Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Master

It isn't exactly apt to say that There Will Be Blood came out of nowhere. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson made a quick and deserved reputation for himself with the sprawling films Boogie Nights and Magnolia, but that reputation had as much to do with his youth and perspicacity as it did with his talents. Both films, owing much to Scorsese and Altman, as stylizing and sweeping as they are, feel now more like verbs than nouns--they are sometimes more filmmaking than they are films. Punch-Drunk Love was somewhat overlooked, I think, because it seemed, in its tightness and atmosphere, an odd direction for Anderson to take. But really, it was something of a return to the director's first and under-appreciated effort, Hard Eight. All things considered, though, the leap Anderson made from his previous films to There Will Be Blood is at times, watching the movie, befuddling. There Will Be Blood is patient and contemplative and, ultimately, sublime (in the Romantic sense) in ways that make the previous films feel a little, well, twee.

The Master has been anticipated for a few years now, with nerds eager to see how Anderson would pull off a film about Scientology that is not about Scientology. The basics are these: Joaquin Phoenix exits the navy jangled and self-destructive and is corralled by a charismatic polymath and luminary and possible crackpot, played by the ever-doughy Philip Seymour Hoffman. The anticipation was answered by a film that is not as straightforward as the nerds and fans were hoping for. By all accounts, The Master is abstract, confounding, and beautiful--a seemingly amorphous thing corralled by stalwart performances.

While his stabs have heretofore been varied, Anderson's interests have been consistent, and those who might find The Master somewhat bewildering would do well to latch on to the filmmaker's prevalent themes. There is the constant struggle between parent and child, mentor and mentee, and the exploration of American upward mobility with wafts of the Icarus myth. On the surface, it might seem like Paul Thomas Anderson is becoming more complicated, but I think it could be argued that his ideas about the world and about filmmaking are coming into better focus as he understands that the story he has been trying to tell is more complicated than he may have first thought.

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