The Master

After the awesome power of There Will Be Blood, David Thomson confessed himself disappointed by its follow up. The Master is a more austere and elliptical film, but the interest in the historical roots and conflicts of American identity remains. The clue is in the title, and the final exchange between Philip Seymour Hoffman's grandiloquent cult leader and Joaquin Phoenix's broken, drunk army vet. The all-American ideal of the open road and boundless freedom is brought down to earth in Phoenix's alcoholic and unstable drifter. His father is dead, his mother mentally ill, he has no support network. And in that gap steps in a charlatan with a compulsive need for attention and people to command. Hoffman demands compete devotion, and Phoenix – in his one moment of nobility – declines the offer. Salvation, like in many other Paul Thomas Anderson films, can be found in romantic love, although here the opportunity is fleeting. The film ends with Phoenix in England hooking up with a girl called Winn Manchester. Phoenix's character is from Lynn, Massachusetts – suggesting a semblance of home is reached, although Hoffman's influence remains indelible. The final shot of the film is of Phoenix lying next to a woman made of sand – that brief moment of comfort likely to crumble, and be washed away.

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