Undeniably, the world these days loves a picture, which is smart in such a way that it stirs a never-ending debate about its inscrutable, mightily ambiguous meaning. More so in times when going to the cinema is strictly connected with low-class entertainment that lacks any deeper self-reflection. The Master’s significance will rather easily remain a mysterious one, due to the fact that the film intentionally accumulates a huge amount of distinct themes and places them within the storyline without hinting at any apparent purpose. However, that really doesn’t mean that the film is unwatchable in any way – quite the opposite. Being a thoroughly innovative, visually stunnig, and strangely mystic picture, The Master is able to move one’s imagination, disturb and shock a little, and then astonish the audiences with its mind-boggling, often confusing declarations. While those contentious divagations aren’t to be affiliated with any known theorems ad personam it’s not hard to recognize them as somewhat ostentatious and ironical representations of authentic presumptions stated by some of the world’s most-favorite cults.
The Master reluctantly aspires to be a confounding, cryptic and awe-inspiring creation that’s not to be taken too seriously, yet – at the same time – it brings to the table an infinite amount of complex testimonies that might manipulate the viewer just as well as The Cause beguiles the main character of the film. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), because that’s his name, is a Naval veteran with a huge emotional baggage that’s been thrown on his back during the World War II. Returning back to his homeland Freddie isn’t certain of the future that awaits him there. Due to a number of horrifying experiences he became violent, socially awkward and has hard time finding a permanent job. However, on one seemingly peaceful night he decides to board an unknown ship. In one of the cabins he meets a cultivated, nonchalant, charismatic, yet mysterious man ludicrously called the master. With the gentleman’s insistence Freddie embarks on a most-spiritual journey into his own psyche. His perception of the mind and its capabilities changes, and so does his attitude towards the reality that surrounds him. Through a series of rough brainwash sessions – it’s hard to call them in any other way – the master makes people believe. Strange enough, because nobody is a hundred percent sure what’s this ‘thing’ that everybody believes in so hard. It’s a faith or sort yes, but what’s the true purpose behind the whole quasi-spiritual movement remains unanswered towards the end of the film. And surprisingly, that works really fine – without any certain revelations the whole mysticism is harder to grasp.
Aside from the matters closely associated with cults and their actions, The Master discusses a considerable amount of topics and subjects – some of them briefly, other more thoroughly. By looking at Freddie and what he’s been through since he joined the Navy it’s not difficult to observe how his behavior relates to the controversial notion of war-related traumas that haunt many soldiers around the world to these days. Overt or not – it’s not important – there’s a delicate homosexual subtext in the relationship between Freddie and Lancaster (thanks to the police the master’s name is finally revealed). What’s more, it often looks strangely one-sided. And that brings up another topic, this time connected with attachment and subservience. Freddie is the master’s obedient marionette up to a point, but it’s crucial to note how the relations change drastically after some time. The thin line between controlling and serving becomes blurry, as the characters and their dispositions alternate.
The film successfully conveys the vibrant atmosphere of the 50’s, filling it with melancholic and attractive tunes. It seems as though the cinematographer applied a bunch of corresponding filters in order to give a somehow old-fashioned feel to all the images that the movie exhibits.
The list of interpretations is endless. Everyone will have a different opinion about this film. One thing that surely all the viewers can agree on is that Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman give one of the most captivating, stupendous performances of the year. Given his distorted posture and irascible behavior, Phoenix transforms himself into a man who’s tired of life and it’s as painful to watch as it is convincing. Seymour Hoffman, on the other hand, makes the philosophical and existential gibberish, that he tortures the audiences with, really believable and satisfying. Wandering for a moment from the substance of the movie, one should notice how the vibe presented by both of those actors creates an amazingly spellbinding aura, and that’s definitely The Master’s most indubitable quality.