Tuesday, September 25, 2012

THE MASTER - a mesmerizing caution

What a film. You may be inclined to deride this movie as an attempt to belittle a pseudo religious or pseudo psychological group of ideas, known to many as Scientology. Scientology needs no help to expose it's dubious claims to the slow and steady healing of the mind. Given all the religious problems, the world is now facing, a reality check is in order. You are in for a treat of cinematic subtlety which is beautifully photographed, fantastically acted and altogether bizarre.

Scientology was introduced to the world in the 1950's by the charismatic madman, L. Ron Hubbard—played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie with sublime symmetry. Scientology ideology is really rather simple. You are immortal—your 'spirit' has been around for perhaps trillions of years only now to find itself within your being. Since this is the case you therefore must have many past traumatic experiences that need to be brought to the surface and dealt with so that you may overcome them. Dianetics and auditing are used to help you become your best self—you listen to recordings, talk to 'masters' about your inner most troubles, and are subjected to numerous odd tests to help relieve yourself from past traumas, etc. Scientology is considered a tax free religion in many countries with a few notable exceptions like the UK and Canada. 

The methods used, brought to mind an interesting aspect of psychology. Is it good to be pushed? Thrusting someone to a degree of utter madness to release inner demons is interesting to me. Sometimes the greatness of person has to be tenaciously jeered out of them. The question is, who and when is it ok to do this. Going from window to wall, window to wall may seem harmless enough but in the end will you realize some great truth or will you come to some false epiphany? Hmmmm

I think dianetics, to some degree, is useful. Who wouldn't feel better after talking to someone about their deep issues, especially if they have been left dormant for sometime (I mean within one lifetime of course). It's what we call catharsis! It's much like the placebo effect. It works on a psychological level which further influences the material, the stuff of which you are made. Scientology, therefore, is like homeopathy. It may have considerable demonstrable positive effects with certain patients and that is why you find myriad acolytes, yet truly scientifically ridiculous. I mean to say that these ideas may work to a point but if you were diagnosed with a malignant tumor, are you going to trust a 30cc homeopathic dose of an inanely diluted substance or a prayer/interview session with a 'master' or will you go see a professional doctor with proven methods and medicine, always developing towards greater efficacy? I'm glad the director threw in the empiricist scene to counter the good sounding and even probably well meaning philosophy spewed forth.

Paul Thomas Anderson, known better as P.T. Anderson, is the closest living director I know of—that is nearly the caliber of the inimitable Stanley Kubrick.  Like Kubrick, almost every shot is imbued with msytery and enigmatic intrigue not to mention the incandescent, copacetic cinematography with each actor nuanced in such a way that every minute you are scratching your head trying to figure what the hell is going on. This is pure intelligent filmmaking. My favorite. I don't question every movement or shot, I let it unravel before me so that by the end I am left constructing the pieces and coming to grand conclusions. In spite of this, I don't believe the master to be Anderson's best work and came away a little unsatisfied from a holistic point of view but nevertheless The Master juxtaposes one astonishing scene after the next.

Consider Joaquin Phoenix. With his shirt tucked in too high and his idiosyncratic hand on the hips routine to his facial quirks—we are given a character we cannot look away from and I'll be damned if he doesn't win the best actor oscar. He has disturbing sexual impulses which come about in many uncomfortable scenes. He also possesses serious anger management issues. L. Ron to save the day. I believe that the intention of Hoffman's character is such that if he can save the Phoenix character from self destruction than he can fully trust in his own created methods of cognitive healing. This is why he suffers the company of this man whom is, no doubt, a truly mentally disturbed sociopath. Some of my favorite scenes, likely to become immortal, are the no eye blinking shot of interrogation and the wonderfully funny sequence in which Joaquin tries to photograph a customer all at once realizing he is forever done performing this detestable vocation. The in Jail FU scene was also phenomenal. 

What is this movie about?—Ebert asks. Well I believe it be a caution tale. Many believe scientology to be a cult. But really whats the difference between a cult and a major religion? More followers? Most all religions, which I shall define, tersely, as that in which belief in a supernatural agent has interest in your wellbeing, have a single progenitor. A person that stands out above the rest and with whom great effort wins the hearts and minds of the surrounding mortals. Consider, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammed, Joseph Smith, David Koresh, L. Ron Hubbard etc—the list goes on and on. All of these figures had great stories to tell and great wisdom to impart. This doesn't make any of it actually true, however. All these people had something interesting to make one ponder as did Aristotle, Pascal, Einstein, Feynman, and Sagan et al. The difference is I don't need to deify them to consider their opinions. And most importantly, I can critique and criticize their beliefs with no recourse to sequestrate myself in fear of impending death threats in order to help all humans toward a dialectically revealed truth. *(I realize Buddha is not considered a god by Buddhists and that Koresh had little if any wisdom to impart)

The Master is a warning and reminder that things that sound to good to be true, usually are. Scientology is grabbing at the coattails of the three major monotheisms but in my view is not much different. To my knowledge, L. Ron is not deified within Scientology but his texts and ideologies might as well be because they seem to be imparted from something unknown to the rest of us—thus their content is based on supernatural ways of embracing reality. These ideologies are based on a charismatic man with interesting ideas that caught on with lots of people because it teaches a gross misinterpretation of life. A very egocentric and anthropocentric view at that. Who doesn't want to be told they are very special and unique?

You—and other human beings are not the center of the universe. You—are not any more special than anyone else. This is not pessimism but reality. In four million years humans may no longer look like you and me because we are always evolving and adapting—if we don't blow ourselves up we could cease to be biological as we begin to merge with machines. I know, I now sound like the crazed prophet. I could be wrong about everything but at least my thoughts come from the best human empirical observations, intense thought and hard data—not from ancient scrolls and texts buried in the desert. If you embrace your uniqueness through the grand scope of evolution and the absurd improbability that you are alive at all, this should be enough to inspire great incorporeal happiness within you as well as the realization that you create your own distinct purpose. Embrace death and quit believing that this life is just a momentary stop off to the next one and quit believing in mythological stories of old, rehashed again and agin by new false prophets of modernity like all the new age spiritualism. That is what this movie is about. Maybe.

Recommended Viewing: There Will Be Blood - Hard Eight - Secret Sunshine

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 8.9   -   The Fan: 8.5
             MetaCritic: 85
 Rotten Tomatoes: 86
                    IMDB: 8.1

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