I've sat down to write stuff about The Master three times now. I've failed each and every time. It just wasn't good enough. It felt like I was failing the movie, and in so doing I am failing myself. The Master is a movie that begs to be written about. It is a movie that wants us to look at it, to search about its dark corridors and hidden mysteries. It invites us in and gives us a taste of a sadness that is profound as time itself. It is a movie that is trillions of years in the making and was first attempted in cave paintings and then in the creation of philosphy so that we may have the words and concepts nessisary to write about it. Or maybe not but it is a nice thought none the less.
I want to write big sweeping things about The Master but alas at this junction I can not. Mostly because I've only seen it once and partially because it is something that needs to sit and simmer. I think it is the best work PT Anderson has ever done. Though I'll admit it right now I enjoy watching Magnolia more. Call it a personal weakness. At any rate The Master is a big heavy movie that it hard to get a grip on. So instead of trying yet again and failing I thought I'd point out some handholds.
There are some questions worth raising such as who is "The Master"?. Towards the start of the movie it is Hoffman. I didn't think that was true at first but I see it now. When Hoffman's character is first introduced on the boat he is undisputably The Master. People stop and listen to him, whereever he goes atensions are fixated specifically on him, and then there is the matter of him taking in the strange stowaway(Phoenix) without so much of a murmur of protest from anyone else. Then as the movie progresses we see that control start to erode. Slowly but surely Hoffman goes from a man of speeches, wild deeds, dancing, wrestling, laughture, and he becomes more and more withdrawn. It is subtle. I missed it at first, and at second, and only now and I seeing the shift from Hoffman being the center of attentions to someone at the periphery. Phoenix's strange exit is the final straw, and when he reenters Hoffman is so far out of reach that they are forced apart from one another by the sheer inexorable will of the others. Why did Hoffman allow this? Is it because he is unable to stand up to his family or more specifically his wife? Is it because, as his wife says at the start of the movie, "On land there are to many things pulling his atension every which way?". Is it because the people who are close to him wish to take his message and use it for themselves. That last point I think is probably closest to the truth.
Then there is the ending sequence. PT Anderson is a man who loves endings be it the catacysm of There Will Be Blood, the reunification of the strange family like unit in Boogie Nights, or the monologue in Magnolia, Anderson is the absolute master of the ending squence. The Master is no exception. then ending sequence is so pregnant with meaning that I could type for pages and pages doing analysis and I still wouldn't get it all. It ties the movie together and it contains so much information that it is difficult to talk about it in any normal way. I know because I've tried but things just end up so connected together that it is hard to get a hold on it. Every time I try I find I need to talk about three other scenes in order for it all to make sense.
The very last thing I'd like to address is the way Hoffman would talk about how all conflicts go on through multiple lives and transcend time themselves. It sounds insane when he says it. It is a little insane and yet when I look back on Tree of Life and The Fountain, or I look with anticipation towards the trailers for Cloud Atlas I wonder just how insane is it? There seems to be a current running through our media that likes to connect together all of human experience through all time and maybe, within the context of the movie of course, it is worth taking some of his ideas seriously and we can see where it leads us.
It would make for an interesting project that I hope to tackle once I've seen and digested Cloud Atlas. Till then I dunno there are other things to see now aren't there?