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Matthew J. Webster – Writer

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The Master – film review

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"The Master," directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is a character study of Church of Scientology, International (CSI) founder L. Ron Hubbard, played with stunning amplitude by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Anderson has chosen one of the most polarizing figures of the 20th century as his subject, and treats Hubbard with appropriate diligence. The factually verifiable side of Hubbard's life as leader of the church only began to see light after his death in 1986, when a former official CSI archivist, Gerry Armstrong, began the legal process of transferring documents to outside researchers.

Anderson wisely avoids dealing with Hubbard's biography before 1950, the year his proclaimed masterwork, "Dianetics," was published. "Dianetics" went on to become the most-published book in history, and galvanized what Hubbard's followers were instructed to refer to as "the movement," which would eventually become Scientology.

Viewers are introduced to Hoffman's Hubbard, here called Lancaster Dodd, at his most charismatic moment, and allowed to make our own decisions about his philosophy according to his interactions with followers and critics.

"The Master" then moves to Dodd's relationship with Freddie Quell, a brutal, sub-articulate former naval officer played by Joaquin Phoenix. Readily manipulated by Dodd's identity-stripping humiliation tactics, Freddie contributes a desperate fanaticism and the threat of violence to the tightly-controlled group.

As in "Boogie Nights," Anderson respectfully portrays characters living at the most bizarre fringes of American subculture. The results are disturbing. Movement followers' buttoned-downed, familial presentation hides the extraordinary sickness beneath. Hopefully, "The Master" should discredit any perception of Scientology as a secretive social club for celebrities.

Written by webster71

September 29, 2012 at 15:41