I saw the Master on the weekend, with high expectations. There Will Be Blood is one of my favourite movies, and I appreciate Paul Thomas Anderson as much as the next cinephile. But I don’t think I was prepared for the Master. Perhaps I do need narrative? Perhaps my head cold didn’t help. Perhaps I should stop making excuses?
The scientology or cult connection is incidental. As Kermode would say, the film’s not about a cult, its about the relationship between two men in a cult. And what a relationship. Some reviews have suggested a homo-erotic tension between the two male leads. I personally saw more of a father son relationship exploration, of which PTA is so fond of.
The film is technically flawless. The performances by the three leads are stunning. There is no doubt that the cinematography is beautiful. Jonny Greenwood’s score is steely and disarming. There are metaphors to be found.
I’ve heard the plot described as “challenging”. Is this because modern audiences are so used to being fed three act structures with neat story arcs? The film is not a story, it is a character study which lets the audience draw its own conclusions.
Ultimately, I was left thinking that I needed at least a second viewing to fully appreciate this film. I’m still not sure if this is my failing or the film’s failing.
As Ebert pithily laments: “”The Master” is fabulously well-acted and crafted, but when I reach for it, my hand closes on air.”