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    A Critique of Religion in P.T. Anderson’s 2012 Film, The Master

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    Before delving into the religious aspects of P.T. Anderson’s The Master (2012), there’s just one question that I asked myself before starting this film for the first viewing: will I get this film? I mean, I’ve seen only a handful of very off-center and unconventional films

    (Eraserhead, The Cell, Oldboy, to name a few) in my time as a consumer of film, so I figured maybe I’d possibly be seasoned enough for this. I was absolutely wrong. I don’t have THE answer, but I have AN answer, and that answer serves as the base of my reaction.

    I feel as though The Master describes the art of missing the point when something good happens in a person’s life. Joaquin Phoenix’s character Freddie takes the form of a misguided and pessimistic vagabond looking for someone or something to hold on to, as his misfortune causes the implosion of any semblance of structure in his life. He finds this thing, on a jumped ship steered by the Master himself, Lancaster Dodd (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.) It is aboard this ship that Freddie learns of The Cause, a powerful group stewarded by hypnosis and spiritual therapy.

    Lancaster praises Freddie heavily for being so “brave” during the rite of passage, which makes Freddie feel noticeably better. The way in which Freddie shows this admiration for his new state of mind is paradoxically absent-minded, and no doubt a reflection on the fact that he hasn’t changed at all. His modus operandi of introducing The Cause to people involves violence and harmful language, a form of indoctrination that does more harm than good. While Freddie’s character is doing too much, Lancaster is clearly not doing enough. An author of a vast array of books containing information about the enlightenment, the distinctions of beasts and men, and other such liturgical texts, Lancaster gains a greater public following through the work done by The Cause’s followers.

    Though he holds the piety of these masses in his hands, he does not ask them to do anything productive for the community, the antithesis to other faith groups. His belief stems from the happiness and tranquility of the individual, which sounds nice on paper. However, when any of these views come under scrutiny because an individual did not experience the miracle of “time travel therapy,” Lancaster belittles them for being “simple” or “pig f*cks.” Even though his philosophy and belief gravitates towards the joy of laughter and living a wholesome life, his morose view of cynics keeps him from advancing in his own happiness.

    The point is missed when Freddie is viewed as a zealot and Lancaster is viewed as a preacher. I’ll discuss Dianetics and Scientology more in-class, as I could go on about the hivemind now that I have a basic idea of law practices and avoiding lawsuits. The discordant way that these two characters enforce an idea of peace is such an accurate caricature of Scientology. The use of intimidation, myriad healing techniques, confusing rites of passage, and a disdain for disbelievers are all present in Scientology, along with all other religions (in varying concentrations, of course.)

    If this is a critique of religion, embodied in the thuggish believer and the brick-wall priest, then P.T. Anderson created a world where neither party acts in a mature way, where negativity is dominant and prevalent, and everything is topsy-turvy. The non-sequitur matter of cult status quo is captured beautifully in The Master’s world. Can’t wait to discuss further.

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    A Critique of Religion in P.T. Anderson’s 2012 Film, The Master. (2022, Dec 13). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/a-critique-of-religion-in-p-t-andersons-2012-film-the-master/

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