The Master – Film Review

There’s no mistaking a P.T. Anderson film when you see one. Vivid, sonic, provocative, weird and frequently unsatisfying. The Master is his latest foray into the deep regions of culture and individual human behavior. The picture opens on an active beach with Freddie Quell (Jauquin Phoenix) lying on freshly raked sand opening coconuts with a machete and obviously deep in thought. It’s the end of WWII and Freddie, a seaman, takes one more pass by the Navy doctors who are trying to figure out if they should let Freddie back into the wilds of society. A Rorschach test administered early on in the film gives us more information then we care to know about how his mind works. They let him go, but in my opinion he’s so not ready. Perhaps he was never ready for anything.

Mr. Anderson brings great dramatic courage to his script and direction of The Master. Our introduction to Freddie Quell in the first two reels is required. An eccentric young man who makes it through the war and begins his civilian career as a portrait maker in a department store. There he coverts with the help and picks fights with the patrons. His darkroom is as much about mixing home made hooch as it is developing film. Eventually he moves on to work in the vast fields of California. Beheading orbs of cabbage and getting drunk on paint thinner mixed with who knows what. Mr. Phoenix carries himself in a physically awkward manner, which perfectly matches his delivery of the lines he’s given by Mr. Anderson. Left arm bent and perched on his hip and high wasted pants. He’s in search of something but seems so completely lost you get the feeling he’ll never find it.

By an act of fate he boards a ship exiting the harbor and heading out to sea. The vessel was leased by one Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as the venue for his daughter’s wedding and a trip through the Suez Canal to the east cost of the United States. Dodd catches the stowaway Quell and invites him into his cult-like lair. The scenes between Phoenix and Hoffman are nearly worth the ticket price. The appear to be completely opposed, but surprisingly alike. Dodd comments on how familiar Freddie looks. Dodd is the founder of The Cause, a philosophy positing that humans today are asleep. The only way to wake them is to use processing methods and applications to reveal derailed past lives and get back on a new path stabilizing the current existence leading one to happiness.

Above all I am a man, A hopelessly inquisitive man. —Lancaster Dodd

Throughout the picture we hear Johnny Greenwood’s (Radiohead fame) score punctuating the atmosphere and driving the mood even further into the corners of reality, as if we needed more help in that department. The music often overlaps with the dialogue adding another element one has to decode.

So… The Cause. Dodd has captivated a group of people across the United States with his methods and promises of happiness. But is The Cause a religion or a parlor trick? As he traverses the country he is at once welcomed by believers and challenged by skeptics, even arrested by the Philadelphia police. Dodd has written a book detailing his Cause and is looking to publish a second volume, hoping to catapult him into the legion of great thinkers.

The Master arrives at an interesting time. Certainly America has had our share of cults and splinter-religion groups. Some have connected The Master to Scientology, founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1952. I have no idea if Mr. Anderson was thinking about this when he wrote the script or not. Nor do I think it matters. This picture stands squarely at the corner of interesting and fascinating, but in the end it doesn’t really give us much to relate to.

The strength of the film lies in its art. Bold writing is the hero here with virtuoso performances by Phoenix and Hoffman. Phoenix combines his personal delivery with physical quirks to create an off balance and somewhat frightening character. Hoffman broods and poses and is the perfect blend of professor and orator. HIs voice calms, but his singing needs some work. Amy Adams turns in good work as Dodd’s wife who we learn is a very strong woman behind The Cause.

The official web site is a very different execution for a feature film. Once you get past the commercials for Dustin Stanton’s posters and such, there are simply six videos to watch. It seems fitting.

Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company

Three Years of Blogging. Really.

Breaking news! Today marks the third anniversary of my first blog post, and you probably don’t care. But that’s the beauty of a blog. People post even if no one cares. The past 1,095 days as a blogger will be remembered by me as both an enriching and challenging experience. One has to face the blank page (screen; I still miss typewriters) and the clock, and try to produce something that is not only readable, but informative and occasionally entertaining. For me, someone who likes to roam free, it has been helpful in forging a more formalized approach to my hobby of watching society and technology become one.

I like to watch things merge and converge, but most of all I like to watch things collide. You can call it a guy thing if you want. When I was a boy I would build model cars and then stage elaborate collisions. I would use flame to melt fenders and doors to make it look more realistic. I wish there had been digital cameras then. No one was harmed in the making of those scenes.

When something tries to occupy the same time and space as something else, it usually results in a release of energy. The result is always interesting and occasionally dangerous. And if you watch closely enough, perhaps even play it back in slow motion, it can reveal the mysteries of the past and open a window to the future.

So what have I learned these last three years? It’s hard to blog. Blogging is writing on deadline. More akin to journalism than manuscript writing. But it’s not who, what, when, where and why. It needs to be perspective, perhaps even controversial, but not insulting (so sensitive these humans). It’s humbling because there are so damn many great bloggers out there. But above all, it’s social.

Comments on my blog keep me going. Occasionally I’ll run into someone at an event or conference and they say, “Hey, I read your blog post about…” That’s like lighting up your synapses with extra epinephrine. No re-uptake inhibitors allowed. I’ve also co-blogged or cross-blogged with some friends, and although it’s more work, it is the best of all blogging experiences. Blogging, despite the fact it is done almost exclusively on your own, in a quiet, empty room, is actually one of the most social things you can do.

There is a very simple and true force of nature at work when you blog that gives credibility to the principle of the Oneness of LIfe and it’s Environment.

If you give freely on your blog, you will receive 10x in return.

Not everyone gets this yet. Especially people steeped in their business as it’s been in the past. For example, yesterday I was in a brainstorming meeting (yes another one) with some very smart people. On a flip chart someone wrote the following words, “What do you want to get out of Social Media?” That’s the wrong question. The right question is:

What are you prepared to share with your community through Social Media?

Give, share, be open, reveal yourself. If you do that, YOU will be happier about this blogging stuff. Forget everything else. Blow it up. Remember, technology is boring, information is useful and people are interesting. But relationships are fascinating. Oh, one more thing. When you blog, collide.

Image by: OnyxBlackman

The Power of a Human

Hans Gedda / Sygma / Corbis

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison on trumped-up charges. After his release in 1990 he continued on his tireless task against Apartheid and helped create a multi-national democracy in South Africa. He was elected president in 1994.

I have read a number of interviews with Mr. Mandela but there is one that stands out in my mind. Unfortunately I didn’t save it and looking through thousands of search results has proved daunting. Oddly enough it wasn’t the interview content that impressed me so much. It was the interviewer’s description of the situation. Mr. Mandela was president and there was nothing but chaos swirling around outside. Violence, unspeakable acts being carried out by humans; a grim atmosphere. Mr. Mandela was observed in the midst of all this data being reported by his advisors who were swarming about. He calmly left what seemed like pure mayhem and entered a small room where the interview was to take place. According the the reporter, Mr. Mandela seemed to throw a switch in his mind, completely shutting out everything he had just been thinking of and provided complete focus to the interview. Amazing.