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The Master (A Movie Review)

The Master

The Master

The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson is such an obviously talented filmmaker and an impressive visual artist that it is easy to lose track of the fact that he seems to be losing his way as a storyteller.  The Master is visually stunning, features some spectacular Oscar-worthy acting and takes on some fascinating issues, but it feels strangely empty and detached.  We never quite know what Anderson thinks of these people, what the film thinks of some of the horrific events on screen, even what it believes about the broader concept that it presents on religious cults.  It’s a completely dispassionate, po-faced recitation of facts, but makes no connection to the important ideas it espouses.

Truth is, the last time the Anderson made a completely satisfying film, at least from a narrative perspective, was a long fifteen years ago with Boogie Nights.  That movie was able to juggle very deep, subversive ideas with narrative coherence.  Granted, since then, Anderson has only made four films, but with each film the plot seems to be spinning further and further out of control of its creator.  The breaking point was probably in the follow-up film Magnolia, which was an extraordinary film until Anderson decided to submit his characters to a highly biblical ending which you either bought into as a brilliant piece of social observation or wrote off as a piece of heavy-handed symbolism.  Personally, I thought it was an interesting idea in theory that looked a rather silly in practice… a bold idea that ended up not working.

Still, the audacity and fearlessness of a man who would literally rain frogs on his characters gave audiences a peek into a mind of a storyteller that would never be predictable or staid.  Anderson has lived up to that – despite the fact that Punch-Drunk Love and the way-overrated There Will Be Blood were the type of movies that were much easier to respect than to actually enjoy, they each made bold and unique visual and narrative choices.

However, oddly, as Anderson’s movies moved into increasingly wild and experimental directions, the sheer ambitiousness of the filmmaking ended up stifling the simple plot structures.  Anderson’s movies have started to feel more and more like filmmaking as an academic dissertation.  They should come with footnotes.

This divide between the audience and the characters has become a chasm by The Master.

To read the rest of the review, click here.

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