The Second Time Around: The Master

Joaquin Phoenix in The Master.

The Master failed to make an impression the first time I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival. It felt hermetic and pretentious. However, many critics fell deeply in love with the film by Paul Thomas Anderson and topped several “Best of 2012” list.

I decided to give The Master a second chance. While some elements I overlook became more striking (cinematography, the score by Jonny Greenwood), my overall appreciation of the film didn’t improve significantly: It fails to deliver on the promise of exposing Scientology and has no interest in connecting with an audience.

Then, it hit me. The Master is the story of a man and his dog.

Joaquin Phoenix’ character, Freddie Quell, is nothing but a stray animal that follows his most basic instincts. Freddie is adopted by cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who tries –and mostly fails- to domesticate the creature. But as it often happens with dogs, Dodd enjoys Quell’s company, even when he misbehaves.

I thought I was overreaching until the scene in which Dodd and Quell roughhouse in the garden. In fact, the only rational decision Freddie Quell makes in the entire movie is to abandon Dodd’s movement. Shortly after, the protagonist sheds all remnants of domestication.

If you agree to this reading of The Master, the movie simplifies significantly. It even gains some entertaining value. What doesn’t change is the film unwillingness to reach out to the public. Still two and a half perplexed prairie dogs.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.

4 thoughts on “The Second Time Around: The Master”

  1. Speaking of second chances, Jorge, you still haven’t given us your impression of John Dies at the End yet. You saw it at TIFF, but determined that you need to watch it again to fairly judge it.

  2. Hi Brad. I like portions of John Dies at the End (the beginning is fantastic). Coscarelli was rather ambitious narratively speaking, but I’m not sure if he succeeded. I’ll be watching it again as soon as it’s available on demand.

  3. I was mesmerized by The Master throughout. Two of the best actors giving two of the best performances I’ve ever seen.

    And don’t take any shit for your middling review of Django, Jorge! I agree with you 100%.

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