A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Master -- a piercing drama from the director of There Will Be Blood about a charismatic leader and his wayward follower that has drawn comparisons to the story of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard -- may be disquieting for younger teens. Many agonizing scenes depict an alcoholic making his own brand of near-poisonous hooch and drinking it, as well as simmering with rage and beating people up, masturbating (genitals aren't shown), having sex (breasts are visible), and more. There's also full-frontal female nudity at a party, period-accurate smoking, and strong language, including "s--t" and "f--k."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Lancaster Dodd, M.D. and Ph.D. (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is a thinker, author, and philosopher. He believes he has the answer for self-fulfillment, and his first book, The Cause, has caused a sensation in some circles. Now he has followers who want to listen to him speak about how to gain control of their lives. But one night, a World War II veteran named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) stows away on Dodd's boat, blitzed out drunk from the potent hooch he concocts (paint thinner is an ingredient) and on the lam from migrant workers convinced that he poisoned one of them. Freddie is a mess: He sees genitalia in everything, including cards flashed during a Rorschach administered by the military. He's prone to moments of deep melancholy and blistering rage. Dodd's wife (Amy Adams) isn't sure that Freddie can stick to the Cause, which is particularly troubling, considering that her husband is under scrutiny by vocal skeptics and an increasingly disenchanted flock.
Is it any good?
The Master is masterful, indeed. What's it like to be a lost soul who finds someone who says you can be saved, only to discover that he may not hold the answer, after all (and maybe never did) -- and that even if he did, you don't have the blind faith, for better or worse, to believe that he can? It's these wrenching depths that the film plumbs, and we're left bereft, befuddled, and, like Quell, enraged. What to do? Who to become? It's precisely because viewers will leave the film with weighty, even troubling, questions like these that The Master is a must-see.
The details of Dodd's cult fascinate (especially given its rumored resemblance to Scientology), and director Paul Thomas Anderson feeds us substantial scenes showing the Cause's central practice: lengthy sessions called "processing" in which the same questions are asked over and over until they no longer elicit emotional reactions, and memories are deliberated until they no longer have power. We see the lure of the Cause -- the expiation of emotions that comes with profuse confessions, the community of belonging, the yearning to be, finally, unencumbered. The movie's two leads -- Hoffman, especially, and Phoenix, whose face is etched with Quell's pain -- are perfectly modulated, as is the strong supporting cast, and the direction stays controlled even as the film explodes. Though we never quite understand why Dodd is so compelled by Quell, why he feels the need to "save" him -- which may be the movie's biggest flaw -- we're transfixed and disturbed. Even the stillness is absorbing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's messages. Is it saying anything about faith and belief? If so, what? Who do you think it's meant to appeal to?
Is the Cause a cult? If yes, why do you think so? What separates a cult from a more mainstream religion?
Why do you think Freddie could find Lancaster Dodd's brand of religion appealing? What is it about?
- In theaters: September 14, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: February 26, 2013
- Cast: Amy Adams, Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman
- Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
- Studio: Weinstein Co.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 136 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: sexual content, graphic nudity and language
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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