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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.”

The Master

The Master (3)

The Master (2)

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5 thoughts on “The Master (2012)

  1. It’s good to hear that even PTA fans (of which I do not include myself) are kind of baffled by this one. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a bit of narrative, and while we’re at it, some emotional connection. The latter isn’t always necessary, but this film, and its characters, are kept at such a distance from their audience that it’s hard to engage with it on any kind of level (beyond, “wow, it’s x y and z factors are so well done!). I’m pleased that Amy Adams received a nomination, however. Her performance was stunning.

  2. Yes, I agree, the absence of an emotional connection didn’t help. It was almost like watching a beautiful peice of art for 2 and a half hours… far too long to sit and admire without being drawn into the story.

  3. I’m still looking forward to seeing The Master. Thanks for your review. I really appreciated that you didn’t spoil anything for those of us who haven’t seen it yet while still managing to share your opinion of the film. I try to do the same with my blog. Thanks for visiting. I’ll be looking forward to reading more of your reviews. I’m curious about what you thought of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, as it was a non-traditional, non-linear story that I adored. However, I’m also a fan of esoteric, experimental cinema and I’m well aware that the genre does not strike everyone the right way.

      • I’m so very late in replying, but after finally watching The Master, I was sadly disappointed by the film. I didn’t mind the non-linear story-telling. What bothered me was the lack of substance and digging into the cult mentality that I had hoped for. Though the scene when Phoenix first agrees to Hoffman’s “analysis” (or whatever they called it) is compellingly acted, it is not enough to hook me without the “emotional connection” as Julie put it. This film could have had some real substance to it, but the story seemed to need me to fill in the reasons why I should care. While the acting understandably afforded the Awards nominations, I wished that there had just been more to it. Thanks for the dialogue here. 🙂

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