Movie Review: “The Master”- A Visual Masterpiece

Written by Rachel Ganzewinkel October 03, 2012

Yes, his face is like this for the whole movie

P.T. Anderson is known for his grand movies with huge casts as evidenced by his previous stunning and masterfully crafted movies, “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights”. “The Master” is no exception. Except when it comes to the effectiveness of the overall film. It is a visual masterpiece with out-of-this-universe performances from Joaquin Phoenix (he’s baaaaack), Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams.

Apparently “The Master” is not a Scientology Movie…

…Minus the fact that it totally is. The film may not thematically be about Scientology and it’s beginnings but uhh…yeah…the origins and even the specifics (such as “processing” and the questions asked within this process) are very very very very similar to everything about Scientology, right down to the “past lives” jargon and the weird hypnosis-like “therapies” used for various things like, you know, curing leukemia and all that jazz.

It is a movie that’s about a man who used to be in the Navy trying to find something solid and stable in his life after World War II. This man, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes enraptured with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) the leader of the Scientology-like cult. Dodd’s characteristics resemble pretty much any cult leader ever, and let’s just say that if it looks like cake and smells like cake, then gosh darn it, it must be cake.

I smell cake!

You Don’t Know What You Got Til It’s Gone

Now that Joaquin Phoenix is done being crazy and falsely pursuing a career as a rapper for a mockumentary no one ever saw he is back and better than ever. He has always been a talent to be reckoned with and this performance blew away anything he has ever done before. His performance as Freddie is heartbreaking and horrifying. As a man who was so deeply damaged by war he is someone to sympathize with. His alcoholism, his crassness, his animalistic behaviour however, is hard to watch, but not in a bad way. Freddie is so lost and lonely and this is portrayed impeccably with the first images you see of him in what can only be described as some of the most awkward moments on screen I have seen. Phoenix embodies a character fully through his body modification from weight loss to posture and facial expression. He is simply superb.

The context for this scene is equal parts upsetting and hilarious, which is PT Anderson’s specialty

The Performances

Philip Seymour Hoffman is a grand master in his own right. It is so amazing to see two heavyweights have at it on screen, you can’t look away. He fully embodies a man so enraptured with his own power he believes he is the Master. His arrogance and ego are so developed you believe Hoffman is this crazy charismatic oddball of a man. Amy Adams is also incredibly effective as his wife at the moment. She follows him like a puppy with her big doe eyes that hide the power she holds over The Master himself. Her control over his decisions is made evident with subtle hints throughout the movie, but one major interaction between them marks the, ahem, ‘climax’ of their true relationship. She is the Master of The Master and it is truly awesome.

A Movie like a Painting

Every frame of “The Master” is imperative and gorgeous. If you were to pause this movie on every frame you would have a shot like a painting that can be analyzed and interpreted in its own right. P.T. Anderson’s direction is beautiful and flawless. The costumes and set design are perfect and awe-inspiring. He is superb at his craft and even at over 2 hours, I was never bored as the images in front of me popped and sizzled with life.

I wouldn’t say that about the story though.

Oh God, the images are so beautiful!

And Now For Some Unfortunate Criticism…

There is something lacking from the story. I think maybe it’s an overall point. The theme of religion taking advantage of vulnerability, and of a man’s journey through this system is understandable and intriguing, however, I’m not 100% on what it is Freddie learned on this journey. The film takes place over many years and by the end I have no idea where he stands in life. I really hope I didn’t spend 137 minutes to realize that religion can’t help you. That would be the least compelling movie ever. I just felt that through the movie, and especially after the end credits began to roll, the question of “why is this story being told?” run through my head.


“The Master” may not be PT Anderson’s best work but it deserves to be seen. There will more than likely be some Oscar’s for performance and direction and even though the story may be lacking something everything else in the movie certainly isn’t.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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About Rachel Ganzewinkel

Rachel loves movies and writing and has found the perfect amalgamation in writing movie reviews for We Eat Films. In between movie watching and the real-life world of work, she enjoys tea, reading, writing, and wearing over-size sweaters (while occassionally doing some of these simultaneously).

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