The Master



Intense, evocative drama examines faith, compulsion.
  • Review Date: September 14, 2012
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 136 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The relationship between a master and his acolyte is complicated, bringing up more questions than answers.

Positive role models

Lancaster Dodd appears to truly believe that he's doing good. Freddie Quell almost can't help himself. He's damaged by the war, among many other things, and often acts out of loneliness and anger.


A man gets into fistfights, seemingly over small things. He pounds on his enemies even when exhorted to stop. Screams, taunts, and insults fly. A man has a fit in a jail cell, ripping his shirt off, kicking the commode into bits, etc.


Men fashion a female form, complete with breasts, out of sand; one of them pretends to have sex with her. Later, the same man pleasures himself on a public beach. A woman makes her husband climax, but the scene isn't particularly sexual; in fact, it seems tinged with anger. A couple is shown in the middle of having sex; the woman's bare breasts are exposed. Women are shown full-frontal naked at a party.


Fairly frequent use of words including "f--k," "s--t," "goddamn," "c--t," "ass," "loser," "p---y," "c--k," "damn," and "douche."


Kools cigarettes figure prominently.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Period-accurate smoking, and lots of heavy drinking; one character even makes his own very potent brew, which includes chemicals like paint thinner.

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."

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?


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 MASTER 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. The Master is masterful, indeed.

Families can talk 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:September 14, 2012
DVD release date:February 26, 2013
Cast:Amy Adams, Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Director:Paul Thomas Anderson
Studio:Weinstein Co.
Topics:Misfits and underdogs
Run time:136 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:sexual content, graphic nudity and language

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 17 years old Written bylooneyman September 28, 2012

good, but not for everyone

This is a great movie, but you should definitely research thee films content before you or your kids go see it. be wary of the sexual content in particular. this movie is not for everyone and is both emotionally and intellectually challenging, it is not the "feel good movie of the year," and even if you are okay with the content you should still think twice before seeing it. that said, if your up for the task you will not be disappointed by this beautiful film.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 16 years old Written byAdam C. September 24, 2012

Almost reaches its full potential

While it doesn't compare to the masterpieces Paul Thomas Anderson has made in the past, the direction and cinematography remains beautiful and Phoenix and Hoffman display the performances of their careers. Also Greenwood's score is fantastic and almost as amazing as his for There Will Be Blood was. Altogether a fantastic movie brought down by a lackluster and muddled plot.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 15 years old Written byMoviedudde18 September 22, 2012


Great great great Movie


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