Upon its initial release, all those creatively involved with the project had to explain to the world that The Master is not a story about Scientology. While many could argue otherwise, the most important aspect of this film is the relationship between the two main characters.
It begins at the end of World War II, a time where many returning soldiers were understandably unable to transition from the horrors of war to a normal life. One of them is Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a soldier turned alcoholic drifter who after hitting his own version of rock-bottom meets a man named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a religious movement called "The Cause". His teachings do have similarities to L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, but The Master is not a film about Scientology. It is a story of two men, one trying desperately to find himself, while the other uses that man's desperation as a pawn in his own game. Freddie never seems to have a moment of clarity as his alcoholism skids him down a path of self-suicide while Lancaster never seems to understand the meaning behind his words. He is simply a master at manipulating those who are so desperate that they are willing to turn to his contradicting ideology.
Paul Thomas Anderson's breathtaking vision is within every frame of The Master. This talented filmmaker has the gift of foresight within America's own history, telling us more about the world we live in now at a time where many of us hadn't even existed yet (or at least me anyways). Where There Will Be Blood was a foreshadow of America's downfall through greed, The Master is a foreshadow of the corruption of the American Dream. It seemed for only a moment after World War II, all was supposedly right in our country. But as time progressed and the sugarcoating became thin, many real-life troubled souls like Freddie Quell probably turned to manipulators like Lancaster Dodd. Because of this, the man looking for righteousness gets left behind while the other successfully sells his righteousness to the next troubled soul and uses it to their own advantage.
Joaquin Phoenix is mind-blowing. He is so perfectly cast in every conceivable way it's almost as if his orchestrated downfall shown in Casey Affleck's documentary I'm Still Here was all apart of his preparation for this role. The role calls for a lost soul, becoming horrifyingly skinny and brutally battered emotionally. Phoenix nails this on all fronts. Beside him is Philip Seymour Hoffman, a master at his craft himself. His mannerisms and tone are flawless. The finest piece of acting you will see all year comes down to these two, especially the scene where Lancaster finally is able to crack beneath the surface of Freddie's subconscious. Who knew a lightning fast moment of questions and answers would be so riveting? Keep an eye out for Amy Adams grabbing another best supporting actress nomination for her role as Peggy Dodd, Lancaster's wife. Fearless and dominating, Peggy is either the brains behind the movement or the cause of its downfall. Adams gets the crown for the most terrifying shot in the film. I won't give it away, but lets just say it has something to do with her eyes changing color.
Did I just leave you with a huh? Good, now you have to go see what I'm talking about. The Master, the best film so far this year and for now, the Oscar frontrunner.