Application 45 Version 1 – Meeting The Master
And just like that, a wave of nostalgia came over me. Like PTA’s ill fated Freddie Quell, my suppressed memories of my blog had finally exploded into a flurry of rage and excitement. I realized that it was time to come scurrying back and talk about a film that I was very late to the party in talking about. My own filmmaking adventures, and filmgoing excursions aside, I have been dying to talk about a few topics to close out this year of our Lord, 2012. The first one is looking deep into PTA’s newest film “The Master.” It will be a bit all over the place, but it’s only because I am trying to cover as much ground as possible. And there is quite a lot to cover. Let’s begin.
After making the modern-day classic “There Will Be Blood”, director Paul Thomas Anderson followed up what is arguably the best film of the past couple decades with a much more abstract and internally driven film titled “The Master.” The Master explores one man’s journey into the dark reaches of his soul (the great Joaquin Pheonix playing Freddie Quell) who is taken as protege to Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) a man who does “many many things.” Over the course of this nearly three hour epic, these two men engage on a journey to delve into each other’s psyches.
Dodd’s drive throughout the course of the film is trying to unlock the mind of Freddie Quell, who has deep internal struggles through his own primal instincts combined with the brutal trauma he received from being a part of World War II. Dodd uses the techniques and devices of his new-found religion, the Cause, to delve into Quell’s mind and try to heal him of his past traumas. It is during these times that we learn of Freddie’s lusts, lost love, and his animalistic nature. Freddie Quell is like a modern day Stanley Kowalski on steroids. He is a driving force of nature that cannot be stopped or wrangled. Both men’s conflicts come from each other’s problems. Quell’s nature of scourging for sex and drinking dangerous alcoholic substances are what make Dodd grow more and more determined to try and cure him of his illnesses.
Without going around in circles too much, Dodd’s created religion, the Cause, is merely a tool he uses on Freddie. Freddie Quell grows to respect and become devoted to Dodd but he seems to only follow the Cause because Dodd tells him to. Quell is unable to grasp the concepts that Dodd and his group put forward. Given the Cause has many similarities to the church of Scientology, but PTA’s film is not a commentary on them, but an in depth look at the relationship that Dodd and Quell share with one another. They both struggle to understand the nature of human beings, and by dodging the commentaries of Scientology, PTA’s film ends up delivering a message on a much grander scale.
On one side of the coin, Dodd represents the great leaders of the world (or more importantly the American nation), especially during the “Mad Men era” where men were seen more as gods. He is filled with stubborness and a false sense of entitlement for what he has created through the Cause. Dodd attempts to take control at any given moment, and when he feels a loss of that control he begins to stoop down to the primal levels of Freddie Quell. Quell’s pure instinctual nature is an attraction to Dodd because it is like something he has never seen before. It echoes the words of Raoul Duke observing his friend Dr. Gonzo “There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” It is this attraction that makes them develop a relationship with one another.
Dodd uses their friendship as a jumping point to experiment on Quell with his new ideals and theories. When none of these work and Dodd continues to see Freddie’s animalistic tendencies he begins to grow tired of him. While both these men truly see each other for what they are, their conflicts and natures are what split them apart. Dodd is constantly pressured by his family to expel Quell from their company, and by the end they are successful in Quell’s expulsion. This entire internal conflict with Freddie’s soul is the driving point of The Master. It is one of the main reasons why not many people were accepting of it. It’s a far cry from the sprawling epic of There Will Be Blood.
Now this analyzation of Freddie and Lancaster’s relationship is all fine and dandy, but what is PTA going for with all of the weird uses of symbolism and metaphors throughout the film? What is up with Freddie cuddling with a sand woman? What was up with that motorcycle scene? Why the hell was he singing to him? Who is the master?!? Please, allow me to guess and theorize with you.
Regarding the sand woman, it is in this humble blogger’s opinion it represents that perfect woman that Freddie lusts over during the entire duration of the film. He is often seen having sex or constantly engaging with women, but for every relationship he has, Quell often messes up. The woman made of sand is for Freddie Quell that ball that one rolls up the hill only to have it fall back down upon you. He keeps trying over and over again to be with that perfect woman, but his nature always causes him to mess it up. By the end of the film, when Dodd has left him he scrambles back to that false idle, in addition to his other false idol: alcohol. He uses women and alcohol to attempt to control the urges he has. Sometimes it works, often it doesn’t, but by the end it’s all he has left when his friend leaves him.
What about the motorcycle scene? It was so odd! Well, the motorcycle scene is the final straw for Dodd. It is the true definition of both his character and Freddie’s. Dodd gets on the bike, picks a point far of the distance (him reaching for great things.) He goes to that point, but returns to normalcy, being the great NORMAL man that he is. He then passes the bike to Freddie. Freddie points to a point far beyond Dodd’s, and off he goes. Dodd shows admiration and an attractiveness to how fast Freddie goes to this point (his extreme lengths) but, Freddie doesn’t return. Dodd becomes very agitated and is forced to wander after Freddie. There is no limit to how far Freddie will go, and Dodd realizes that here, resulting in Freddie’s expulsion.
The last thing I wanna discuss before the conclusions are made is the big question. The Master.
I give you The Master. Behind every great man is a woman grabbing his penis. Peggy Dodd does this in spades. Peggy secretly controls all of Dodd’s decisions and constantly attempts to have a say in his important matters with Freddie Quell. She is the leader of the Cause as much as Dodd is. PTA uses the time period to exercise the secrecy behind women’s intelligence and control over men, especially the great and powerful leaders. Upon Quell’s final meeting with Dodd in England, Quell walks into a great and gigantic room. Dodd sits in the middle at a large desk, but closely behind him, to the right, is Peggy Dodd, pulling the strings, forcing Dodd to finally push Quell out of their lives.
She is the epitome of what Freddie fears, this is not a woman he can obtain or have relations with, she is a woman who, similar to Dodd is trying to force the beast to submit. She has no attractive feelings towards Freddie’s nature, only remorse for how she feels he will hold her husband back. And because of this Freddie must go. It is a wonderful commentary on relationships and how they control people.
Alright I’ll wrap this up. What does it all mean? Well, in my opinion, PTA has crafted a beautiful film that covers all facets of humanity. We see the affects of war on a human being, the powers of lust and how they both control and drive the sexes, we look at suppressed memories, depression, alcoholism, and the ideals of a friendship. PTA succeeded in making a film with all of this in addition to the best cinematography of the year (Skyfall close behind) and strange, powerful music supplied by Jonny Greenwood, that truly defines the arc of Freddie Quell’s character.
It will have its detractors because of its abstract uses of storytelling, and the characters who refuse to change over time, but thats what makes it such a brilliant film, it breaks out of the cliches of modern day storytelling and gives us something we do not see that often. The sparseness of this entry was to best delve into some of the abstract concepts presented while giving a small review of the whole thing. I hope you enjoyed it, and I will be posting two more blogs before the year is done!