Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. The film’s satirical examination of cult leaders is still just as relevant today as it was a decade ago. It’s a veiled critique of the Church of Scientology, but it’s also a broader study of how cults work and, more specifically, how their leaders attract such a fervent following.
From “The Cause” leader Lancaster Dodd, played ably by Philip Seymour Hoffman, to his mentally unstable follower Freddie Quell, played equally ably by Joaquin Phoenix, The Master is full of quotable characters.
10/10 Lancaster Dodd Introduces Himself To Freddie
“Above All, I Am A Man; A Hopelessly Inquisitive Man, Just Like You.”
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix both gave one of the greatest performances of their careers in The Master. Lancaster Dodd, the charismatic leader of “The Cause,” and Freddie Quell, the lost soul he takes under his wing, are one of the many dysfunctional father-son dynamics from Anderson’s filmography.
When Freddie meets Dodd, he asks, “What do you do?” Dodd curiously explains, “I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, and a theoretical philosopher. But, above all, I am a man; a hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you.”
9/10 Freddie Quell’s Rorschach Answers Are Telling
“That Looks Like A C***, Actually, Upside Down.”
When Freddie sits down to take a Rorschach test, the psychiatrist explains that he’ll be showing him a series of images and wants him to say “the first thing that comes to your mind.” He assures Freddie that there are “no right or wrong answers.” Freddie’s telling responses to each image reveal the sexual trauma he lives with.
When he sees the first image, he says, “Well, that’s a p****, a lady’s p****.” When he sees the second one, he says, “Looks like a c*** going inside of a p****.” When he sees the first one, he says, “That looks like… That looks like a c***, actually, upside down.”
8/10 Dodd Sums Up The Power Of Love
“When We’re In Love, We Experience Pleasure… And Extreme Pain.”
Love is a powerful theme in The Master. Not only does Dodd have a devoted wife who supports his cultism; he also uncovers the lost love that haunts Freddie. Dodd’s definition of love sums it up perfectly: “When we’re in love, we experience pleasure… and extreme pain.”
People who are in love experience the highs and lows of human emotions. Love can lead to an unparalleled level of happiness, but that happiness can pave the way for unparalleled pain and anguish.
7/10 Val Dismisses His Father’s Teachings
“He’s Making All Of This Up As He Goes Along. You Don’t See That?”
Jesse Plemons gives a poignant performance in The Master as Val Dodd, the son of The Cause’s leader Lancaster Dodd, who has very little patience for his father’s nonsense. The younger Dodd is not convinced by his dad’s beliefs and thinks The Cause is a bunch of hogwash.
When Freddie criticizes Val for dismissing his father’s teachings, Val turns the criticism back on Freddie for buying everything his dad says: “He’s making all of this up as he goes along. You don’t see that?”
6/10 Dodd Tries To Stop Freddie From Leaving The Cause
“If You Leave Me Now… In The Next Life, You Will Be My Sworn Enemy.”
Dodd often uses his ability to add new belief systems to The Cause whenever he feels like it to gaslight his followers. When Freddie tries to leave The Cause, Dodd threatens to exact revenge when the two are reincarnated in a future life.
As a skeptical Freddie tries to leave The Cause behind, Dodd tells him, “If you leave me now… in the next life, you will be my sworn enemy. And I will show you no mercy.”
5/10 Freddie Explains How To Get Rid Of Crabs
“You Take An Ice-Pick And You F****** Stab Every Single Last One Of Them.”
During his time in the Navy, while he’s at sea, Freddie asks one of his fellow seamen if he knows how to get rid of pubic lice, using the colloquial term “crabs.” The seaman doesn’t know how, so Freddie explains it to him.
Freddie says, “You gotta shave one testicle, then all the crabs go over to the other testicle. You gotta light the hair on fire on that one, and when they all go scurrying out, you take an icepick and you f****** stab every single last one of them.” Film critic Glenn Kenny wrote on RogerEbert.com that this dialogue subtly hints at Freddie’s “infantilized sexuality.”
4/10 Dodd Tries To Get Through To Freddie
“This Is Not You.”
One of the most memorable scenes in The Master sees Lancaster Dodd and Freddie Quell confronting their differences while being imprisoned in adjoining jail cells. Dodd tells Freddie, “Your fear of capture and imprisonment is an implant from millions of years ago. This battle has been with you from before you know. This is not you.”
Freddie finally snaps and repeatedly tells Dodd to “shut the f*** up!” while Dodd keeps insisting, “It’s not you.” Freddie can finally see what Val told him all along, that Dodd is just “making this s*** up.”
3/10 War Veterans Are Welcomed Home By The V.A.
“You Men Are Blessed With The Rejuvenating Powers Of Youth.”
Part of The Master’s sociological exploration is the psychological effects of World War II on its soldiers. Freddie Quell returns from the war traumatized by his time in the Navy. As Freddie and his fellow veterans arrive home, they’re greeted by a V.A. representative: “You men are blessed with the rejuvenating powers of youth. The responsibilities of peacetime must now be considered.”
The V.A. representative’s speech sets up Freddie’s struggle to fit in and find a sense of belonging: “Undoubtedly, there will be people on the outside who will not understand the condition you men have, or will think it a rather shameful condition.”
2/10 Clark Questions Freddie’s Commitment To The Cause
“I Don’t Think Freddie Is As Committed To The Cause As The Cause Is Committed To Him.”
Long before roles like Elliot Alderson, Freddie Mercury, and James Bond baddie Lyutsifer Safin would make him a world-renowned star, Rami Malek gave a standout supporting performance in The Master with the role of Clark Massey.
Clark is one of the biggest believers in The Cause. He’s so committed to Dodd’s cult that he questions the commitment level of other followers, particularly Freddie.
1/10 Dodd Shuts Down A Naysayer
“If You Already Know The Answers To Your Questions, Then Why Ask, Pig F***!?”
The most quotable line in The Master is Dodd’s profane barb at naysayer John More. More asks why Dodd is unwilling to engage in a discussion of his beliefs, but Dodd argues that what More is doing “isn’t a discussion, it’s a grilling.”
More keeps pressing Dodd with questions until he finally snaps and shuts him down: “If you already know the answers to your questions, then why ask, pig f***!?”
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