Billy Gray

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The Master

In Movie Reviews on September 20, 2012 at 4:37 am

The Master is most electric during its opening scene. Jonny Greenwood’s ominous string score blasts to discordant life over a wide shot of a naval frigate’s crisp wake. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is among the seamen who cavort on a South Pacific beach. He introduces himself by explaining a fiery method of dealing with crabs—isolate the public lice on one testicle and set the hair on the other aflame—and murderously chopping up coconuts. He breaks to hump a voluptuous sand sculpture after leering at the lymph with his supple frame practically bent in two as if having Quasimodo’s wet dream. Director Paul Thomas Anderson briefly cuts to an officer masturbating into the ocean before it’s back on the ship, where Freddie drinks some sort of gasoline cocktail (back oh land he opts for paint thinner) before passing out on the mast tower.

Freddie is adrift and headed either for ruin or redemption. (A love interest back home in Massachusetts is Freddie’s millstone and Anderson’s MacGuffin.) But the sense of foreboding established in the first few minutes dissipates as Anderson finds the steady hand Freddie’s ingested Molotov cocktails—“poison”—render unattainable. After a series of failed odd jobs including mall photographer and farmhand—in a nod to Days of Heaven he kills a fellow worker and flees—he stows himself away on a yacht belonging to Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an irrationally charismatic writer-philosopher-shaman, and filled with his family and admiring disciples. In one of many poised shots that soothe after the opening, the ship sails beneath the Golden Gate Bridge into an ochre sunset. Lancaster and his subtly domineering wife Peggy (Amy Adams) take Freddie under their wings as they cross the country and the Atlantic proselytizing their belief system, which is heavy on reincarnation, confession and purging of past trauma and roughly analogous to Scientology. Read the rest of this entry »