Paul Thomas Anderson has had a career as varied and methodical as any other in the industry.
He takes several years between his films, if need be, and it especially shows in The Master.
If there is one theme that carries through Anderson’s filmography, it would be men on the verge.
Naturally, the director has chosen talented actors for this motif in the past, such as Daniel Day-Lewis, Don Cheadle and Tom Cruise.
Currently, it’s Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master.
Phoenix is Freddie Quell, a man almost seemingly embracing post-traumatic stress disorder and sexual rampancy after returning home from World War II.
He goes from job to job, lost in anger directed at anyone. Even innocent bystanders and fellow workers in his various occupations.
The tone is scattered early on in the film, but it’s something to go along with rather than fight tooth and nail.
A more tangible story thread picks up when Quell literally stumbles onto the yacht of one Lancaster Dodd, Hoffman as dedicated to a role as ever.
It’s almost uncanny how Phoenix gets captured by his onscreen persona, while Hoffman seems to take Dodd as his own.
Both methods are a boon to the picture, as intended.
Dodd is a self-proclaimed Renaissance man, a jack of many trades and master of them all, including the creation of a movement known as The Cause.
Soon after introductions are made, Dodd subjects Quell to “processing”, which brings out the emotional traumas of his past.
The scene is laborious in the strongest way possible.
The room is dark, camera cutting from Dodd to Quell as the questioning ramps up.
No blinking is allowed, or else Quell must begin answering the questions again.
These are two acting powerhouses bringing the walls down; director Anderson letting his players own every breath they give for the art form.
From the get go, Dodd sees potential in Quell.
They travel together along with the other followers of The Cause, even if not all of them support the new partnership.
Almost lost in the shadows of the industry legends is Amy Adams, playing Dodd’s hostile wife Peggy, who rejects Quell from the beginning as a loose cannon.
Adams continues to show range. Her voice can be the gentlest around in one picture, then house a bitterness in another and still not have anyone doubt the conviction of performance.
The skepticism from Peggy is a valid concern, as even if Quell believes in the cult, it doesn’t prevent his violent outbursts.
In a twist of fate that wouldn’t surprise those familiar with religious extremism, the cult actually exacerbates the rage.
Even when Quell leads to trouble for The Cause, Dodd believes in him.
Motives in this story aren’t explicit, so this faith in Quell goes unexplained.
This is for the better, as it would clout the journey of two men unthinkingly clinging to each other in a time of transition for the United States.
As far as can be inferred, Quell yearns for some sort of peace in the beat of his own drum, while Dodd seeks to change that beat to one of his own.
This challenge doesn’t stop Dodd, and neither does his incredulous son, who tells Quell in one instance that his father is making it all up as he goes.
It poses a serious accusation about the nature of religion, as it is ultimately a tool of people for either good or bad.
The nature of religion is on trial in The Master, and there is no final verdict.
What is certain is the power of the final confrontation between Dodd and Quell.
The two wildly different spirits finally clash for the last time, an unstoppable force hitting an immovable object.
It all leads to an implosion of the ages, and a film worthy of eternal praise.