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Monday, September 24, 2012

The Film "The Master" Revisited

 Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Having subjected myself to the film The Master on Saturday evening, on Sunday morning I proceeded to intensify the process by looking at reviews. There was one review in the New Yorker that was almost as long and stupefying as the movie itself.

However, this review did happen to mention briefly what to me was the most important fact of the film: the fact that the relationship between Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character, Lancaster Dodd (LD hereafter), and Joaquin Phoenix's character, Freddie Quell (FQ hereafter), was actually effective in changing the troubled life of FQ.
Regardless of all the time-travel hypnosis and the talk of alien influence and all the other nonsense, LD did change the life of FQ for the better.

I remember this in the film, for during a session of hypnosis when subjects were going back in time to previous lives, I wondered at it all, thinking that even this strange philosophy seems to have an ameliorating effect on some of the crowd.

Very summarily, LD - The Master -  is eventually disavowed and abandoned by the Wealthy; he is attacked and ridiculed by the Scientific and Educated elite, he is outcast by the social power structure, yet he is successful with FQ, a troubled drifter... he is successful in spite of himself: LD is successful in spite of his nonsense and his moral infirmities and actually makes FQ a better person.

LD's connection with FQ is close and physical: when they have not seen each other for a long time, they embrace warmly. Their connection is a primary engagement, close and up front and intense.

The relationship between LD and FQ is a close engagement, and it is the very basis of religious teaching which tells us to engage directly with the problems of mankind, and by so doing, to defeat the effects of sickness and disease.

So no matter how bizarre LD's doctrine is, no matter how odd his procedures, LD actually redeems the troubled and disaffected in at least a small measure by embracing, sharing, and caring. FQ has a tendency to beat up people who are insufficiently supportive of LD, but this is no more than a metaphor for religious violence from Simon Peter chopping off an attendant's ear up to the present day.

I have a strong suspicion that the film is about what may be called true religious activity, and have almost nothing to do with Scientology. Scientology is used as a way to put the matter in front of the audience in terms the audience immediately understands, but it is not the heart of the matter.
It is not a bit about Scientology actually. Scientology was a mise-en-scene which allowed us to feel comfortable and think that we knew our way around in this microcosm.

I cannot account for all the details in the film: that is beyond my ability... and sometimes my comprehension.
I do know I took an immediate dislike to the film, because the intro dealt with troubled and alcoholic people, and it was too overwhelming for me: I felt the repulsion and disgust, I could smell the acrid sweat of the social misfits sweetened with the stench of nicotine...
Unlike St. Francis of Assisi,  I did not embrace them: I turned away.
I turned away and missed opportunity.

1)    wondering whether the sand effigy of a woman was a metaphor for Cybele or the Great Goddess, or Lilith, or Al-Lat?

2) I do not mean to imply that that which I discussed above was what the director had in mind in making the film. I do imply that the film might be a metaphor for what I put forward, and in a real sense the film is a meta-narrative about the hunger and thirst for righteousness' sake...
The audience of today would reject anything too obviously religious, so there is a sense of taqiya, or a dissembling under the guise of Scientology.


Reading the Signs said...

Well perhaps this is not a film I will rush to see. I am very close to the Scientology Mecca (Saint Hill).

In other news: I left a long response to your last comment and it has now disappeared. I have no idea what to make of this.

(And in other news - have you seen? TPE is back - if not exactly with us, yet).

Unknown said...

I went to the movie yesterday, and I have to say I did not like it very much. I reacted much as you did. The JP character was a gross, repulsive guy and I never did like him at all. PSH's guy was just a garden-variety shyster who managed to bilk enough out of people to survive pretty well.

To tell the truth, I had no idea what I was supposed to get out of the movie. Frankly, I didn't see much moral improvement in the damn bum JP was at the beginning to the sober bum he was at the movie's end. But then, maybe the whole thing just went over my head.

Did you get a whiff of homosexuality in PSH's relationship with JP? Or am I reading way too much into it?

Montag said...

If it has disappeared, then you apparently do have that ability to disperse the atoms of objects back to their stellar nurseries in the blast of super novae!

I shall have to try to stay on your good side.

Your last sentence is a puzzler, but then anything touching on the shape-shifting TPE is a puzzler, is it not?

Reading the Signs said...

Well, he has posted on his blog again - so I take that as a definite Sign that he is alive!

Montag said...

I will wager that TPE manufactured a post and gave it to one of his minions years ago, with the instructions to post it around the time of Yom Kippur in 2012...

It could be a signal to his hidden army, or what not.

Montag said...


Your question was very interesting, and I am going to go into that further, but not right now.

It just so happens that I had read Henry James' "The Turn Of The Screw" the day before I saw this film, and there is a exactly similar situation where the question comes up...

Since there is no detail and no straight-forward statement being made, the viewers and the readers interpret what they are seeing based on what they expect, given their cognitive milieu.

Other times, other places... and there would be other interpretations, and they'd be equally valid.