The Master: a Rorschach test that lasts
It never ceases to amaze when I hear film buffs dive into a discussion about a film, going through scenes, shots, actors and other details, to the extent that it sounds as if they watched it yesterday. And when you ask them how long it’s been since they watched it, it turns out that it’s been over twenty years.
My brain works the opposite way. Impressions go right past it. It’s as if my mind is perforated like a pasta strainer. The storage room appears to be smaller than in a luxury sports car. Nothing sticks and a movie can be halfway towards oblivion as early as a week after I watched it.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I watched The Master and following the usual pattern it should be gone from my memory by now. So I guess it says something about the quality of it that it isn’t. There’s something about it that makes it linger in my mind. It’s as if someone poured out the content of a little container of slowly drying ink. It’s still absorbed by the paper and the shape of the stain keeps changing.
Open for interpretations
The movie is like a Rorschach test, open for interpretations. So what is it all about? Well, as opposed to Joaquin Phoenix’ character, I wouldn’t insist on that every image in fact is about sex. Equally I don’t read it as a symbolic representation of the modern America, as some have suggested.
In fact I don’t read all that much into it apart from what we actually see. It’s the story about a shell shocked former soldier, a severely damaged soul I wouldn’t like to meet in a dark alley since he’s prone to suddenly become unreasonably aggressive. By accident he comes across an emerging little sect and is drawn into its world and towards its charismatic leader. There’s something about him that keeps him from becoming a completely devoted follower. Will he or won’t he break free? And if he does, will this necessarily make him a happier person?
In normal cases I don’t talk much about what direction a movie takes towards the end in order not to spoil it. The Master is pretty spoiler safe in this aspect. The ending is a blurry spot of ink that you can read anyway. I decided for a glass that was at least half full, if not more. I was fairly optimistic about his future, that he eventually would gain a reasonable control over his own life and become a master of his own. But you could probably find support for a different conclusion, that his mental disorder is incurable and that he’ll live on a life in confusion, with an unhealthy obsession of sex and occasional outbursts of unpredictable aggression
The Master is the kind of movie that begs you for revisits. I would happily come back again to it, to enjoy the cinematography, which is stunningly beautiful, even if you haven’t had the opportunity to see it in 70 mm format, to once again be captured by the score and – above all – the outstanding acting performances. There’s nothing wrong about Daniel Day-Lewis, but I honestly wish that the Oscar had been given to Joaquin Phoenix.
The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, US 2012) My rating: 4,5/5