Divining The Master's Meaning
- Friday, September 21, 2012
Freddie’s answers are “yes,” “yes” and “no,” respectively. He's killed people in war. He's had sex with his aunt. He's more interested in an earthly savior than a heavenly one. The processing session bonds Dodd and Freddie. Freddie needs a father figure, and Dodd needs a loyal follower like Freddie. When skeptics dare to challenge Dodd’s belief system, Freddie assaults them physically. As a result, the price Freddie pays for his loyalty to Dodd grows steeper.
The Master is rated R, and its depiction of Freddie's sexual compulsion is sometimes explicit. This film does not shy away from scenes of impulsive sexual behavior. It includes one scene of Dodd's wife (Amy Adams, The Muppets) reciting a sexually explicit story. Her role in Dodd’s life, and her use of sexuality to manipulate her husband, suggest that she may be the force behind Dodd’s beliefs, exploiting Dodd’s own physical desires just as Dodd exploits Freddie’s emotional neediness.
Another reading of The Master shows the dangers of cults and the way they prey upon people’s weaknesses. When confronted with forces and arguments he can’t deny, Dodd pivots to new beliefs and ideas in order to retain control over his followers. Dodd’s son can see through the ruse, but Freddie embraces whatever Dodd says and proselytizes on his behalf, proclaiming to others that they don't have to change their faith or leave their congregation to join the Cause.
Dodd's one moment of truth-speaking comes when he tells Freddie, "If you figure a way to live without serving a master, let us know. You'd be the first person in the history of the world." That comment calls to mind another spiritual song, this one from Bob Dylan, expressing that same truth:
But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.
As Dylan is to the music world, Anderson is becoming to the film world: an artist who creates powerful art that speaks to people of "faith" without clearly endorsing any one system of thought.
Like the meanings of Magnolia and There Will Be Blood, the meaning of The Master will be debated for years, with some interpretations much more serious and well grounded than others. Let me suggest one reading of the film that surely falls on the "that’s a stretch" end of the spectrum: The title of this work may refer to Anderson himself. His films have become major events, and justifiably so. Based on the three films mentioned in this paragraph, the case can be made that Anderson is working at a higher level than any other filmmaker today, and The Master may be his master class.
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; several uses of foul language, including the “F”-word; description of male sex organ; a Rorschach test leads Freddie to describe sex acts; flatulence noises
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Freddie has a problem with alcohol; many scenes of smoking and drinking
- Sex/Nudity: Bare-chested men; Freddie simulates sex with a sand statue; he’s seen from behind as he apparently masturbates, the top of his rear end visible; kissing; Freddie kisses a woman’s stomach after she unbuttons her blouse and exposes her bra to him; she then shows him her breasts, which he touches; full frontal nudity of several women at a Dodd social function; Dodd’s wife uses sex to persuade Dodd of her views; she reads a pornographic story aloud; Freddie is seen having a sex with a woman; she’s on top of him, seen from the side, and her breasts are visible
- Violence/Crime: War violence; Freddie fights with/assaults others; Dodd is accused of stealing from a local foundation
- Marriage/Religion: Dodd presides over the wedding of his daughter; Dodd says marriage prior to the Cause was "awful"; Dodd’s Cause teaches that men must get past negativity to return to an innocent state; a belief in previous lives; Dodd asks Freddie if he thinks God will save him; Dodd teaches that man is asleep, and that processing wakes him from his slumber and returns him to a perfect state; Dodd is said to be a mystic
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at email@example.com.
Publication date: September 21, 2012
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