The thing about "The Master" is, you know Paul Thomas Anderson by now. He's the virtuoso responsible for the culture shock of "Boogie Nights", the omnipresent seer in the sky over the biblical, non-linear chaos of "Magnolia", the dude behind the relaxed and lovelorn "Punch-Drunk Love". Last we found him rooting around in the dark with a milkshake-drinking prospector named Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood". So no freaking way, no matter how awesome "The Master", his latest endeavor, turned out, it could live up to the insane hype of Anderson's existing high honors. Well, I'm here and happy to give it high praise. He pulled it off and then some. "The Master", written, directed and co-produced by the 42-year-old maestro, is a new masterpiece - blistering, frustrating, and violently funny, the daring and soul-stirring work of a beautiful mind that's constantly mesmerized by never turning off or willing to turn down. He forces you to step up. "The Master" is a fever dream of color, images, and light that hit you in the gut like either a swan dive or a second coming. Think for yourself.
And think for yourself you have to do, a lot, because "The Master" is nothing if not what you make of it. So screw those who blocked Anderson from helming it because it too closely towed the line of Scientology's humble beginnings. He's said himself, that's only the backdrop. Did they even read the thing? As the movie rolls on, the curtain of controversy falls away, in the relationship between damaged Navy vet Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, back from the weirdo doldrums of 2009's faux-doc "I'm Still Here" with a titanic performance of nervous hellfire), home from World War II; and spiritual leader Lancaster Dodd (a stellar Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in his fourth collaboration with Anderson), who talks the game of a prophet while running a house with his wife Peggy (Amy Adams, great) for faithful followers of The Cause, Dodd's guide to obsession by way of reincarnation, rebirth, and hypnosis, the idea that there are others out there, just like us, and we need to find them because we know them from somewhere within.
Unless Dodd's just in too deep to admit to even himself his pile of BS is big enough to fail. He's gone so far as to hide the book's sequel in the Arizona desert before being coaxed into digging it up. And you see it in Hoffman's face that Dodd's Cause is one less a rebel, more a pasty, frightened man whose search for one to call Lord falls empty on him. "If you find a way to live without a master, without any master, let us know. You'd be the first person in the history of the world," sooth Dodd to Freddie when he has such doubts. Because in every PTA work, there's the human ring of friendship in odd places, the special kind of hurt that comes with realizing even fake families can be broken apart. And "The Master" is a special kind of hurt.
Before we meet the seafaring Freddie screwing a woman made of sand his pals made him for a last blitzkrieg hurrah, Anderson gives us the image of the ripples of water as Dodd's yacht, the one Freddie's soon to stumble upon, drunk, lost and open, sails away. We start and stop on that shot, which is fitting, since the lush vibrancy of "The Master's" skeleton - cinematography by Francis Ford Coppola DOP Mihai Malaimare Jr., dynamic score by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood - reigns over you. Try washing it off. "The Master" is a hypnotic puzzle about the celebration of life's privilege to do whatever wherever with whoever, and also the surreal feelings and fears of past and future lives haunting history like phantoms, waiting to decry the latest chapter and move on.
Humanity needs masters to follow for the same reasons we need movies like "The Master"-- they make us think inward and around us, ponder, and ultimately choose to move with them or beyond them. This is film at its most encompassing, transcendent, and alive. Anderson again proves he's the rarest brand of auteur. He doesn't only find his own heart in his work; he often makes us believe in others. By that regard he's the most defiant filmmaker since Stanley Kubrick. And "The Master" is one shit-ton of movie fireworks. As its worship steers to war, it contains multitudes. (100/100)