It is interesting to see that the initial reviews that have been released of the new movie The Master are rather non-committal as to whether they think the movie is good or not. Much of this is probably because of the main character in the movie who is played by Joaquin Phoenix, doesn’t really seem to conform to any templates of what the character should, or should not be.
The Master tells the story of a faith movement that began in the 1950s in the United States and was inspired by the science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard – it is of course, Scientology. Many people would expect to see this movie to be something of an expose of the various origins of the religion as this would certainly be an audience pleaser.
Instead the director, Anderson, has chosen to create a film that is a work of expressionism, rather than an exposé. It seems to mirror the story of Hubbard very clearly, but avoids direct representation at all costs.
Phoenix plays the character of Freddie, a man who is serving in the Navy at the end of World War II. He is certainly a strange character and he likes to drink and party. Many audience members will be questioning whether he has been driven slightly insane by the war, or whether he is just a bit wacky anyway.
Lancaster Dodd, plays the character of a man who says that Freddie should not apologize for who he is and that if he chooses to follow Dodd, things will be much easier for him. Freddie sees this as a free ride and all he has to do is undergo a conversion therapy that is conducted by Dodd.
The idea behind the teachings of Dodd is that people can control their emotions by accessing the past experiences of their lives and use this to their advantage. Interestingly, this doesn’t involve just the experiences that have happened in this life, but also in various past lives that Dodd believes exist.
It is clear to people who watch the movie that the ‘processing’ that the characters go through in order to join the religion, is very similar to the ‘auditing’ process that people have to go through to join Scientology. Of course, there is no direct reference made to the religion, but there is no getting away from the fact that it is clearly referring to Scientology.
The movie is overall rather unusual and it tells the story of how the relationship between Dodd and Freddy develops as the movie goes on. Freddie is converted into the religion, and at points this is a rather strange experience, but it certainly provides for a very thrilling first half of the movie.
The performances and the relationship that has developed between the characters really hits its peak in the second half of the movie. One of the most notable scenes is whether to characters are in side-by-side jail cells and one character is filled with rage, and the other one seems completely contained with his emotions.