After viewing the teaser to Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, The Master, a few days ago, I nearly wet myself in excitement. Five years ago, PTA released There Will Be Blood, an American masterpiece that examines one man’s growing hunger for absolute power amidst the turn of the century and the oil boom. There Will Be Blood is marvelously shot and brimming with the kind of meticulous detail that made Stanley Kubrick a legend. Most importantly, There Will Be Blood asserted PTA’s vision as a director and fortified his place in contemporary filmmaking. Considering how phenomenal There Will Be Blood was, I truly didn’t know how PTA could capture the same success in his next feature. Five years and one teaser later, I emphatically declare that The Master will be a profound film in PTA’s canon.
Released as a promotional tool at Cannes, the teaser, which plays more like a character vignette than a traditional introduction to a film, gives us a startling first look. Visually speaking, The Master not only appears to demonstrate PTA’s handle on his craft, but that he is once again channeling Kubrick’s knack for mood. Framing the trailer is the presumed score by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood is a masterful piece of music that emulated the sharp strings of a horror film and filled each scene with a buzzing undercurrent that adequately represented one man’s inner turmoil. It was a deafening film debut from one of music’s most inventive performers. It’s safe to say that Greenwood’s strengths as a musician shine brightly in The Master’s trailer. Utilizing similar percussive beats found within There Will Be Blood and adding layers of leery strings, Greenwood establishes an invasive tone that all but announces The Master as a desolate and dark picture.
The plot synopsis solidifies the dark affair even further. Taking place in the waning moments of the second world war, The Master tells the tale of Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), an emotionally lost, drunken solider trying to find his place in the world. Upon his return home, Freddie stumbles across a religious following known as “The Cause”. Led by a charismatic man played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Freddie becomes seduced by an ideal that is more than he bargained for. After reading bits from an earlier draft of the film’s script, and reading articles from various film outlets, it’s clear that there are parallels between “The Cause” and the entity known as Scientology. PTA and the Weinstein Company have gone out of their way to say the film’s religious group won’t bear any semblance to Scientology, but most indicators point to it being an inspiration in some capacity. Nonetheless, expect debasing of religion in one way or another.
Anything beyond a basic plot synopsis remains unknown, but based on the ending of There Will Be Blood and the uneasy tone of this trailer, The Master will likely end in a sinister way. But if there is one thing that’s guaranteed, Joaquin Phoenix looks dialed in. With a few facial tics, he easily accesses a troubled soul. He has a worn face, and his eyes are vacant, as the desperation for fulfillment comes alive in the drips of “torpedo juice” he pursues. Clearly, PTA has crafted a character that will boil over and captivate film enthusiasts. Even though we have yet to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s megalomaniac commander, this teaser alone provides us with a roadmap for the destination PTA will take us in October. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here, but it looks like The Master will be one of the defining films of 2012. Oh, and I should probably change my pants now.