Fri 1 Feb 2013
Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master is one of the best acted and the most impressively filmed movie of 2012. And yet, I am concerned that as with another amazing film a few years ago which also enjoyed the acting of Philip Seymour Hoffman (I am talking about Synechdoche, New York written and directed by Charlie Kauffman) it is too smart, too complex, and too out of the mainstream taste of the majority of the viewers and of the Academy to get the Oscar Awards it deserves.
Unfortunately I know too little about Scientology and about its founder L. Ron Hubbard in order to give an educated opinion about how close the image of the charismatic healer and cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) is to historic truth. Not it may matter too much in the logic of the film which is not that much about a specific cult or ideology and more about the relation between master and disciple, between the strong and the weak, between the castles of imagination people build in order to cope with hardships of life and reality. On the way the film tells a lot about surviving wars (the other hero acted by Joaquin Phoenix is not much more than a human wreck having survived WWII with psychological sequels, a dependency on alcohol, and a lack of purpose in life), but also about seeking and finding guidance in life, about relations between men and the different ways of human beings relying and becoming dependent one of the other. The more I think about this film which I have seen less than 24 hours ago more details come to my mind, and I am sure that a second or more viewings will let me discover new meanings and new angles of the story. This is not a film to see, enjoy and forget, this is an experience to carry and develop.
Joaqin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman give in this movies two of the best performances I have seen in the last years and each in part and the two together deserve Oscar awards for what they do in this film. Phoenix (I am so happy that he is back to making movies) carries on his face, body, voice the whole pain of the broken lives of young people who went to war and were not able to put together the pieces of their lives when they returned. Hoffman apparently has the allure and the charisma of the preacher, but he hides a whole universe of darkness behind this glamor, and acting has the merit of building a complex image of the character without placing a sentence, letting the audiences judge by themselves. Cinematography is another great asset of this film that makes the experience of viewing memorable. Mihai Malaimare jr. who already worked in two films directed by Francis Ford Coppola uses in this film non-digital cameras and a film format (70 mm, I am not a technical expert, some comments say it’s seldom used nowadays) which both makes the image crystal clear and is similar to the one used for projections in the period the action of the film takes place. This format and the selection of colors make the viewing experience really special. The Master is a very special cinema experience which I feel only starts its path now but may become more appreciated in the future, finding its place among the best works of Paul Thomas Anderson.