeling of lacking purpose that soldiers were left with when the war ended. Some say it is about the search for family and stability, the backbone of most cults and religious organizations. Others discuss its light commentary on the politics of a cult. And there are some that would perceive “The Master” as simply a masterclass in acting – likening the exercises that are involved in the cult’s therapy sessions to method acting classes. The performances (especially by Hoffman and Phoenix) certainly validate that expertise.

Further, this is the first movie filmed in 65mm (and projected in 70mm, in select markets) since Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” in 1996, a creative decision that gives the filmmaker almost four times as much visual information to play with than the classic 35-mm stock. (Tarantino followed suite in “The Hateful Eight” in 2015). “The Master” is a fascinating odyssey, an achievement in cinematography, acting and character development.

 

 

 

 

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