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The Master (2012)

Paul Thomas Anderson

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#141 Nathaniel

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 10:29 AM

Saw it last night in The Dome. Didn't expect to like it as much as I did. (I'm such a pushover for long take cinema!)

I'm definitely inclined to read it as a (mostly one-sided) love story. The Greek kind, in which the flow of knowledge from teacher to pupil is considered erotic. As a story, it's quite poorly constructed, and I suspect a lot of scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. (I would have loved to have seen more of Jesse Plemons as Dodd's skeptical son.) Amy Adams was truly scary as a woman who's drunk the Kool-Aid so completely she's even more fanatical than her husband.

I, too, was impressed with Phoenix's grandstanding, but the most impressively acted scene, my favorite in the whole movie, was the quiet one where he visits Doris's house only to find out she's gone, married, lost forever. It's so sad it nearly breaks your heart.

Nice to see Anderson maturing in his attitude toward religion since There Will Be Blood. "Get Thee Behind Me Satan" is the correct attitude toward cult. I hope that Christ plays a bigger role in his next picture, though.

Edited by Nathaniel, 24 September 2012 - 10:35 AM.


#142 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 10:35 AM


I'm trying to remember what Joaquin Phoenix's physicality in this film reminds me of. I don't think I've seen a performance by Phoenix that was so completely and utter invested in the body language of the character. Somehow he manages to stick his chin and elbows out, taking up more space, standing there more aggressive than before, while simultaneously seeming all the more vulnerable for doing it.

His mannerisms were very birdlike, reminding me both of Keira Knightley in A Dangerous Method ...

Wow. That's not what I was thinking of, but that's a terrific comparison. What's interesting about it is that it's doubtful Phoenix ever had Knightley's performance in mind. But whatever it was they studied or thought about for the roles, they caught on to something similar.

On another note, I really don't think the British girl's name at the end of the film has some secret or hidden meaning behind it. Freddie asks her to repeat her name just like Dodd asked him to repeat his name. Instead, Freddie's asking Dodd's questions in a way that Dodd never ever envisioned, and he's doing it randomly, jokingly and playfully.

If anything, this scene shows the full affect of Dodd's gruelling processing and training upon Freddie - by the end of the film, he might as well have not even tried for all the effect that it had upon him. The questions Dodd uses, seriously, as foundation to the beginning of how he treats each one of his patients or converts ... well, are the questions Freddie uses, not quite seriously, as pillow talk. The girl has no idea what Freddie is doing or talking about and he thinks that's funny.

#143 Christian

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 10:47 AM

I'm definitely inclined to read it as a (mostly one-sided) love story. The Greek kind, in which the flow of knowledge from teacher to pupil is considered erotic.

I like this.

#144 Overstreet

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 02:37 PM

Barbara Nicolosi:

It probably means that I’ve been in Hollywood too long, that I think I was more offended by this movie’s profound and sustained boringness as opposed to its pervasive and gratuitous obscenity. Don’t get me wrong. The obscenity is of the most sexist and gratuitous kind, which itself makes the movie, uh, eschewable. But The Master is so colossally boring that I found myself brooding more during the various exploitive scenes on how bad a director you have to be to wallow in all kinds of nudity and crass sexuality but still produce a movie completely devoid of a pulse. It’s possibly the dullest movie I have ever seen. And I spent six weeks in film school watching Soviet era propaganda films, so that is saying a lot.
...
I need to qualify this review by saying that my husband and I walked out at the hour and a half point. We were barely thirty minutes into the film when in a moment of mutual groaning – it was after Phoenix masturbated into the ocean, but before he fondled the naked nipple of the soon discarded department store girl – my husband leaned over and said, “Any time you want to go…” Once it was on the table, I thought about leaving probably every five minutes until the scene in which Amy Adams was reading the uber-crass pornography to Joaquin Phoenix – complete with the c-word – finally drove me up and out. So, what follows here is technically a review of the first hour and a half of The Master. Maybe the movie got stunningly brilliant in the last hour. I’d still feel like I got vomited on – yet again! – by Paul Thomas Anderson and scammed by this over-hyped bit of trash.
...
This movie is not really worth a long review, and frankly, I don’t want to force myself back over the hour and a half of tortured ennui and violation just to basically say, “BLECHHHHHHKKKKKKK!”
...
Maybe Anderson is some kind of kinky pervert who likes to have nude actresses in his power.
...
Probably the best thing to be said about The Master is that, for a Paul Thomas Anderson film, it doesn’t unfairly vilify Christianity. So, you know, that’s good....


Please note that this review was published after I published mine, in which a character responds by saying "Blecch!" and walks out of the movie.

So my "sketch" was not based on this review.

Just, you know... for the record.

Edited by Overstreet, 24 September 2012 - 02:40 PM.


#145 M. Leary

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 02:45 PM

"Maybe Anderson is some kind of kinky pervert who likes to have nude actresses in his power." There is a principle here that functions the same way as Godwin's Law ("As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches.") I think of it as Baehr's Law in honor of his infamous Ebert comment.

#146 Nick Olson

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 02:53 PM

ha! Nice. :)

#147 Nick Olson

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 04:05 PM

So is she saying that a PTA film does vilify Christianity? I guess she's referring to There Will be Blood?

#148 Overstreet

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 04:23 PM

So is she saying that a PTA film does vilify Christianity? I guess she's referring to There Will be Blood?


Yes, she is. Go back and scroll through the There Will Be Blood discussion. Nicolosi, engaging with me in comments on her blog post about the film, said to me:

... the impulse to support [There Will Be Blood] by certain Evangelicals is part and parcel of the current implosion of Evangelicalism - which I call 'Faith Tradition Loathing Syndrome.' I am seeing it more and more in the last several years, and I can't say that it strikes me as a good thing. Many Evangelicals are losing their faith because their whole faith life has been wrapped up in the church as source of fellowship. So, when people get stripped of that by cultivating a vigorous despising of those with whom them fellowship, they have nothing left in a spiritual/ecclesial sense.

The impulse to see the message of "There Will Be Blood" as true, is the same thing which led some Evangelicals to get all suave and unconcerned about the The Da Vinci Code, and also to nod and apologise to the folks who made films like 'Forgiving the Franklins.'

My feeling is that most of the FTL Syndrome is coming from the desire to disassociate from the political positions of the religious right, which disassociation again takes the form of Evangelicals bashing other Evangelicals and seeing themselves as being hipper and more enlightened (ref. your despising of Ted Baehr.)

So, what I wrote was a sociological observation as an effort to try and account for the fact that you and others like you who are Christians are praising a film that make Christianity appear as a corrupting influence.

It was perhaps ugly and judgmental, but that doesn't make it untrue or unnecessary.


(bold/italics mine)

So, by appreciating the film, I became for Barbara a poster boy for the loss of faith among evangelicals... even though I clearly described it as portraying a particularly wrong-headed evangelist rather than Christian faith as a whole. She was determined to describe Eli as representing Christianity, simple as that.

What troubles me even more about this is, well... since when is it a bad thing to show that churches are, sometimes, corrupting influences? Don't they often do all kinds of terrible things in God's name? I can think of a church within shouting distance of my desk that has used its pulpit to say all kinds of misleading and hurtful things, misrepresenting the Gospel. Am I, as an artist, not allowed to depict such a thing? If I do, am I responsible for spoiling the faith of others? In that case, keep readers away from the Bible. The Scriptures frequently admit, and even prophesy, that this is happening and will go on happening.

Edited by Overstreet, 24 September 2012 - 04:34 PM.


#149 Nick Olson

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 04:38 PM

Um. Wow.

#150 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 04:42 PM

Please note that this review was published after I published mine, in which a character responds by saying "Blecch!" and walks out of the movie.

So the Mrs. Yuks exist in real life.

Nicolosi was clearly very offended by the film's sexual content. While I don't agree with her views on the matter, I can certainly understand them since I have friends and family who feel the same way about it. But, I found the following paragraph particularly revealing -

... For the record, the reason the movie is so damn boring, is that it has no interest in serving the audience by providing anything that people need to connect to and care about a story. Initially, I thought that the movie had made a very fundamental error in not taking the time to make the protagonist relatable to the audience. But before long I realized that there is no protagonist in this film and no one with whom the audience is meant to relate so as to take on their transformational journey. We’re not supposed to travel the story with any of the characters ...

It's here where Ms. Nicolosi reveals her assumptions about what films ought to do. Assumptions: (a) protagonists ought to be relatable to the audience, (b) the audience ought to be taken through a transformational journey with a character, and © a film is to be designed to serve the audience. This seems to be a pretty populist view of the purpose of art.

I wonder if Ms. Nicolosi has ever read any Flannery O'Connor ... or any Shakespeare tragedies ... or any Sophocles ... or any William Faulkner ... or any Francois Rabelais ... or any Geoffrey Chaucer ... or any David Foster Wallace ... or etc., etc.

Another interesting comment on The Master is that, on the film's failure to satisfy her assumptions, I think she probably is right. The film isn't designed to take the audience through a relatable journey, nor does it necessarily show us any satisfactory redemption for Freddie or for Dodd. And yet, there is still something powerful about the film regardless of what the film isn't doing.

Edited by J.A.A. Purves, 24 September 2012 - 05:07 PM.


#151 vjmorton

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 04:42 PM

"Maybe Anderson is some kind of kinky pervert who likes to have nude actresses in his power." There is a principle here that functions the same way as Godwin's Law ("As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches.") I think of it as Baehr's Law in honor of his infamous Ebert comment.


Yep ... it doesn't (on the basis of this) even seem to occur to her that the film might legitimately be *about* a pervert. In fact ... that's exactly what I think THE MASTER is, ultimately. It's pretty jejune and shallow, especially in the resolution, but that's what it's about (to the [limited] extent it's effectively about anything).

#152 Nick Olson

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 05:01 PM

it doesn't (on the basis of this) even seem to occur to her that the film might legitimately be *about* a pervert


Yes, exactly. This is what I was driving at on Twitter the other day regarding the difference between a film being nihilistic and a film truthfully displaying characters who are persistently empty.

#153 Overstreet

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 05:17 PM

I wonder if Ms. Nicolosi has ever read any Flannery O'Connor ... or any Shakespeare tragedies ... or any Sophocles ... or any William Faulkner ... or any Francois Rabelais ... or any Geoffrey Chaucer ... or any David Foster Wallace ... or etc., etc.


That's why I find her responses to Anderson so peculiar, Jeremy. If I recall correctly, she has spoken very highly of Flannery O'Connor. And I'm reminded of O'Connor all the time watching Anderson. If the movie of Wise Blood were released right now, I suspect she'd have a similar reaction to it as she did to Anderson's last two films. (Granted, the movie departs from the source somewhat, but still.)

Edited by Overstreet, 24 September 2012 - 05:18 PM.


#154 vjmorton

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 05:36 PM


I wonder if Ms. Nicolosi has ever read any Flannery O'Connor ... or any Shakespeare tragedies ... or any Sophocles ... or any William Faulkner ... or any Francois Rabelais ... or any Geoffrey Chaucer ... or any David Foster Wallace ... or etc., etc.


That's why I find her responses to Anderson so peculiar, Jeremy. If I recall correctly, she has spoken very highly of Flannery O'Connor. And I'm reminded of O'Connor all the time watching Anderson. If the movie of Wise Blood were released right now, I suspect she'd have a similar reaction to it as she did to Anderson's last two films. (Granted, the movie departs from the source somewhat, but still.)


Without defending her ... I do think there is an ontological difference between writing and movies (or more precisely, words and pictures). Pictures show, words describe. The "occasion for sin" threshold in matters of sex and violence is far lower for what you can see than what you can imagine.

That said, it is sheer blindness or demagoguery not to notice that the "room full of naked women" moment is a fantasy of a (diseased, though I doubt PTA thinks that) mind and/or then refuse to wrestle with that implication.

#155 Christopher Lake

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 05:37 PM

Barbara Nicolosi:

It probably means that I’ve been in Hollywood too long, that I think I was more offended by this movie’s profound and sustained boringness as opposed to its pervasive and gratuitous obscenity. Don’t get me wrong. The obscenity is of the most sexist and gratuitous kind, which itself makes the movie, uh, eschewable. But The Master is so colossally boring that I found myself brooding more during the various exploitive scenes on how bad a director you have to be to wallow in all kinds of nudity and crass sexuality but still produce a movie completely devoid of a pulse. It’s possibly the dullest movie I have ever seen. And I spent six weeks in film school watching Soviet era propaganda films, so that is saying a lot.
...
I need to qualify this review by saying that my husband and I walked out at the hour and a half point. We were barely thirty minutes into the film when in a moment of mutual groaning – it was after Phoenix masturbated into the ocean, but before he fondled the naked nipple of the soon discarded department store girl – my husband leaned over and said, “Any time you want to go…” Once it was on the table, I thought about leaving probably every five minutes until the scene in which Amy Adams was reading the uber-crass pornography to Joaquin Phoenix – complete with the c-word – finally drove me up and out. So, what follows here is technically a review of the first hour and a half of The Master. Maybe the movie got stunningly brilliant in the last hour. I’d still feel like I got vomited on – yet again! – by Paul Thomas Anderson and scammed by this over-hyped bit of trash.
...
This movie is not really worth a long review, and frankly, I don’t want to force myself back over the hour and a half of tortured ennui and violation just to basically say, “BLECHHHHHHKKKKKKK!”
...
Maybe Anderson is some kind of kinky pervert who likes to have nude actresses in his power.
...
Probably the best thing to be said about The Master is that, for a Paul Thomas Anderson film, it doesn’t unfairly vilify Christianity. So, you know, that’s good....


Please note that this review was published after I published mine, in which a character responds by saying "Blecch!" and walks out of the movie.

So my "sketch" was not based on this review.

Just, you know... for the record.


Jeffrey, I've continued to think about The Master, since seeing it on Saturday. I have come to be still more impressed by it, though I must also say that I do still think the most overt and graphic moments of sexuality either could have been left out altogether, or presented in a way that would have been less of a "near occasion of sin" for many people, to use Catholic parlance. I'm not convinced that Anderson is too concerned about near occasions of sin in his art though. If he were mindful of such things, I think that, quite contrary to what many serious moviegoers would think, that mindfulness would make him an even better artist. I think Flannery O'Connor would agree. (I do plan on seeing The Master again and look forward to it.)

Anyway, after reading your first post on the film, I definitely have the most sympathies with "Mr. Long-winded." I can understand some of "Mrs. Yuk"'s moral outrage, but I think that she would say largely the same things about Flannery's novels and short stories (and I believe Flannery to be one of the greatest writers of the last century). Embarrassingly, back in 2000, my thinking was probably a bit close to "Fangirl"'s, hehe, but I never went quite as far in my love of P.T.A.'s work as she does! Posted Image

About Barbara Nicolosi's blog post, I admit that I'm surprised by the level of rant and vitriol in it, especially considering the fact that she loved Little Children, which contains even more graphic, in-your-face sexuality (that I also think could have been presented more carefully, in less of a "near occasion of sin" way) than The Master.

Edited by Christopher Lake, 24 September 2012 - 05:39 PM.


#156 Nick Olson

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 05:49 PM

I do think there is an ontological difference between writing and movies (or more precisely, words and pictures)


Agreed.

#157 Overstreet

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 05:52 PM

About Barbara Nicolosi's blog post, I admit that I'm surprised by the level of rant and vitriol in it...


I'm not. I remember her review of There Will Be Blood. (And Blue Like Jazz, and I could go on.) Note the blatant spoiler. And yes, this was the whole review.

She's certainly entitled to her opinion. I'm just saddened by how the opinion is expressed.

Edited by Overstreet, 25 September 2012 - 12:12 PM.


#158 Christian

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 06:06 PM

Nicolsi loved Little Children? Then credit is due.

Remember, in case anyone has forgotten, that Nicolosi's outrage is usually driven less by moral content, in my experience reading her, than it is by narrative structure. When a movie doesn't follow a classic three-act structure, it gets slammed. When it has in-your-face moral-content issues, that's a double-whammy.

#159 vjmorton

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 06:16 PM

Nicolsi loved Little Children? Then credit is due.

Remember, in case anyone has forgotten, that Nicolosi's outrage is usually driven less by moral content, in my experience reading her, than it is by narrative structure. When a movie doesn't follow a classic three-act structure, it gets slammed. When it has in-your-face moral-content issues, that's a double-whammy.


Exactly. She's a scriptwriter and a teacher thereof. But her critical faculties are deaf, dumb and blind to films that aren't script-driven. Indeed, in that infamous combox dustup over THERE WILL BE BLOOD, I started with ...

"Even as someone who loved BLOOD, I can't say I'm terribly surprised that Barbara doesn't like it -- we disagreed over GANGS OF NEW YORK, another style-over-script, impressionistic, lengthy, loosely-plotted period film centered on an operatic DD-L performance, which I liked much more than she did."

#160 Nick Olson

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Posted 24 September 2012 - 06:18 PM

FWIW, PTA definitely reminds me of O'Connor, too--particularly his distortions and exaggerations. To criticize him for having characters who are more like caricatures is, at least as far as I'm concerned, to miss the point.





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