Movie Review- “The Master”

“The Master”, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, was for a long time said to be about Scientology, then shortly before it came out people started saying “Well, not really.” It uses some concepts of Scientology for its fictional cult, “The Cause” but it’s really about gurus in general, the human-potential movements that became popular in th 60’s and 70’s- even though the movie is set in the 50’s- and particularly about a certain kind of alpha-omega friendship.

These issues aren’t very current and I don’t see how most people will get into the drama. But it struck pretty close to home for me. The Freddy Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, seriously damaged social outcast) and Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, charismatic human-potential guru) friendship made me think of George Sodini and R. Don Steele, although those two were never personally close.

Quell actually gets a lot of female attention and gets laid a lot, which wouldn’t seem to make him an omega. But he’s only just socially functional, has a violent temper, is addicted to alcohol mixed with industrial solvents, and can’t keep any kind of job, not even field work. He stumbles onto a yacht being used by Dodd, falls asleep, and becomes a sort of mascot, gofer and hanger-on.

The attraction of the relationship for Quell is obvious- Dodd does not reject him for his angry outbursts and is kind and friendly to him. What does Dodd get out of the relationship? In the case of a guru, he gets someone to experiment on. But there’s more to it. Alphas are looked up to and deferred to, but still have to function within a lot of social constraints. An alpha with an omega sidekick has an opportunity to behave badly with someone who will not question him at all. Dodd has a kind of primitive, anti-social side that he can indulge with with Freddy.

Dodd’s family members- the rest of his inner circle- find Freddy strange and repulsive and want Dodd to get rid of him. But Dodd needs the outlet, he’s in charge so he gets his way.

I’ve been Freddy a few times so I understand. I don’t think any of the actors have any idea what the movie is really about, and I don’t think Anderson does on a conscious level. Steve Sailer, who is usually a very perceptive guy, was pretty bemused by the movie. I suspect the people who are going mostly like art movies.

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