Movie Review: ‘The Master’


I had a bit of free time yesterday afternoon (when I prolly should’ve been running, tbh) so I decided to head out and see the new Paul Thomas Anderson film The Master. I had heard a lot of great things about the film and it’s been far too long since I’ve seen any movie so away I went. Obvs, we’ve all heard that The Master is loosely based on the life of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology … and despite the fact that the CLAIM is that the movie is not about LRH, it so is. I must admit, I don’t know much about the life of LRH so I was really going into seeing this movie blind … and I’m happy to report that I liked what I saw.

NOW, since the movie is said not to be about L. Ron Hubbard or Scientology, that is the last mention I will make of either. The Master focuses on a very charismatic leader of an organization of people who believe (in a nutshell) that the human body can be healed by way of time-traveling past life regression. Some may call that sort of thing hypnosis but that’s what we are dealing with here in this film. The role of Lancaster Dodd (aka the Master) is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a hapless, emotionally unstable man who happens upon Dodd and his followers and becomes another devotee … but not without some conflict. The film really focuses on the relationship between Dodd and Quell and the effects that that relationship has on Dodd’s organization called in the film The Cause. Both Hoffman and Phoenix give really fantastic performances but Amy Adams is the real surprise. She plays Dodd’s wife Peggy and does so quite expertly. These characters are complex even if somewhat predictable. It’ll be interesting to see which actor — Hoffman or Phoenix — will get the Oscar nomination for Best Actor because both are truly phenomenal in this film. I will say that the movie drags in some parts but that’s mostly because director Paul Thomas Anderson is a very indulgent artist. In the film, Dodd is referred to as Master as leader of The Cause but you’ll see quite clearly that his title of Master also relates to his relationship with Quell.

The Master is a really entertaining film but it’s not one that I need to see again. That said, I would happily suggest that others see this film. I’m very curious to hear what folks who are a familiarity with LRH’s life think about this film. Oh damn, I mentioned his name again … ah well. I guess the truth of the matter is that even tho people will say it’s not about LRH, it pretty much is. And therein lies the interest.