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The Master Review: A Masterclass In Acting

The Master Review

The Master is a 2012 psychological drama starring Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson has directed and written the film. Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood has scored the film while Mihai Malaimare Jr. handled the cinematography. The story follows Freddie Quell (Phoenix), who is a World War II navy veteran. As he struggles to adjust to a post-war society, he meets Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman). He is a leader of a religious movement called “The Cause.” Dodd sees promise in Quell and eventually accepts him into the movement. Freddie soon takes a liking to The Cause. He starts traveling with Dodd’s family along the East Coast to spread his teachings. The film is a co-production between Annapurna Pictures and Ghoulardi Film Company.

The story has a couple of different inspirations. It is partly inspired by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. It also draws inspiration from early drafts of Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, novel V. by Thomas Pynchon, navy stories that Jason Robards had told to Anderson when he was terminally ill while filming Magnolia. The life story of John Steinbeck also served as an inspiration for the film. The Master was premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 1. It won the FIPRESCI Award for Best Film at the festival. The film hit theatres on September 14, 2012. It opened to massive critical acclaim. Critics praised the three lead performances. Also, the screenplay, direction, and realistic portrayal of post-World War II Americans were also praised.

The Master Actors

A still from The Master (2012). Credits: Annapurna Pictures.

Who is in the Cast?

Joaquin Phoenix stars as one of the leads, playing Freddie Quell, a World War II navy veteran. Late Phillip Seymour Hoffman delivers a magnificent performance as Lancaster Dodd. Amy Adams stars alongside the other two, playing Peggy Dodd. Laura Dern plays the character of Helen Sullivan. Ambyr Childers plays the character of Elizabeth Dodd. Rami Malek plays the role of Clark Massey. Jesse Plemons is also in the cast, playing the role of Val Dodd. Kevin J. O’Connor stars as Bill William. Christopher Evan Welch is in the cast as John More. Madison Beaty stars as Doris Solstad. Lena Endre plays Mrs. Solstad, Amy Ferguson plays Martha the Salesgirl. Patty McCormack plays Mildred Drummond. There’s also Jillian Bell as Susan Gregory and Joshua Close as Wayne Gregory.

The Master — Plot Details

Freddie Quell is a World War II navy veteran. He carries trauma from the war and is struggling to adjust to a post-war society. His trauma from the war often spills out in the form of violent and erratic behavior. He now works in a department store as a photographer. When he gets into a fight with a customer, he is fired from the job. Back at the farm in California, while he is working, his elderly colleague collapses after drinking Freddie’s homemade moonshine. As he faces accusations for the incident, Freddie flees away. One night, he finds himself in San Francisco. He then stows away on a yacht that belongs to a follower of Lancaster Dodd, leader of “The Cause.” It is a nascent philosophical movement. Eventually, Freddie is discovered. Dodd meets him and describes him as “aberrated.”

He then says that he has met him in the past but can’t quite recall where. Dodd invites Freddie to stay and attend his daughter Elizabeth’s marriage. He can stay as long as he will make more moonshine, something Dodd has developed a taste for. Dodd starts taking exercise sessions with Freddie. He calls it “Processing,” wherein he asks Freddie a series of disturbing psychological questions. As Dodd keeps pressing on with the processing, Freddie slowly begins revealing his past. He talks about his father’s death, his mother’s incarceration in a mental institution, and his incestuous sexual encounters with his aunt. There’s also a flashback to his past relationship with a young woman named Doris. The young woman was from his hometown, and Freddie had promised her he would return to her one day. Freddie begins traveling with the Dodd family as they spread the teachings of “The Cause.”

The Master Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix plays a World War II navy veteran in The Master (2012).

Freddie’s Erratic Behavior

At a party in New York, a man questions Dodd’s methods, calling the movement a cult. Dodd loses his cool and insults the man, calling him names. He calls him “pig f**k” and asks him to leave. Freddie follows the man to his home and attacks him on the same night. This perturbs Dodd. Meanwhile, the other members of the movement start worrying about Freddie’s behavior. Freddie criticizes Val, Dodd’s son, for not following his father’s teachings. Val tells Freddie that Dodd is just making things up and winging it as he goes along. Dodd faces detainment for practicing medicine without proper qualifications. Freddie assaults the police officers, and as a consequence, is also put in jail. While behind bars, Freddie breaks out in an angry outburst. He questions everything that Dodd has taught him and accuses him of being a fake.

Dodd calls Freddie worthless and lazy, saying that nobody likes him except for him. Upon their release, they reconcile, but the rest of the members have become more suspicious of Freddie. They fear him because of his angry and erratic behavior. They believe that he’s deranged or an undercover agent, or simply beyond their help. However, Dodd insists that his behavior can be corrected with more rigorous and repetitive conditioning. Freddie finds this difficult to internalize. Freddie goes along with Dodd to Phoenix, Arizona, to celebrate Dodd’s latest book release. There, Freddie assaults Dodd’s publicist when he criticizes his book’s quality and its teachings. Helen Sullivan questions some details of the book, which causes Dodd to lose his temper.

The Master 2012 cast

Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie. The Master (2012).

Separation of Freddie and Dodd

Dodd then takes Freddie to a salt flat with his motorcycle. He tells Freddie to pick a point in the distance and drive towards it as fast as he can. Freddie does the same, driving off and disappearing into the distance. Freddie returns home to Lynn, Massachusetts, to meet Doris and fulfill his promise. However, he learns that she is now married and has a family. Freddie tells Doris’s mother that he’s glad she is happy. Later, while he sleeps in a movie theatre, he receives a phone call from Dodd. He now lives in England and begs Freddie to visit. Freddie arrives in England and finds that “The Cause” is now larger than ever. Dodd doesn’t expect Freddie to stay with him, buy requests something. He says that if he can live without any master, he must “let the rest of us know.”

He requests him that because he will be the first person in history to do so. Dodd then recounts that he and Freddie knew each other in a past life. They used to send balloons across a blockade that the Prussian forces had created. Dodd then gives Freddie an ultimatum. Either he stays and devotes himself to “The Cause” for the rest of his life, or leave and never return. Freddie suggests that they may meet in the next life. Dodd says if they do, it will be as sworn enemies. Dodd sings “Slow Boat to China” as Freddie begins to cry. Freddie then leaves and picks up a woman at a local pub. As he has sex with the woman, he repeats questions from his first Processing session. He curls up next to a crude sculpture of a woman he and his comrades has sculpted during the war.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman in The Master

Phillip Seymour Hoffman delivers an oscar-worthy performance as Lancaster Dodd.

The Master is an Immaculately Directed and Visually Appealing Cinematic Treat

The Master is a master class in acting. It has some of the best acting performances put on screen during the 2010s. Late Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Synecdoche New York) and Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) deliver a magnificent performance. It is breathtaking to watch them act and, more than that, interact. The kind of cadence and quirks they both bring to their performances set them apart from the rest. A whole movie is almost a tool for them to flex their acting skills. Phoenix was truly robbed of the Oscar that year. While Seymore is enigmatic in his lose portrayal of Hubbard, Freddie’s performance is poignant.

The cinematography is sublime; it has a certain tinge of visual flair that makes it all very plausible yet so cinematic. It is equally complemented by a magnificent score by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood. He has collaborated with Paul Thomas Anderson several times, and each collaboration has produced great results. The narrative can feel a bit confusing as to what it wants to say; it all feels puzzling and unclear and on purpose. But the uncertainty kind of complements the whole mood of the film. It’s a visual delight, the production is immaculate, and the performances are some of the best. Our rating for The Master is 4.5 out of 5.

You can check out the trailer here;

Also Read: Nobody Review: A John Wick Style Action Blast

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Rishabh couldn't ask for a better job than writing about the eclectic bunch of pop culture content that he consumes with a worrying fervor everyday. You can reach out to him at

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