Paul Anderson brings a complicated post war drama to the screen with academy award winners Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell and Philip Seymour Hoffman as The Master, Lancaster Dodd. Amy Adams is The Master’s wife and plays an important role in restraining The Master. Anderson wrote and directed this film that will challenge viewers to take what they will away from the story. Andersen says he was writing a love story – a love story between Freddie Quell and The Master.
Joaquin Phoenix portrays Freddie Quell superbly, adopting body language, facial expressions and mannerisms that define his character – unpredictable – like a caged panther. Freddie Quell is a tortured soul; a naval veteran carrying deep psychological scars and heartache which he hides with constant and copious amounts of anything containing alcohol. The movie dives straight into his very personal world. We meet him on the beach slashing at coconuts, sculpting a naked woman out of sand with which he then simulates sex in the company of his marine buddies. He is animalistic, crude and yet there is a deep sadness expressed as he lies down beside his sand lover for a moment.
Having spent so much time in the company of men in rough circumstances, there is a palpable and overt crudity and need for sex that confronts us immediately in Freddie’s character. Freddie Quell is uncomfortable in his skin and experiences great difficulty reentering society following the war, plunging into a downward spiral. He poisons a man accidentally with one of his alcoholic concoctions and ends up running for his life.
Suddenly there is a respite. He finds himself safe at sea once again on a luxury yacht and in the protection of this very charismatic man called The Master. Philip Seymour Hoffman is splendid in the role. Freddie and The Master immediately strike up a great affection for each other. The Master invites Freddie to join his personal entourage. The Master is the antithesis of Freddie; eloquent and entertaining, very much in control of his circumstances. He has very radical, controversial, cult-like ideas about life. He believes that through regression – reverse hypnosis, one can see deeply into people’s subconscious and undo problems from past lives that may go back ‘trillions’ of years. This method intrigues his followers and Freddie. In sharp contrast to The Master, Freddie is driven by his appetites and demons. The Master envies Freddie’s freedom.
He invites Freddie to undergo an experimental regression, which he will document for his great work. He feels he can truly help Freddie escape his demons and Freddie clings to the hope that he can. Freddie becomes his devoted disciple and aggressively takes people down who disagree with The Master and his ideas.