THE MASTER is a magnificent cinematic expression of humanity, our society and a stellar exhibition of talent and skill. I can objectify the film with adjectives for the purpose of this blog but I am pointing to an experience.
In order to review this film I will have to first go into a trance state and visit several of my past lives and find the one that best relates to the myriad of perspectives presented in THE MASTER.
This will only take a moment since time is irrelevant, you will feel nothing as I descend into the many personalities that I have experienced in the past and have forgotten.
I, on the other hand, will be feeling many different feelings… belief and disbelief, optimism and pessimism, hope, fear and deep depression, all from this film.
Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is supposedly the only human in this era who understands we have lost our humanity and become animals. I do not personally remember any period of time when the human race didn’t act like animals. As the singular human, Dodd has gathered a group of people to support his cause and by writing a book on his theories earned some profit to support a lavish lifestyle and enough followers to give some credibility to his perceptions. Which he can defend in a somewhat animistic manner from unbelievers if it’s called for.
Open with end of war in the Pacific, World War II, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is brilliant at finding the most deadly liquids to drink. Even draining bombs to create concoctions called booze or hootch, drunk from anything that will hold water. The desperation to be drunk, to ease the pain, to dull the nerves and senses is a constant preoccupation for Freddie, especially when sex is not the focus. Primal animal instincts, the everyman, at its most inventive: bored and snarling.
Several of the human animals lull about the beach, wrestling and mock fornicating with a woman made of sandcastles. Without someone to shoot, or a hill to take, the crew descends into an adult version of Lord of the Flies.
Freddie hangs apelike, drunken, from a high perch on his Navy ship before he is discharged into public life. But not until he is told bluntly by many Navy doctors that he is not ok. That Freddie will have trouble adjusting, trouble being calm, feeling like part of society. He’s told to get a job, start a life, make a family, all the things the Navy doctors just explained he will be having so much trouble doing. A room full of broken men, animals listen in confusion, waiting for the punchline. Amazing when you think you are fighting for civilization, you are merely destroying it.
Freddie gets a job, Freddie drinks, Freddie hits up the floor salesgirl, plies her open with scary margaritas, mixed and drunk from a large developer beaker. If Freddie is drinking from a normal container, something just isn’t right. Or is everything just so wrong.
Freddie’s hunched over shoulders almost break from the weight of his past and he has to prop himself up with hands grasping at his waist, elbows locked, his face curled and eyes locked… defiant, angry, waiting to hurt himself on you, on anyone who comes close. He is set apart while in the center, the eye of a cyclone with wings of disdain and eager to sacrifice himself. A kamikaze pilot with no plane and a desire to fly to his final impact.
The humanity Phoenix captures and displays without a hint of apology is beyond description, his face is a landmark of abject honesty, hiding nothing. Watching the last scene between Freddie and Dodd is like driving a perilous road in the Italian mountains, a bit too fast, the rocky edge thrilling the ride, until a bad song on the radio comes on, ruining the illusion.
Over the edge, tires tearing the sod and throwing stones into the air… Freddie grapples at a photo clients fat face in an angry attempt to take his photo in his civilian job. Then he’s over the side into Mexico, making Hooch for the locals.
Freddie manages to poison an elder with his gasoline alcohol treats, everyone seems to be enjoying. Found out again, running again to the edge, being chased by the locals.
Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s cinematography stuns as Freddie’s rocky run over rough farmland speaks volumes and the shot alone bears repeated viewing. There is a quality of reality, of blatant realism and truth, rarely seen on screen. I long to drink bomb liquid fuel with Mihai and question him into divulging all his twisted camera secrets.
Freddie is running for his life and his fall this time lands him in the arms of Dodd and his luxury boat as it departs saving Freddie from an uneviable end. I understand Freddie’s desperation to quiet or stop his pain, and how it keeps pushing him from episode to episode… it’s hopeless. Yet sitting still before the next debacle is death’s hand ready to grab Freddie and dance.
Dodd immediately sees Freddie as a scalawag, feeling a connection to the animal, the beast of reaction, burden and rage. Dodd has found an uncontrollable beast to tame with hope of family, food and drink as the treat for Freddie to stay still.
Dodd likes Freddie’s Hooch and the two bond over glasses of paint thinner and desperation. Phoneix can only mange to create trouble for himself, destined to fail, to expire, to be killed, or commit suicide. Only for a moment this is the story of a brief respite for a torn soul. Dodd knows this and willingly offers sanctuary to Freddie, under the guise he must make more liquid pain, just too good to pass on. To which Freddie readily agrees, as if he would ever stop.
Dodd confesses to being a man, and all of man’s or animal’s problems seem to be a part of Dodd’s life also. Though PROCESSING is an attempt to CLEAR the erratic reactions of the mind to stimulus to further his CAUSE and recounted in Dodd’s book, Dodd often becomes derailed himself, indulging in rage, defensive reactions and sexual issues.
This is shown brilliantly obscenely when Dodd’s wife helps him spill his seed into the bathroom sink while she whispers sweet, insulting commands into his ear. The action portrays an often hidden part of their relationship and draws wonder of what is the driving force for this clan of people so dedicated to their Master.
Freddie, yearning for community and safe fences, becomes Dodd’s self appointed protector as any dog would protect his yard. It’s instinct as well as survival loyalism. So when the Police arrive on seemingly trumped up charges to take Dodd to jail to be confined and fined, they have their hands full with a rampaging, foaming Freddie.
Handcuffed, torn and frustrated, Freddie rages in jail next to his Master. He almost destroys himself and the cell, ending by smashing his toilet to a porcelain puzzle as Dodd calmly gazes on and then pisses into his own toilet next to Freddie’s rage-torn, vacant urinal. Interestingly, the feeling of whom the display of anger is for still lingers with me. Is it all Freddie’s frustration or is it partially a display to show Dodd his dedication and desire for soothing from his master, proof of his rapture and dedication to the Cause.
The film’s scenes are so multilayered and complex, you can drawn upon many of the complex human motives and interactions to surmise the motivations of Freddie’s actions or merely reduce it to more obvious terms of singular anger. Yet the point is that the writing is very diverse and created so that it can understood from the obvious surface mechanisms or drank from deeply and the full flavor savored and chewed.
Are the others in Dodd’s CAUSE disturbed by Freddie’s Wile E. Coyote freefalls? Yes, especially when Dodd’s daughter makes blatant living room advances on Freddie’s thigh, tantalizing the fiery beast after her just being married, must lead to contempt and utterings of corruption and betrayal to her father. After Freddie put the beast in her, back in it’s cage with a rough hand and eyes cast away.
The rejected daughter, her husband, Dodd and Freddie, jean clad, toy with a motorcycle in the isolated desert. Dodd conducts an exercise of abandonment and reckless freedom by picking a point on a desert horizon and riding the motorcycle straight to it. Dodd rides out, clad in leather like a Dean imitation, pushing his limits, and returns.
Next, without hesitation, Freddie roars across the desert to an unknown destination. To him this isn’t an exercise, it’s real and he doesn’t return to the group.
Who is the master and who is the student? Who is thinking too much and who is living? Is it Freddie that is truly free and able to leave and disappears at will? Is it this element that so endears Freddie to Dodd? Is it Dodd that is trapped in his Master delusions and entrapment? Isn’t the Master often called the fool when he rises beyond what others want from a Master?
Is this about freedom and the trappings of a society that wraps endless rules and limiting perceptions of war, work and money on the human soul? This is about the pain, the soul crushing endless conformity and role playing that corrupts and distorts what is seen and believed.
You tell me, are you the man or the dog? The human or the animal? Can you run at will or must you stay and wait to die?
- REVIEW: The Master (janeykakes.wordpress.com)