It's the end of World War II, and ex-sailor Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is an obliteration boozer who makes his own hooch out of paint-thinner and rubbing alcohol. He's also vengeful, hypersexual, and perhaps (or perhaps not) an involuntary murderer. Something needs to give, and so enters Lancaster Dodd (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), the "master" of a startup religion/self-help cult called "The Cause" (played by Scientology). For Dodd, Quell is the perfect guinea pig: an "animal" who, once his "ancient trauma" is revealed though tests, study, and psychological torture, will hopefully graduate to a higher order of human ... the human we were created to be. One is tempted to gleefully approach The Master as the cinematic counterpart to a juicy Vanity Fair hit piece — but upon viewing, one quickly realizes that Anderson is reaching for much more. Rather than heaping scorn upon a pseudo-faith, The Master is a gorgeously filmed rumination on human need: the need to be self-aware, the need to be accepted, the need to be loved. As much as drunkard Quell needs to make peace with his past, Dodd needs to be accepted, respected, and appreciated for what he believes is the rescue of the human species. In the end, what each of these characters receives speaks more about humanity and religion than any one-note exposé could ever hope to accomplish. (137 min.)
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It's not about Scientology.