film review: ‘The Master:’ a cult film unlikely to draw followers

Elizabeth Golden

The first 10 minutes truly make a film, and within those first scenes, the movie’s eternal fate is decided. “The Master” was defined in the first 10 minutes as a beautiful piece of art and a masterpiece fit for acting glory. The first 10 minutes also prove  confusing and meaningless while attempting to create life within the screen.

“The Master” opens with a breathtaking view of the ocean. The bright blue waves swirl back and forth, intertwining beautifully with the white ribbon of a ship. Cue a melody of powerful music that paces with the moving ocean, and the opening sequence sets the pace for the film with its strong cinematography.

The waves wash up on the shore, Freddy (Joaquin Phoenix) is seen sitting next to the water with his famous pout. From his opening dialogue, it was obvious Phoenix would give an Academy Award-worthy performance.

This opening sequence on the beach slowly alludes to the storyline involving Freddy’s alcoholic and sexual tendencies, which proves unnecessary to the story, but crucial for character development.

Still, the plot, centered around a cult, does not appear until 30 minutes into the film. The Master (Philip Seymour Hoffman) could be described as a charismatic but sickening old man running the cult, The Cause, which is said to be Scientology in disguise. The film depicts Freddy’s relation to The Cause and his decision to finally break free.

Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour film, nothing really happens. The Cause is discussed in an unflattering way, and viewers may feel a strong desire to punch all the characters in their faces. None of the characters are particularly likeable.

The plot is surface-level and reveals little about the unknown cult society. Half of the scenes seem unnecessary, filmed only to receive the prominent R rating. For example, there is a musical number where all of the women perform naked – and  these are not attractive women. There was sagginess in all the wrong places. Phoenix is shown performing several actions better left for the imagination.

There is no denying the intense feelings derived from the acting. Every character performs flawlessly. Phoenix is guaranteed to receive an Academy Award nomination. Hoffman is also likely to receive a nomination. Amy Adams, who plays The Master’s wife, once again showcases the versatility of her talent, flawlessly portraying a brainwashed woman.

Paul Thomas Anderson does an outstanding directing job, for the most part. Each shot showcases the beauty of his artistic mindset. However, some scenes seemed to be missing necessary characteristics, as he seemed to focus on the least important aspect of the shot. He seemed to be very fond of “blurry camera” shots, where the camera shows a character or object with clarity while the rest of the shot is out of focus. This technique could be viewed in an artistic way, but tends to be occasionally irritating since these shots commonly focus on the blurred background.

Overall, “The Master” is extremely well done with its performance and production value, but the script seems to drag on. Every aspect of the film could easily be summarized in a paragraph. Admittedly, this is a film full of intrinsic value, which may not be easily noticed, so those who may not be top-notch film connoisseurs may not appreciate the quality of filmmaking. Even as someone who had a couple dozen film classes, I found myself bored throughout the majority of the film. Yes, “The Master” features high quality filmmaking techniques, but doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to entertainment value.

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