Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012
#4, 2012 Skandies
Lots of stories revolve around people who have come together in surrogate families, some highly idealized, others more dysfunctional. This is particularly true in television, but movies do it too; Anderson's 1997 movie Boogie Nights was about a thrown-away kid who finds acceptance among a band of misfits who make porn movies together, and how that surrogate family eventually falls apart. The little community at the center of The Master is a very thinly veiled version of Scientology circa 1950, which could make for a fascinating story. The problem is that the guy who gets adopted by the Janet Jopler version of L. Ron Hubbard and crew is an even worse character than Dirk Diggler. Freddie Quell is so much a creature of pure id as to be subhuman. His approach to life is, if it looks female, attempt to fuck it; if it looks like a liquid, attempt to drink it; otherwise, attempt to smash it. The Master consequently ends up as the equivalent of a biopic of some notorious figure as seen from the perspective of a feral dog he attempts to take in. There are some crackling sequences, but I can neither call The Master a good movie nor imagine how a good movie could have been made with a character this stunted and dull at its heart.