Freddie, a Naval Veteran, has just returned home from World War II. While back in the states Freddie is incredibly unsettled, suffering from nervous disorder tendencies and having trouble finding direction in his life. That is until he meets Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a group he founded known as 'The Cause'. Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master is a challenging, masterfully executed film exploring a desperate man's attempt to find something he can confide and believe in. Much ado has been made about Anderson's film being about Scientology but this is ultimately unimportant as the film argues that religious groups by nature are an attack on the free will of man. Our main protagonist, Freddie, played to perfection by Joaquin Phoenix, is a man who has been broken by the life around him. He is incredibly unpredictable, yet his fragility is what makes him ultimately susceptible to this religion. Freddie is put through "processing" a form of enlightenment, so says Lancaster, though it seems more like a form of psychological torture in which Freddie is broken down mentally. The relationship which forms between Lancaster and Freddie is a fascinating one, as one begins to realize that although Freddie seems like Lancaster's personal pet, he needs Freddie just as much as the other way around. One cannot write a review about 'The Master' without praising the performance of Phoenix, who completely embodies this character with unique mannerisms, movements and body language which show no trace of the actor. Freddie is a tragic figure and in a way 'The Master' is a tragic love story about a man losing the one thing which matters most to him. The biggest surprise for me was just how funny the film is, though Anderson never let's it go too far, striking a great balance between the comedic and dramatic elements of the film. Without boring you with the details, I can say that 'The Master' is technically brilliant from the symmetric compositions which are used to show the structure and order of Lancaster's world, to the halo-type lighting and sound design which all work together quite brilliantly. Paul Thomas Anderson has made a film that challenges the ideas of faith and religion, and whether you agree or not, there is no doubt that he has once again proven why many, including myself, believe he is the greatest American filmmaker working today.
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