Monday, March 18, 2013

The Master

After watching The Master the other night, I very much wish it had been Paul Thomas Anderson and not Stephen Spielberg who had taken on Lincoln.  Anderson is able to create a "profound sense of ambiguity" in his films that Spielberg is simply incapable of doing.

This is Anderson's second film where he explores the American past.  In There Will Be Blood, he re-imagined Upton Sinclair's political novel, Oil.  He essentially created a parable out of the novel, and in The Master he does the same, this time drawing on a wide variety of sources in creating Lancaster Dodd and his protegee Freddie Quell.  To me, it was a more elegant rendering of Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood.  Freddie reminded me a lot of Hazel Motes in his rawness, if not religious conviction.

Lancaster Dodd doesn't really fit the image of Asa Hawks or Hoover Shoates.  Many reviewers have compared him to L. Ron Hubbard, who founded Scientology, especially with his interest in science fiction, an allegorical telling of his quasi-religious convictions that man is wholly separate from animals and his soul free to migrate from one time to another, or from one dimension to another.  But, Anderson is smart not to delve too deep in this regard, letting viewers make whatever connections they so choose.

Dodd's wife, Peggy, turns out not to be the wallflower she first appears as, but in many ways controlling her husband as the woman behind the throne.  Anderson captures an eeriness (especially in the music) to this family traveling cult, which calls itself simply "The Cause," but he casts no judgement upon them, letting the story play out to its ambiguous ending.

Paul Thomas Anderson is a director who has come into his own and displays a masterful control of his films. Of course, it helps when you have actors like Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will be Blood) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) but it is clearly Anderson who is in control, leading the audience along by the compelling force of these films.  Lincoln would have been an ideal figure for him to explore, especially in his relation to his wife, Mary Todd.

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