RSS
 

The Master

25 Sep

The Master – produced and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Drama. 137 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★★
Mihai Malaimare Jr. films it as to bring a heavenly unity to a story in a realm not on earth but in the psyche itself, earthy as the mise-en-scene nonetheless is. For it is the story – and it is a great one – how the psyche embraces and then runs from what will better it, as though it will not be meddled with, even by God. In human form God is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, a coming guru out to create a miracle proof of his powers, who choses as the best bet for human reclamation a mentally borderline vagrant drunk. The director, Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Hard Eight, There Will Be Blood, Punch Drunk Love) has chosen well these two to demonstrate his thesis. For what could be more stunning as a feat for a guru than to bring into health and sanity a creature who is subnormal. This subnormality needs must have as its basis a soul about which the viewer cannot care, just as in the guru we must see, not a soul at work either, but an ambition. The two men therefore absolutely adore one another. They find one another to be great fun, they sacrifice themselves for one another, they tempt one another to the greatest feat of their lives, and they speak truth to one another so ruthlessly it is almost unbearable to watch were it not for the fact that truth brings life itself to the brink of surrender. After the film is over and one writes about it, the idea of the guru being played by a man the same age as the mad derelict is discounted by the certainty that that would raise issues of homosexuality that would be irrelevant to the conflict at hand, and the idea certainly never occurs to one while watching these gladiators play it out, one of them being Philip Seymour Hoffman who brings the guru to life as a being of such humor and ease that one cannot entertain a single contradictory casting idea while watching him. It is, of course, not essentially his story. It is the story of Freddie Quell brought into being by Joaquin Phoenix. Hoffman calls Freddie a naughty boy, and, true, Freddie is a child’s name and Quell is the name, if I recall, of Kwell, a nostrum to kill nits, crabs, and body lice. Phoenix brings this low human tantrum to life by giving him a physical being that operates inside out. Like the cheesiest thug, his chest is concave, his shoulders rounded and sloping, his walk rabbit-brisk, bowed, scared. He has a nutso laugh which arises warily on the left side of his face and takes over like a death spasm. Hoffmann gets to him by seeing in him what no one else can see, including us as an audience, and tolerates him because of it, which is to say he sees the grandest opportunity in his professional life and someone in his way as wild as himself. His much younger wife, which Amy Adams plays with marvelous rigor, suspects Phoenix – but for the wrong reason. She is the holy mother of the cult and she suspects Phoenix of being flimsy in his devotion to it and uncurable by either its ministrations or any other. But Hoffman sees Phoenix as something other than a devotee. He sees him as an object of play, infantile, dangerously violent, half-mad, and therefore ideal for restoration. It would be the greatest because most obvious triumph of his mastery. It would invent his mastery. Trouble is he suffers from violent temper too, verbal in his case, and the scenes of its emergence are stunning to behold, particularly the one in which a Philadelphia society lady, in a scene played consummately by Laura Dern, asks him about a change in his methods. For Hoffman too will not be meddled with. And his wife’s opinion of Phoenix will not hold. In the end, in one of the great scenes in cinema, he sings the perfect love song to him, “I’d Like To Get You On A Slow Boat To China,” for if he could, he could bring Phoenix to a state of unenvisionable grace. But like many thugs, Phoenix is sexually hot. He can get laid or drunk on the spot. He carries the secret elixir of sex, just as he carries the secret elixir of the almost poisonous alcoholic concoctions he pours out as libational benefits everywhere. They are his sanctuaries. It is a remarkable characterization, a remarkable performance, a remarkable study in human nature. People want to improve others, but can offer it only so far as their own frailty of temperament can take them, and people want to be improved by others, but are touchy at the sticking point, after all. They will not be saved by the fallible. Their perfection is killed by perfectionism. Chilling. Great. See it.

 
 
Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button