Happily, and despite the fact that director Paul Thomas Anderson used controversial Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard as a model, The Master is more than a modernized rehash of the religious chicanery at the heart of Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. Rather, it is an exploration of broken humanity in need of repair, as represented by the deeply damaged WWII vet Freddie Quell. Played with dim, slurring ferocity by Joaquin Phoenix, Quell is a twisted man, from the scar on his lip and the hunch of his shoulders to his insatiable thirst and his rampant sexuality. (When we meet him, he is making moonshine on a beach before getting nastily intimate with a naked sand sculpture.) When he stumbles into the life of gregarious guru Lancaster Dodd (a blowsy, mustachioed Philip Seymour Hoffman), he is almost instantly converted — not because he's seen the light, but because Dodd peers interestedly into his darkest corners and does not look away. Instead, Dodd embraces the animalistic Quell and seeks to bring him to spiritual enlightenment. Like Jesus Christ, the Master comes to cure the sick. (Unlike Jesus Christ, he also comes to solicit donations from the healthy.) What follows is a touch overlong and overindulgent, but still full of memorable images and formal excellences. And it's a credit to Anderson's skills as a filmmaker, rather than Dodd's skills as a healer, that the film finds its way to an ending that is both humane and satisfying.
Length: 2 hours, 30 minutes