The Master is the long-awaited sixth feature film of director Paul Thomas Anderson. It was released on September 14, 2012.The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell, a misguided young man who, after demobilizing from World War II, falls under the sway of charismatic cult leader Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Amy Adams plays his wife, Peggy.
This film provides examples of:
The Alcoholic: Freddie makes drinks out of paint thinner and siphons alcohol out of torpedoes.
Berserk Button: For Lancaster Dodd, it's having his methods questioned.
Crude sexual comments by Freddie are both the first and last lines of the movie.
The film begins and ends with the same title card.
The Cameo: Melora Walters, who starred in each of P.T. Anderson's first three films, here can be heard singing "A Tisket, A Tasket" in the scene in Phoenix where Dodd yells at Helen (Laura Dern) for questioning his new book.
Chekhov's Skill: Freddie's past as a mall photographer gets used to make official publicity photos for the Cause. It's pretty much the only useful thing we see Freddie do for Dodd.
Church of Happyology: Lancaster Dodd is the charismatic leader of a California cult called "The Cause". Anderson admitted to drawing on the early history of Scientology for the movie but also said The Cause is just the backdrop for a character study. Much of the doctrine of The Cause is clearly lifted from Scientology, and Dodd resembles L. Ron Hubbard as well.
A Date with Rosie Palms: After building - and briefly humping - a sand sculpture of a woman, Freddie masturbates into the ocean.
Peggy gives a hand job to Dodd, after making him promise he'll keep any marital indiscretions...discrete. See Fan Disservice.
Dissonant Serenity: After Dodd and Freddie are arrested, Freddie goes berserk in his cell: smashing the toilet, pounding his head against the walls and cot, cursing out the other inmates, etc. Dodd, by comparison, calmly leans against his cot, waiting patiently for Freddie to stop and uses the bathroom.
Extreme Omnisexual: Freddie violates a woman made out of sand on a beach. He also admits to having sex with his aunt several times, because "[he] was drunk and she looked good."
Freddie trying to seduce a store model with his paint-thinner cocktail, in a dank and dirty green-lit room.
A super-creepy scene where Dodd is singing at a party and Freddie and/or Dodd visualize all the female guests naked.
This is immediately followed by the least sexy hand job in history.
Flashback: Both to Freddie's backstory and to earlier events in the movie's timeline.
Gainax Ending: Freddie leaves The Cause, but not before Dodd says that he will be his enemy in another life, followed by him singing Slow Boat to China to a crying Freddie. After coming to terms that he'll never see Dodd again, he picks up a girl at a bar. Then after they finish having sex he asks her questions from his first session, then it cuts to him sleeping with the sand woman from the opening scenes.
Gargle Blaster: Freddie makes extremely strong cocktails using strange recipes. One of his cocktails poisons a farm worker that he seems to take a disliking to, which gets him run off the farm. Dodd takes a liking to his concoctions, which he finds incredibly rough. We later see that Freddie puts paint thinner in the cocktails. Dodd asks him point-blank if Freddie poisoned him, but Freddie denies it.
I Have No Son: Implied with Dodd and his daughter Elizabeth. In their last meeting, Freddie asks where Elizabeth is and Peggy says "DCF". Freddie responds with a surprised "Really?". The movie does not explain further but this may be inspired by the Scientology practice of declaring individuals who are perceived to be anti-Scientology as "Suppressive Persons" (SP). Such persons are shunned by everyone in the church.
The Master: Apropriately enough, Dodd is this to his adherents.
Meaningful Name: Freddie Quell's surname is pronounced like "Quill," and he's described as Dodd's muse. Dodd is shown posing with a quill for one of Freddie's photographs.
The name can also refer to how Freddie's animalistic nature and urges can never be completely suppressed, even by people like Dodd who make an attempt at it and seem to succeed.
The One That Got Away: The teenage girl that Freddie ditched—his one big regret, as he reveals to Dodd in processing.
The Oner: It would probably be easier to list the scenes that aren't made up of a handful of long single takes cut together. Noteworthy ones include a fight between Freddie and a customer at his department store photography booth, Freddie raging in his prison cell, and Lancaster singing surrounded by naked women (in Freddie's mind at least).
Past Life Memories: The Cause's "processing" involves recalling these, and dealing with the trauma left by them (just like Scientology's "auditing"). However, Dodd later RetCons this, though he claims to have known Freddie before in 1871 during the siege of Paris.
Precision F-Strike: At a dinner party, Dodd gives a particularly nasty one to a man who questions his methods, showing that he's not accustomed to being challenged.
Retcon: invoked In his second book, Dodd decides that his followers are actually imagining past lives rather than recalling them. This radically changes the Cause's beliefs, to some followers' dismay.
Scenery Porn: Shot in 70mm, although, oddly, it is mostly an indoor drama. The few scenes that do take advantage of the 70mm format are exceptional, though—Freddie's Navy ship cutting a wake through the ocean, a gorgeous shot of Dodd's ship passing under the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, a shot of Freddie and Dodd riding motorcycles in the desert.
Shell-Shocked Veteran: Freddie receives therapy for shell-shock after the war, though it's left ambiguous as to whether his problems are pre-existing. All we see from his war days are him lounging on an island and a ship, while he admits to having a sexual relationship with his aunt as a youth.
Sophomore Slump: invoked Dodd's followers candidly admit that his second book for the Cause is not as good as the first.
Wedding Day: Dodd's daughter gets married early in the film, with Dodd officiating.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Freddie assaults some police officers coming to arrest Dodd, and gets arrested himself. Dodd gets sentenced and released, but we don't see how Freddie's was resolved, he simply turns up at the house. It could be he was just out on bail, but nothing more is shown, and it's quite unlikely charges of assaulting police were simply dropped, as those tend to get taken very seriously.