The first teaser trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master hinted at the depths of depravity reached by Freddie Sutton (Joaquin Phoenix), a WW II veteran caught in a downward spiral of self-destruction. We were thereafter treated to an equally-cryptic second teaser that introduced Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a man Sutton comes to believe holds the key to his salvation – only to gradually realize that Dodd is a delusional charlatan, who disguises his own insanity with a dignified facade and eloquent manner.
Today we have a full-lenth theatrical promo for Anderson’s Master project, which illustrates how those two men form an immediate connection that, at first, seems mutually beneficial. However, as Sutton steadily awakens to Dodd’s true nature, he relapses into an inescapable nightmare state that makes him a potential obstacle to the cult that Dodd and his wife Mary Sue (Amy Adams) are working to build.
Anderson’s Master draws inspiration from the real-life rise of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard during the 1950s, but the 5-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker clearly has higher aspirations than to create a backdoor biopic about the man who founded a mysterious religious/cult organization that so many famous Hollywood players (Tom Cruise, John Travolta, etc.) subscribe to with unbridled devotion.
The project instead appears to use Hubbard’s story as a stepping stone to stage a greater allegory about how American society attempted to hide its disillusionment in the aftermath of WW II beneath a veneer of wholesome values and morality. That assessment is based on the Master trailer, where we see Sutton try (and fail at) respectable occupations, such as farm work and family photography – before he becomes the right-hand man to Dodd, under the (misguided) belief that his newfound devotion can save him.
Joaquin Phoenix in 'The Master'
Phoenix is poised to turn in a powerhouse performance as Sutton, capturing the essence of a lost soul who can change from a quiet presence into a violent force at the turn of a dime. The casting for Master, as a whole, seems perfect, right down to Jesse Plemmons (Battleship) and Ambyr Childers (All My Children) as the Dodd offspring. In fact, it’s almost disconcerting how convincingly the two look like they could be Hoffman and Adams’ son and daughter, respectively.
Moreover, the film appears to be beautifully-composed and structured, offering more than its fair share of pure visual poetry (see: the opening trailer shot of an unconscious Phoenix). Anderson shot the film on 65 mm, and the final result looks to be a refreshing alternative to contemporary digital photography. That Master also appears to serve as a companion piece to There Will Be Blood (thematically, visually, and in terms of Jonny Greenwood’s score) is just icing on the cake.
The Master begins a limited theatrical release on October 12th, 2012.