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The Master (2012)
Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Fairly light on spoilers, but see the movie first.
This is a review I’ve been meaning to write ever since Greg’s scathing take. He’s completely wrong about the film, but wrong in a Greg way, which is to say, entirely consistent with how he views films, so s’all good—I expect nothing less from him, and love him for it. But, the thought of his take being the only take on the film on this site just isn’t right, because it’s a great goddamn film. And in the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing, it’s certainly been on my mind, given its central theme of addiction—a theme that has, for some reason, eluded many critics.
The infatuation between Freddie Quell (Phoenix) and Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) is never outright, hammer-over-the-head explained in The Master, leaving many viewers—and even professional reviewers—to come to the most obvious and tittilating and childish of conclusions: that they are deeply closeted homosexuals in love. Undeniably, there’s a degree of homoeroticism to many of their interactions, but to chalk their bond off as mere ‘gayness’ is to ignore what these two men are truly struggling with, and what brought them together in the first place—alcohol.
John D’Amico: 63 roles in 23 years of acting. Where do you even begin? He absolutely hummed as Lancaster Dodd in The Master, as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous. He has about a million solid movies you kinda forget about until you look at the long scroll of his filmography. How about State & Main? That was a very fun one, uplifted by his ability to be both campy and deeply believable at the same time. He elevated otherwise listless projects like Pirate Radio and Patch Adams—Jesus, he was even good in Patch fucking Adams! Watching Hoffman, even in a bad movie—hell, especially in a bad movie—you feel his talent almost as a physical presence in the room, a rush of light illuminating himself and everyone else.
Today we lost one of the absolute best. An actor who put his all in to every role, always giving you your money’s worth, never wasting a moment of your time. A virtuoso, with all the adoration one could ever want or need from their peers and from audiences. Just goes to show, you can have it all, and still throw it away.
Addiction is something I’ve never personally experienced, so I’m by no means an expert. But I do know what it looks like. It looks like the trading of soul gratification for momentary gratification. It looks like an invited wave, grabbing hold of your beach and eroding every castle you’ve ever built, telling you it’s all just sand anyway, so why bother having them. It is evil, and it lies, and it is the ultimate internal resistance. I hope he is finally at peace.
I’d say I ‘miss’ him, but I never knew his mortal self. I only ever knew his timeless self, which will be here as long as cinema—which is to say, forever. Everything good about this man is immortal. Everything bad, I never encountered, and will never encounter. My heart goes out to his family, who I’m sure have been struggling with his two selves for some time. I hope they are able to find peace as well.