ⓘ The Master (2012 film)
The Master is a 2012 American psychological drama film written, directed, and co-produced by Paul Thomas Anderson and starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. It tells the story of Freddie Quell, a World War II Navy veteran struggling to adjust to a post-war society, who meets Lancaster Dodd, a leader of a religious movement known as "The Cause". Dodd sees something in Quell and accepts him into the movement. Freddie takes a liking to "The Cause", and begins traveling with Dodds family along the East Coast to spread his teachings.
It was produced by Annapurna Pictures and Ghoulardi Film Company and distributed by The Weinstein Company. The films inspirations were varied: it was partly inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, as well as by early drafts of Andersons There Will Be Blood, the novel V. by Thomas Pynchon, drunken Navy stories that Jason Robards had told to Anderson as he was terminally ill while filming Magnolia, and the life story of author John Steinbeck. The Master was shot almost entirely on 65mm film stock, making it the first fiction feature to be shot and released in 70 mm since Kenneth Branaghs Hamlet in 1996.
Initially, the film was set up with Universal, but fell through due to script and budget problems. It was first publicly shown on August 3, 2012, at the American Cinematheque in 70 mm and screened variously in the same way, before officially premiering at the Venice Film Festival on September 1, where it won the FIPRESCI Award for Best Film. It was released in theaters on September 14, 2012, in the United States to critical acclaim, with its acting, screenplay, direction, plausibility, and realistic portrayal of post-World War II Americans praised. It further received three Oscar nominations: Best Actor for Phoenix, Best Supporting Actor for Hoffman, and Best Supporting Actress for Adams. In 2016, The Master was voted the 24th greatest film of the 21st century by 177 critics from around the world. Anderson has repeatedly claimed that The Master his favorite film that he has made to date.
Freddie Quell is a traumatized World War II veteran struggling to adjust to post-war society and prone to violent and erratic behavior. While working on a farm in California, an elderly colleague collapses after drinking a batch of Freddies homemade moonshine. Freddie flees after he is accused of poisoning him.
One night, Freddie finds himself in San Francisco, and stows away on the yacht of a follower of Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a nascent philosophical movement known as "The Cause." When he is discovered, Dodd describes Freddie as "aberrated" and claims he has met him in the past but cannot remember where. He invites Freddie to stay and attend the marriage of his daughter, Elizabeth, as long as he will make more moonshine, which Dodd has developed a taste for. Dodd begins an exercise with Freddie called "Processing," in which he asks Freddie a flurry of disturbing psychological questions. During the exercise, Freddie reveals details of his past, including his fathers death, his mothers incarceration in a mental asylum, and his incestuous sexual encounters with his aunt. He also has a flashback to a past relationship with Doris, a young woman from his hometown whom Freddie promised he would one day return to.
Freddie travels with Dodds family as they spread the teachings of "The Cause" along the East Coast. At a dinner party in New York, a man questions Dodds methods and statements and accuses the movement of being a cult. Dodd loses his temper, calling the man "pig fuck," and asks him to leave. Freddie pursues the man to his apartment and assaults him that night.
Other members of "The Cause" begin to worry about Freddies behavior. Freddie criticizes Dodds son Val for disregarding his fathers teachings, but Val tells Freddie that Dodd is making things up as he goes along. Dodd is arrested for practicing medicine without proper qualifications after one of his former hostesses has a change of heart; Freddie attacks the police officers and is also arrested. In jail, Freddie erupts in an angry tirade, questioning everything that Dodd has taught him and accusing him of being a fake. Dodd calls Freddie lazy and worthless and claims nobody likes him except for Dodd. They reconcile upon their release, but members of "The Cause" have become more suspicious and fearful of Freddie, believing him to be deranged or an undercover agent or simply beyond their help. Dodd insists that Freddies behavior can be corrected with more rigorous and repetitive conditioning, which Freddie finds difficult to internalize.
Freddie accompanies Dodd to Phoenix, Arizona, to celebrate the release of Dodds latest book. When Dodds publisher criticizes the quality of the book and its teachings, Freddie assaults him. Helen Sullivan, a previously acquiescent acolyte, causes Dodd to lose his temper after she questions some details of the book. Dodd takes Freddie to a salt flat with his motorcycle, telling him to pick a point in the distance and drive towards it as fast as he can; Freddie drives off and disappears.
Freddie returns home to Lynn, Massachusetts, to rekindle his relationship with Doris, but learns from Doris mother that she has married and started a family since he last saw her. He tells her mother he is glad she is happy. While sleeping in a movie theater, Freddie receives a phone call from Dodd, who is now residing in England and begging Freddie to visit. An intercut reveals that the phone call was a dream but Freddie travels to England nevertheless. Upon arriving, Freddie finds "The Cause" to have grown ever larger, and Dodd seemingly bent to the will of his wife. Not expecting Freddie to stay with him, Dodd requests that if Freddie can find a way to live without a master, any master, to "let the rest of us know" because hell be the first person in history to do so. Still seeking closure, Freddie refers to the Dodd from his dream, who had claimed to finally remember where theyd met. Dodd then recounts that, in a past life, they had worked in Paris to send balloons across a blockade created by Prussian forces. Dodd gives him an ultimatum: stay with "The Cause" and devote himself to it for the rest of his life, or leave and never return. As Freddie offers that they may meet again in the next life, Dodd claims that if they do, it will be as sworn enemies. Dodd begins singing "Slow Boat to China" as Freddie begins to cry. Freddie leaves and picks up a woman at a local pub, then repeats questions from his first Processing session with Dodd as he is having sex with her.
On a beach, Freddie curls up next to a crude sand sculpture of a woman he and his wartime comrades had sculpted during the war.
2.1. Production Writing
It was first reported in December 2009 that Anderson had been working on a script about the founder of a new religious organization described as being similar to Scientology played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. An associate of Anderson stated that the idea for the film had been in Andersons head for about twelve years. The idea for the film came to him after reading a quote that periods after wars are productive times for spiritual movements to start.
Unsure of the direction the script would take, Anderson began writing The Master as a collection of disparate scenes, rather than one coherent outline. He combined unused scenes from early drafts of There Will Be Blood, elements from the life stories of John Steinbeck and L. Ron Hubbard and from the novel V. by Thomas Pynchon, and stories Jason Robards had told him on the set of Magnolia about his drinking days in the U.S. Navy during World War II including the draining of ethanol from a torpedo. Anderson conducted research about Dianetics and its early followers. While writing, Anderson sought Hoffmans feedback on the script, with Hoffman suggesting the film focus more on Freddies story than Lancasters. After the film was dropped by Universal and failed to pick up a distributor, Anderson did several months of rewrites.
2.2. Production Filming
Filming was to begin in August 2010, with Renner starring opposite Hoffman, but was postponed indefinitely in September 2010. In May 2011, after securing financing, the film was given the green light and filming began in early June 2011 in Vallejo and Sacramento. Shooting took place on Mare Island for a month using the wing of an old hospital and an empty admirals mansion for some scenes. Franklin Delano Roosevelts presidential yacht, the USS Potomac, was used for shooting shipboard scenes. In late June 2011 filming took place at Hillside Elementary School in Berkeley.
The film was shot on 65 mm film using the Panavision System 65 camera. It was the first fiction film to be shot in 65mm since Kenneth Branaghs Hamlet in 1996. Mihai Malaimare Jr. served as cinematographer, making The Master Andersons first film without cinematographer Robert Elswit. The film crew used three 65mm Panavision cameras throughout filming, and at times had an assistant from Panavision on set to help with the cameras technical issues. Originally, Anderson and Malaimare planned to shoot mainly portraits in 65mm, which constituted 20 percent of the film, but ultimately 85 percent of the film was shot in 65mm. The remainder of the film was shot on 35mm using Panavision Millennium XL2s cameras, often used for scenes that required a "dirtier" look. In order to maintain a consistent aspect ratio, the 65mm footage was cropped from 2.20:1 to 1.85:1 to match the 35mm footage, at the sacrifice of some image area. Most of the film stocks used were Kodak Vision3 50D Color Negative Film 5203 and Kodak Vision3 200T Color Negative Film 5213 with a few scenes also done with Kodak Vision3 250D Color Negative Film 5207 and Kodak Vision3 500T 5219. Because Anderson prefers working with film, he bypassed the use of a digital intermediate, instead color grading with the use of a photochemical timer.
During filming, Phoenix was allowed to improvise on set. Phoenix lost significant weight for the role and came up with Freddies awkward gait. Anderson compared Phoenixs commitment to that of Daniel Day-Lewis for his level of concentration, saying that Phoenix got into character and stayed there for three months. Anderson considered the dynamic between Hoffman and Phoenix to be central to the film, likening it to the rivalry and differences in style and temperament between tennis players John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg or Ivan Lendl, with Hoffman playing the more controlled and driven approach of Borg or Lendl. Adams stated that Anderson would have her appear on set for scenes she was not scheduled to appear in to make her presence felt and at times she didnt know whether the camera was on her.
2.3. Production Music
Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead composed the score for the film. This was the second time Greenwood scored an Anderson film, the first being 2007s There Will Be Blood.
The official soundtrack was released through Nonesuch Records, and comprises eleven compositions by Greenwood along with four recordings from the films era. Performers include the London Contemporary Orchestra and Ella Fitzgerald, among others. The track "Dont Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else But Me" is presented as performed in the film by actress Madisen Beaty. The Weinstein Company also released a more comprehensive score on their website as part of the films promotion, featuring alternate versions of the tracks.
2.4. Production Track listing
All music is composed by Jonny Greenwood except as noted below.
3.1. Release Distribution
The Master was initially set up with Universal, but, like The Weinstein Company, they eventually passed on the project because of problems with the script. The main issue that Universal had with the project was that the budget was too big at about $35 million. It was later reported that River Road was in serious talks to fully finance the film. In February 2011, it was reported that Megan Ellison, daughter of billionaire Larry Ellison, would finance The Master and Andersons adaptation of the novel Inherent Vice under her new production company Annapurna Pictures. Harvey Weinstein later picked up the worldwide rights to the film in May 2011.
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray on February 26, 2013 in the US, and March 11 in the UK. The release features "Back Beyond", a twenty-minute montage of deleted footage edited by Paul Thomas Anderson and set to Jonny Greenwoods original score. It also includes the 1946 John Huston documentary Let There Be Light, a source which Anderson reportedly found very influential in his creation of the film.
3.2. Release Marketing
The first teaser poster for the film appeared in May 2011 at the Cannes Film Festival with the title Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Project. A second promo poster for the film appeared in November 2011 at the American Film Market with the same title. On May 21, 2012 a teaser trailer featuring Joaquin Phoenix was released online and several minutes of footage from the film were shown at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. A second teaser trailer was released on June 19, 2012 which featured Phoenix as well as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. On July 19, 2012, a theatrical trailer was released online by The Weinstein Company. The film was given an R rating in the United States by the Motion Picture Association of America.
3.3. Release 70mm screenings
The film was the first in 16 years to be predominantly shot in 65mm using Panavision System 65 cameras, a camera negative format that is subsequently projected in 70mm the extra 5mm are added to the projection prints to accommodate the audio tracks. On August 3, 2012, more than a month before its first official screening at the Venice Film Festival, The Master was shown in a "surprise screening" at the American Cinematheque in 70 mm. It was announced that there would be a special screening just after a screening of a new remastered version of Stanley Kubricks The Shining. Following the credits of The Shining, it was announced that the special screening was The Master. The film was shown with no opening titles except for the title of the movie or closing credits. The Weinstein Company continued advance screenings of the film in 70 mm in New York City, Los Angeles, London, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Austin. Although this was done because there was strong consideration that The Master was unlikely to be shown in the format during its commercial run, the film was eventually displayed during its run in 70 mm in most cinemas that carried the film and could still project that format.
4.1. Reception Box office
The Master grossed $242.127 at five theaters during its opening day on September 14, 2012, setting a single-day record for an art house film. Overall the film made $736.311 from five theaters for a per-theater average of $147.262, setting a record for the highest average for a live-action film. Despite these achievements, the film was not a box office success, and did not recover its $30 million budget. During its first week nationwide, the film grossed $4.4 million in 788 theaters.
4.2. Reception Critical response
Review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 84% based on 243 reviews, with an average rating of 8.09/10. The websites critical consensus reads: "Smart, powerfully acted, beautifully filmed, and solidly engrossing, The Master extends writer/director Paul Thomas Andersons winning streak of challenging films for serious audiences." At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average rating to reviews, the film has a score of 86 out of 100, based on 43 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, in praising Andersons directing and Phoenixs performance, wrote: "Phoenix, known for immersing himself in Oscar-nominated roles in Gladiator and Walk the Line, makes Quell frighteningly believable." About the film itself, he stated: The Master takes some getting used to. This is a superbly crafted film thats at times intentionally opaque, as if its creator didnt want us to see all the way into its heart of darkness." Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a perfect "A" grade, stating: "Its also one of the great movies of the year - an ambitious, challenging, and creatively hot-blooded, but cool-toned, project that picks seriously at knotty ideas about American personality, success, rootlessness, master-disciple dynamics, and father-son mutually assured destruction."
Peter Rainer of The Christian Science Monitor wrote that "the performances by Phoenix and Hoffman are studies in contrast. Phoenix carries himself with a jagged, lurching, simian-like grace, while Hoffman gives Dodd a calm deliberateness. Both actors have rarely been better in the movies. The real Master class here is about acting – and that includes just about everybody else in the film, especially Adams, whose twinkly girl-next-door quality is used here to fine subversive effect." A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote: "It is a movie about the lure and folly of greatness that comes as close as anything Ive seen recently to being a great movie. There will be skeptics, but the cult is already forming. Count me in." Scott Tobias of The A.V. Club, giving the film an "A" grade, wrote: "Its a feisty, contentious, deliberately misshapen film, designed to challenge and frustrate audiences looking for a clean resolution. Just because its over doesnt mean its settled." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film four stars out of four, praising Andersons directing: The Master, the sixth film from the 42-year-old writer-director, affirms his position as the foremost filmmaking talent of his generation. Anderson is a rock star, the artist who knows no limits." About the film itself, he wrote: "Written, directed, acted, shot, edited, and scored with a bracing vibrancy that restores your faith in film as an art form, The Master is nirvana for movie lovers. Anderson mixes sounds and images into a dark, dazzling music that is all his own." He would later call the film the Best Film of 2012.
Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter praised the score composed by Jonny Greenwood, stating: "In a film overflowing with qualities, but also brimming with puzzlements, two things stand out: the extraordinary command of cinematic technique, which alone is nearly enough to keep a connoisseur on the edge of his seat the entire time, and the tremendous portrayals by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman of two entirely antithetical men, one an unlettered drifter without a clue, the other an intellectual charlatan who claims to have all the answers. They become greatly important to each other and yet, in the end, have an oddly negligible mutual effect. The magisterial style, eerie mood and forbidding central characters echo Andersons previous film, There Will Be Blood, a kinship furthered by another bold and discordant score by Jonny Greenwood." Justin Chang of Variety magazine wrote: "The writer-directors typically eccentric sixth feature is a sustained immersion in a series of hypnotic moods and longueurs, an imposing picture that thrillingly and sometimes maddeningly refuses to conform to expectations." James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave the film three stars out of four and praised Phoenixs performance, stating: "Gaunt, sick-looking, with stooped shoulders and a shambling gait, Phoenix buries himself in Freddies persona and theres never a moment when we disbelieve him." He added: "Yet, for all of The Master s laudable elements, it falls short of greatness for one simple reason: the storytelling is unspectacular."
Even less enthusiastic was Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, who gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of a possible four. He wrote that it was "fabulously well-acted and crafted, but when I reach for it, my hand closes on air. It has rich material and isnt clear what it thinks about it. It has two performances of Oscar caliber, but do they connect?" Calum Marsh of Slant Magazine gave the film two stars out of four, stating: The Master is Paul Thomas Anderson with the edges sanded off, the best bits shorn down to nubs." Rex Reed of the New York Observer gave the film a negative review, writing: "Call The Master whatever you want, but lobotomized catatonia from what I call the New Hacks can never take the place of well-made narrative films about real people that tell profound stories for a broader and more sophisticated audience. Fads come and go, but, as Walter Kerr used to say, Ill yell tripe whenever tripe is served." Reed also made mention of how Phoenixs performance and the supporting characters lack of development further hurt the film.
On Phoenixs performance, Kent Jones of Film Comment noted, "Freddie is not so much played as nuzzled, and jerked into being by Joaquin Phoenix. Im Still Here aside, Phoenixs Freddie seems like genuinely damaged goods. He and his director feel their way into this man-in-a-bind from the inside out, and they establish his estrangement from others in those opening scenes through awkward smiles and out-of-sync body language alone". "As always with Anderson", Jones continued, "the character opposition borders on the schematic, and the structure threatens to come apart at the seams. But the courting of danger is exactly what makes his films so exciting, this new film most of all. I dont think he has ever done a better job of resolving his story, perhaps because he has come to terms with the irresolution within and between his characters." Scott, of The New York Times, pointed out that Phoenix used "sly, manic ferocity" to portray Freddie as "an alcoholic wreck".
Emma Dibdin of Total Film gave The Master 5 stars out of 5, concluding that it "is a breath-taking, singular, technically audacious film, white-hot with emotion, and boasting a few scenes so individually powerful that theyll stay with you like a physical presence for days".
The Master was placed #1 in both the critics poll of the best films of 2012 by Sight and Sound, and by The Village Voice on its annual film poll. The film also ranked second by both Film Comment and Indiewire on their year-end film critics polls, following Holy Motors.
The Master was later placed #1 on The A.V. Club s list of the best films of the 2010s up until April 2015, and was named as one of the top 50 films of the decade so far by The Guardian.
Anderson considers it his favorite of the films he has made; in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said:
For sure. I think that wont change. The amount of emotion I put into it and they put into it - they being Phil. Im not sure its entirely successful. But thats fine with me. It feels right. It feels unique to me. I really hope it will be something people can revisit and enjoy in a way that equals my pride in it. And pride can be a dangerous thing, and Im not being very quiet about my pride in saying all this. But I just feel really proud of it. And of course, theres a particular sentimentality attached to it for a number of personal reasons. Its all wrapped up.
5. Themes and interpretations
There have been several interpretations of what The Master is really about. Some have viewed it as an existential tale of post-war America, while others have viewed it as a depiction of the birth of Scientology. Some have argued that the film is also mainly a love story between Lancaster Dodd and Freddie Quell; Dana Stevens of Slate commented that "After three viewings, Im still not sure I know the answer to the "whats it all about" question, but I lean specific set of beliefs than about how humans rely on belief systems in general to try and lift themselves out of an elemental rage, and to assert, yes, that man is not an animal."
Numerous reviewers commented on the homoerotic subtext of the film. Film Comment noted the bonding and repelling between the two men, "two edges of the split saber, play out in public and in private, in "audits" and intimate exchanges over Freddies alcoholic concoctions". The Guardian saw "Quells chaos and Dodds charlatanism" locked "in a dance of death – erotic and homoerotic". Reviewers from The Daily Beast were struck by the way the film "deals with the not-so-latent homosexuality in Dodd", adding that, "Dodd seems to be sexually attracted to Quells animalistic nature, e. g., that scene where theyre wrestling with each other on the front lawn after Quell is released from prison, or the scene where Dodds wife, played by Amy Adams, gives him a handjob, along with a spiel about cumming for her and eradicating himself of negative read: homosexual thoughts." Salon commented that the film contains a "not-too-veiled suggestion that Dodds paternal yearnings for Freddie are complicated by other desires".
5.1. Themes and interpretations Comparisons with Scientology
Upon the release of the script, comparisons between "The Cause" and Scientology were quickly made. The press noted Hoffmans physical resemblance to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard 1911–1986, who served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, and, after his release from the hospital, founded the belief system in 1950, the same year as the religion in the script. The film ends in England, at roughly the same time Saint Hill Manor became Hubbards residence and the first Scientology "org." Also, the films references to the need of an "able-bodied seaman" and the reference to Fred being aberrant are both terms used by Scientologists in the administrative dictionary.
The production company officially denied that the film was loosely based on Hubbard, with producer JoAnne Sellar also denying any connection to Hubbard, stating: "Its a World War II drama. Its about a drifter after World War II." Harvey Weinstein also denied that the film was about Scientology: "Paul says to me the movie is about a journey for soldiers after World War II. one of the things that happens to this soldier is he goes to a cult." Anderson has stated that he has "always thought Hubbard was a great character, so interesting and larger than life, and kind of impossible to ignore", and he acknowledges that Lancaster Dodd was inspired by L. Ron Hubbard, and that he should have known that is what people would latch onto, stating: "I didnt want it to be a biography. Its not the L. Ron Hubbard story."
Several websites suggested that "important Hollywood Scientologists" objected to the project because they feared it might reveal too much about the faith, and others even speculated that the Church of Scientology had enough power to stop Universal from green-lighting the film. However, none of the production crew had been contacted by representatives of Scientology. When Karin Pouw, a spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology, was asked if the church had any concerns about the film, she stated, "We have not seen the film, so cant say one way or another" and that the church knew about the film only from what it read in the press. According to Anderson, at no point did the church make any direct or indirect inquiries about the project or otherwise try to inhibit its progress, and that while they were making the film, Scientology was the least of their problems.
In May 2012, Anderson screened the film for his friend, actor Tom Cruise, an outspoken Scientologist, who had some issues with parts of the film. Cruise had previously starred in Andersons 1999 film Magnolia. Officials of the Church of Scientology, who reportedly heard from Cruise, "hit the roof" when they learned of a scene which suggested that the belief system was a product of the leaders imagination. The scene with which Cruise had issues involves Dodds son telling Quell that Dodd is just making it up as he goes along. They took issue not only with this statement, but with the way it supposedly paralleled L. Ron Hubbard, Jr.s conflict with his own father. While church members objected to other scenes, Anderson did not excise any of them from the film. He stated that Cruise "did see the film. Its something between us. Everything is fine, though."
The film won the Silver Lion for Best Director Paul Thomas Anderson and the Volpi Cup for Best Actor given to both Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman at the 69th Venice International Film Festival. However, the festivals jury originally intended to give the film the top Golden Lion prize for Best Film; the prize was removed and awarded to Pietà instead, owing to a new rule that prohibited the award of acting and directing honors to the same film that won the Golden Lion prize. A similar incident was rumored to have occurred at the festival in 2008, when Darren Aronofskys The Wrestler was to be awarded both the Golden Lion and the Volpi Cup for Mickey Rourkes performance. The film received the former, with the latter being awarded to Silvio Orlando for his work in Giovannas Father. When asked about the last-minute shake-up over the award, Anderson replied: "Im thrilled with whatever they want to hand over. I heard some of the scuttlebutt recently, but Im just thrilled with what they hand over. And thats all."
6.1. Accolades Top ten lists
The Master was listed on many critics top ten lists for 2012.