Finally got around to watching Joaquin Phoenix’s crooked mouth last night, and I have thoughts. Thoughts that will last a trillion years:
2.) The only takeaway for me came in the penultimate scene, before Dodd sings his homoerotic slowjam to Freddie Quell. Dodd tells Quell that he should go off into the ocean, be a seaman, truly live the unmastered life, and report back what that feels like. The true master – I’d even contend the titular master – is Freddie. Dodd is a slave to illusion; Freddie is a slave only to himself, which also makes him his own master. This is what Dodd has ostensibly chased, but is too weak to find.
3.) But why wait until the final five minutes of the movie to actually give the audience something to think about? Because “The Master,” as turgid and shapeless as it is, is structured and fashioned after Dodd’s work.
4.) Think back to that conspicuous set piece in Phoenix, in which Quell beats up the lame dude in the suit and hat. “What do you think of the book?” Quell asks (at least as I remember it; paraphrasing). “He’s a mystic, but if it were up to me I’d edit it down to three pages and hand it out as a pamphlet.” Quell then beats him senseless.
5.) Religion, like art, is composed of message and atmospherics. Some just want the takeaway, the thesis, the sermon. But full commitment, full suspension of disbelief (whether in a pew or a seat) requires submission to the entire package. “The cause,” if you will. Anderson wants his audience to fall under a spell, even – especially – if they don’t know where it’s headed. “The Master” is Dodd’s work, Dodd’s work is “The Master.”
6.) That, at least, is the apologist’s interpretation of the movie. It was still a bear to watch. Me, I’d rather drink a milkshake.