Tuesday, 20 November 2012


A film so obscure, even its obscurities are obscure. It's not easy to define quite how The Master is so cryptic a film to comprehend - its content is largely straightforward, and immediately clear, yet in context it develops a hazy veneer, all unfinished and rough around the edges. It's as if Paul Thomas Anderson set out to conduct an examination of the human mind, and dug so deep into two particularly extreme minds that he realised the unfathomable depth of his subject, and settled for what he could decipher. That alone is enough, though. If the pit truly is bottomless, we're at least lucky to be told that it is so. Anderson's work is characterised by his leads, two men whose respective countenances dictate the tone and the movement of the entire film. Early scenes are marked by a restlessness, as Freddie flounders manically through his existence, establishing a direct yet distanced style that keeps us constantly aware that we are observing, never participating. This is an almost-unrelentingly cerebral experience, and not especially stimulating - rather, it is a gently penetrating experience, as the film winds its way around its characters' minds, and one's own. Anderson plays tease, with allusions towards psychological discussions of sexuality (and homosexuality), spirituality, the nature of man and of animals, both in separation or as one, but only ever passingly, enough to fire up a synapse or two, never fully capitulating to such potential discussions. It's another exhibition of the vastness of the subject, but Anderson is a completionist (I am aware that this is a made-up word, but aren't all words?), and won't be content with exorcising such details for the sole purpose of de-cluttering. Indeed, this is one of the most complete films I've seen in a long time, not least in how its substance so exactly replicates the psychoses of its human figures (as thorough in their creation as you're ever likely to witness on screen). And what's certainly not obscure is Anderson's achievement here - The Master is a wholly new creation, whether in concept or in execution (perhaps in both). To watch it is to watch the medium of cinema evolve before one's eyes.