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Epstein, O.B. (2013). The Master, Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012. Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 7(3):312-313.
(2013). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 7(3):312-313
The Master, Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012
Review by: Orit Badouk Epstein
Whether this film is about Scientology, or its founder Ron Hubbard, it is an overly laboured attempt to deliver something that is more meaningful than simply understanding the behaviour of a cult leader and his acolytes. The film centres on two people Lancaster Dodd and Freddie Quell. Lancaster Dodd (brilliantly acted by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the leader of a cult established soon after the Second World War: “I am a writer, a doctor, nuclear physicist, and a theoretical philosopher.” He is grandiosely obsessed with trying to control people and specifically in trying to harness the human potential in the name of “The Cause” where through hypnotic regression, demagogic indoctrination, and the use of powerful drugs, individuals can work through their past and present traumas.
“Do your past failures bother you?” the charming Dodd asks Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), an ex-soldier, drifter, sex addict, and violent alcoholic, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and who, in this vulnerable state, falls easily into the hands of the charismatic Dodd. Bombarded with questions from Dodd, the traumatised and clearly needy, Freddie is surprised at how good he is at answering these questions and how good this makes him feel. For the first time in his life he feels heard and special, like never before. An intense father-son-like relationship between the two begins.
The drama resides between the power of the two characters and who the audience will eventually favour. “You'll be my protégé, my guinea pig” Dodd says to Freddie shortly after their first meeting. They are father and son, guru and disciple, passionate friends and bitter competitors locked in a double bind. Neither of them is stable, their troubled bond is fundamentally artificial and narcissistic in its nature. For a while, they feed off each other's insecurities and the relationship gets stuck in an idealised position that can never last.
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