Can’t Wait: Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master’


While my other movie series, I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, looks back, I figured I should place at least one foot in the here and now of giddy anticipation.  Therefore, Can’t Wait focuses on upcoming movies I, well, can’t wait to see, along with a few reasons why.

I have no trouble picking favorites.  My problem lies in picking so many favorites that I need to impose arbitrary categories on them in order to not come off as someone who loves everything.  Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson is a prime example: he is my favorite director (in his prime).  And when my favorite director (in his prime (I will soon write an article further explaining my thoughts on this (so many parentheses))) will soon release the thoroughly intriguing The Master, his first film since 2007’s There Will Be Blood, my giddiness is off the charts.

That second teaser trailer for the October film shows a filmmaker furthering what has been a three-film-long stylistic transition.  While Anderson started, in movies like Boogie Nights and Magnolia, with a style highly reminiscent of Robert Altman — huge ensemble casts, epic running times, a constantly moving camera, et cetera — his last couple directorial efforts, Punch Drunk Love and the aforementioned There Will Be Blood have sharpened his focus.  He’s become a colder, more analytical director.  He has increasingly depicted a single character’s journey (Adam Sandler’s Barry Egan in Love and Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview in Blood).  It’s clear Anderson has changed his storytelling touchstone from Altman (with large doses of Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme) to Stanley Kubrick.

Hints of Kubrick — tied for first with Scorsese in my favorite director (all time) list — litter that trailer, and the one that preceded it.  It opens with Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Freddy Sutton, placed far from the camera, voyeuristically waiting alongside a road for a passing truck to hitch.  That draws parallels to the faraway, let’s-step-back-and-hide-while-these-characters-live-their-lives framing Kubrick used in Eyes Wide Shut.  The fact that Sutton is to some degree mentally unhealthy recalls famous deranged Kubrickian characters like Lolita‘s Humbert Humbert, A Clockwork Orange‘s Alex, Dr. Strangelove’s General Jack D. Ripper, and The Shining’s Jack Torrance.

The Shining’s influence is particularly apt in this Master trailer.  Any time light filters into a room through windows, it washes out everyone and everything, just like any Shining scene in the Overlook Hotel’s lobby.  The score, courtesy of Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, brings the same sense of “off” as did Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s musical work on Kubrick’s horror masterpiece.  The Master looks downright frightening, which is not what I expected when I heard the rumors its story is a thinly veiled (and unflattering) biopic of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Showing the worst sides of society’s institutions were a penchant of Kubrick’s, and with There Will Be Blood‘s and now The Master‘s skeptical approach to faith, Anderson appears headed in the same direction as one of cinema’s all-time greats.  Count me in.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Can’t Wait: Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master’

  1. Interesting post, I remember watching Magnolia ages ago and really loving the way it was structured. This film is going on my watchlist now.

    • All of Anderson’s stuff is great. At this point, I will see anything he does. Hopefully there won’t be such a long wait between The Master and his next one. Fingers crossed.

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