• James Rutherford

'The Master': The Tantalizing Story of a Burgeoning Cult Leader and His Most Fervent Follower


Movie poster for the film The Master starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix

"The Master" (2012) is a spellbinding and tantalizing drama about a traumatized World War II veteran named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls under the spell of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the enigmatic leader of a growing religion referred to as "The Cause".


Caught stowing away on Dodd's boat, Freddie is soon brought under Dodd's influence as he assists Freddie in exploring repressed memories and past traumas—quickly bringing him into the fold and indoctrinating him with the principles adhered to by his growing legion of followers. Freddie rapidly evolves into Dodd's fiercest advocate, clashing violently with critics and naysayers in defense of the man he rapidly becomes beholden to entirely.


Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights", "The Phantom Thread"). "The Master" is clearly crafted as an allusion to Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard, with Hoffman delivering a deeply resonant performance as the crafty Svengali whose true intentions remain shrouded and opaque. Inversely, Phoenix's wry and twitchy Quell perfectly embodies the blind devotion necessary for a charlatan such as Dodd to gain allegiance and power. In all, it's a wonderfully off-kilter and remarkably well-crafted paean to post-war America and the relentless pursuit of purpose and meaning in life.

 

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