The Videogum Movie Club: The Master

If you haven’t seen Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master yet, you should definitely see it, but first try and figure out a way to own a home with a personal theater and have a 70mm print delivered directly to you, or watch it on your phone. (Just kidding, don’t watch it on your phone! I was kidding! Don’t watch anything on your phone. Throw your phone away!) What I’m saying is that this is the type of movie that draws a very particular kind of crowd, and you might want to avoid that crowd. To give you an example, while waiting in line for tickets a man behind me shouted “It is true, I am the master, now clear the way for me!” and then turned to his friend and said in that fatigued voice one assumes when a joke has not gone your way but you feel the need to commit to it through the very end, “Well, that didn’t work. I really thought maybe that would work.” His friend said, “I don’t know either,” and then they proceeded to have a discussion of whether or not you should hire someone to stand in line for you at the movie, “if time truly is our precious resource,” without ever discussing who it is that would be applying for or accepting a job like that. But inside it was even worse, because the movie started playing, and that is when people laughed or gasped and it was like what are you laughing at? Did that require a gasp? Are YOU ok? “Oh that is rich, I see what this movie is saying in this scene, ahem ahem ahem.” It can all be a bit much, this human zoo. OH, BUT, SO THE MOVIE WAS PRETTY GOOD!

The Master is about a young sailor who loves to drink batteries who makes friends with an aging showboat. Together they have a bunch of adventures, two instances with farts, a jailhouse confession, motorcycle rides, and they wrestle in the grass. There are also some waves in the ocean, and a sand castle with boobs, and some explosions of petulant, petty violence. The young sailor goes home to visit his girlfriend, but she moved in with Jim Day of all people so he goes to the movies to watch a cartoon. Finally, in England, everyone calls it quits in the giant room because Amy Adams is so mad in her side chair. The End.

Supposedly, this is Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Scientology movie,” which, sure, but if that’s the case, Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t have very much to say about Scientology. This is really a movie, like all of his movies, about a young man’s enthralled and potentially dangerous mentorship by a powerful older man. It’s becoming kind of a thing for this director! You have Mark Wahlberg’s relationship with Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights. You have Tom Cruise’s relationship with Jason Robards in Magnolia. You have Paul Dano’s relationship with Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood. And now you have this. The conflict is always pretty much the same, too: you basically have the young man struggling so hard to get the love/affection/support that he needs, thinking for awhile that he’s maybe found it, but at the end of the day you either have to break out of that relationship and try to make a go of being a man on your own, or else that relationship will literally club you to death with a bowling pin. (I. DRINK. YOUR. PAINT THINNER! Get it?) Sounds like somebody has some daddy issues! (Haha, as if everybody doesn’t have daddy issues.)

There are two things in particular that The Master really has going for it, and that is very pretty cinematography, like, just so pretty, and also actors who are good at acting. Philip Seymour Hoffman! Holy moly! I mean, you can say “Philip Seymour Hoffman! Holy moly!” about pretty much any Philip Seymour Hoffman movie and it holds up because that guy is great, but he’s super great in this one. HOO-AH! So charismatic but also filled with (not so) secret rage. And then of course there is Joaquin Phoenix, who should have brought some of this same intensity and coiled violence to the other movie in which he plays a lunatic, I’m Still Here, because maybe it would have been more convincing and enjoyable to watch. But what a lunatic he is in this. In a good way. He’s supposed to be! Just so intense and unpredictable and mush mouthed and crazy eyed and slope backed. (Other actors in this movie include: Amy Adams and Jesse Plemons.)

Personally, I was never a Paul Thomas Anderson fan until There Will Be Blood came out. I didn’t think Boogie Nights was as great as everyone else seemed to think it was (and I rewatched it a couple of months ago to see if maybe I was just wrong the first time, and while I do think it’s better than I originally gave it credit for, I still don’t love it, so in reality it probably falls somewhere between my tepid early opinion and everyone else’s canonic love) and I very much disliked (and still disliked, no movement on the needle here) Magnolia. Yuck. All of this is to say that when There WIll Be Blood was released I went into it with a great deal of skepticism and anticipated being underwhelmed or even disliking the movie as I had with PTA’s previous efforts, but I in fact loved it just like everyone loved it, because it is so great. And all of THAT is to say that I still went into The Master with this same mixed relationship to Paul Thomas Anderson. But I like this new thread he’s following. If we have to size everything up and make all the world into a contest, which we sure seem to have to do considering how much we are all always doing it, then I did like There Will Be Blood better than I liked The Master, but they are both very good movies and I read a book about depression one time that said it was very important to just be open and present and accept life on its own terms as it comes, so let’s try that.

Incidentally, I also saw End of Watch this weekend, which has some real problems mostly in the ending which I am not going to spoil for you but whoops that ending but before the ending actually does have one of the most entertaining, believable, and emotionally earned buddy relationships I have seen in a long time. But does everything have to be found footage? Did you know that about that movie? Supposedly Jake Gyllenhaal is a cop who is taking a film class (right) on the side, which is why he videotapes everything, but they obviously dump that conceit within the first 10 minutes, it’s just to explain away the abundance of home movie footage of routine street busts. But then also they are at war with a violent gang of street thugs who are ALSO videotaping their every move? I guess for the same film class? It’s a very annoying aspect of what is a pretty decent movie except for the ending which is also a very annoying aspect. Oh well, what are you going to do? Besides wait for End of Watch to come out on DVD and fall asleep watching it at three in the morning after you get home drunk from some bar?

But we aren’t here to talk about End of Watch. We are here to talk about The Master. So? Talk!