Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Master Is a Lot to Process

You should think twice before going to see The Master. "The worst part is, some great performances were wasted," was how one viewer at the sold-out Kendall Square Cinema showing described it as those of us in the neck strain seats beat it out the front side entrance after watching two hours and a quarter of excruciating madness.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd as a beat writer, and any resemblance to L. Ron Hubbard is no coincidence. Joaquin Phoenix plays a mentally disturbed World War II Navy veteran and drifter, a Dean Moriarty from On the Road. The movie is his story about how he falls in with Lancaster Dodd, then drifts away. The old unreliable narrator trick.

A first introduction to Scientology through an unreliably-told fictional work is dangerous. Somehow, though, I came away with a better feeling for what the American-invented cult religion is about than I had going in. But don't think this is a recruitment film.

"Auditing" is called "processing" in the film and is presented as a cross between method acting exercises and psychoanalysis. It's appeal to Hollywood actors and wealthy upper middle-class money was always a murky to me but is now clear.

Amy Adams plays Mary Sue Dodd, and whether she is Lancaster's wife or daughter troubled me through most of the movie. There is more nudity than you are used to seeing in an R-rated film, and most of it will make you cringe. Amy Ferguson steals the early part of the movie with her turn as a department store sales girl. Laura Dern as a wealthy follower and Ambyr Childers as a loyal daughter are also good.

The director, Paul Thomas Anderson, of Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood renown, runs every scene so long that you are desperate for him to cut away. No darlings were killed in the cutting of this movie. He will drink your milkshake.

I can't say that I will ever want to see this movie again, but still I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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