Pauls Valley, Oklahoma — Throughout all of the painful movie watching experiences I’ve endured over the years, I have tried to make it nearly impossible for many flicks to make it to my list of ultimate suffering. After all, be it an artistic expression I just couldn’t relate with or B movie cheese taken to criminal levels, I realize my opinions are just that and not some holy grail for recommendation.
However, when those rare moments of eye bleedingly abusive crap exceed even my ability to forgive the insult to injury I will still offer a warning of the trouble ahead. Take for instance today’s Oscar nominated violation of the Geneva Convention, a film that should have been both an intriguing look at what the collective mind of cults are capable of and brilliant social commentary. Instead, “The Master” is a runaway freight train that barely keeps you awake, occasionally waterboarding you with an unfulfilled promise that some meaningful resolution will ever surface.
Set a few years or so after World War II, we are introduced to a veteran named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), who can’t seem to find any stability in life due to his violent and womanizing nature. Unable to find purpose he stumbles around until he comes upon “The Cause,” a Scientology-like cult run by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Though everyone else like Dodd’s wife Peggy (Amy Adams) can tell Quell is nuttier than a sack of almonds, the leader takes to this troubled young man in a nearly never ending barrage of what I can only guess is what a Q&A in hell would resemble. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, if you ever wanted to know what a two and a half hour therapy session with Jim Jones would have been like where Flavor Aid might have actually sounded like the better option, here’s your example. Sure, the acting by these three was at a very impressive level throughout, but it quickly grows tiresome and not even worth struggling through even at the halfway point.
It’s artsy for the sake of being artsy, but instead of challenging audiences to think outside the box, we feel trapped by something I’d not even want to share with the most open-minded people I know. If you want a good example of something where an entire society is challenged to its breaking point by a lunatic with powerful social influence, I’d recommend something instead like “A Face in the Crowd.”
This movie sadly becomes a victim of its own efforts to try and shock you with the lead character’s past and sexual deviancy with no sort of believable consequence, redemption or pathway. Hopefully in time I can make up for time lost and scrub as much of this from my memory as possible. The final verdict for “The Master,” is one out of five psychotic episodes.
DVD rental courtesy of Family Video of Pauls Valley.