The Master

The Master

***1/2

I am not going to join a cult.

It’s just not in my DNA. Some people were born to lead and some people were born to follow. I won’t do either.

I like to come up with my own rules and my own philosophy. And then when I get bored with that after a while I try a new philosophy.

I’m not trying to say that I’m a rebel. I am simply not a logical candidate to join a cult.

So if you and I aren’t becoming cult members, who is? I guess it’s people like Freddy (Joaquin Phoenix).

When we meet him, Freddy is a lost soul. He was a sailor in World War II and since the war ended he has drifted from job to job, never able to take anything seriously.

Freddy makes weird concoctions of alcohol mixed with whatever toxic liquids are at hand (paint thinner, gasoline). He sleepwalks through life in a perpetual daze due to his strange addiction to homemade booze.

One drunken night Freddy stumbles onto the boat of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) looking for work. He finds a lot more than that.

Lancaster Dodd is a remarkable man. He’s an author, a mystic, and a cult leader. Most of the time he is calm, confident, and charismatic. But when his authority is challenged, he lashes out with profane fury.

On the face of it, Lancaster and Freddy have nothing in common. However, they feel an immediate kinship for each other. Lancaster explains their cosmic connection by claiming that the two men met in a previous life.

“The Master” is certainly inspired by the Scientology movement. I’ll bet the estate of L. Ron Hubbard is planning a lawsuit against the filmmakers as we speak.

The heart of the movie, however, is the intense relationship between the two leading men. In Lancaster, Freddy finds a leader he can respect and follow. In Freddy, Lancaster finds the son he never had.

Behind closed doors, the two men quarrel. But in public they always form a united front and are fiercely loyal to each other. Like a real family.

Make no mistake, though! This is not a warm family story. It is a weird, long, meandering, intense art film. I think most viewers will hate it.

Like all Paul Thomas Anderson movies, though, I think it’s great.

At the end of “The Master,” I understood the appeal of cults. Any unsettled, lonely person – like Freddy – is at risk of falling under the spell of a charismatic spiritual leader.

The best defense against joining a cult is to be your own man and to come up with your own meaning.

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