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July 23, 2015 9:32 AM   Subscribe

A Zoomorphic Performance: Joaquin Phoenix in P.T. Anderson’s The Master, Daniel Fairfax

Senses of Cinema is "an online journal devoted to the serious and eclectic discussion of cinema."
posted by the man of twists and turns (11 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah Freddie's very naked need to have someone make decisions for him and tell him what to do was one of the many reasons that while I loved The Master, I'm not going to rewatch it anytime soon cause Freddie made me So Very Uncomfortable - I wanted to not be in the room with him.
posted by The Whelk at 9:42 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Phoenix's performance in this is one of the greatest performances I have ever seen by an actor. I felt, watching him, the way I have heard people responded to Brando when he first played Koawalski onstage: An ongoing horror and astonishment at what I was seeing, and an inability to believe that it was a performance.
posted by maxsparber at 9:48 AM on July 23, 2015 [9 favorites]

Actually, incorporating some of the mannerisms of animals is kind of Building A Character 101 kind of stuff in acting classes. Jim Carrey said that he based a lot of the persona of Ace Ventura on a cockatoo, and an actor I worked with once confessed to a school group that he based part of his character on "a German Shepherd I had once who got obsessed with watching the washing machine work".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:51 AM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Ah, here we go, something to replace The Dissolve in my bookmarks. B)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:51 AM on July 23, 2015

I'm generally a huge fan of P.T. Anderson, but I really couldn't get into this movie when I watched it, because the relationship between Quell and Dodd didn't seem believable to me at all. seeing Quell as the goofy dog that just can't stop crapping the rug puts this movie into much better perspective.
posted by KGMoney at 9:58 AM on July 23, 2015

Really loved this movie.

I like the idea of Quell as a dog, it's the kind of love he has for Dodd, but I saw Dodd's love for Quell as more pure than the love of a Master for his pet. I think that Dodd would have run away and just been friends with Quell for the rest of his life but was unable to because of his path as Master of the Scientologists.
posted by macrael at 10:09 AM on July 23, 2015

Alternatively, the sand-woman scene in the beginning takes on some extra meaning if you see Freddie as a golem.
posted by ostro at 11:03 AM on July 23, 2015

I love PTA, but to my great shame I simply could. not. finish. this one. It was the most annoying movie evar, while watching I constantly wanted to punch it. I figure this is a testament to a greatness that I am not prepared to appreciate.
posted by rhizome at 12:04 PM on July 23, 2015

I think the article makes some good points, but maybe harps too hard on it the central thesis. I mean, yes, he had doglike qualities, and they're well-indicated here. It's clear that some aspect of Phoenix's performance was based on dogs... because he says so in interviews. It's hard to pin it as a revelation when the actor states it plainly to the press. I'm probably coming off as too dismissive. I enjoyed the article!

I do think the dog aspect is just a portion of the character, however, and not the complete picture. It suggests that Freddie and Dodds were of a different species. I think they were the same breed of crazed human alien. Freddie can survive the motor oil cocktails he concocts, and tries to find others like him, but ends up killing someone he liked because they weren't the same. Then he finds Dodds and learns that there's another poison-drinker like him. They're the same, but different. One is the alpha of his breed, the other the omega.

I watched The Master shortly after reading Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. It matched up well with the book's accounts of Hubbard, who loved himself beyond all measure, but clearly hated himself in almost equal degree, creating an epic insanity. Watching Dodds and Freddie interact, made me think of Hubbard staring in a mirror and his mind violently snapping between the poles of love and hate at an exterior projection of himself.
posted by picea at 1:36 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

When Edward Scissorhands first came out I read an article( maybe an interview) that said the character was based on Tim Burton's beloved dog.
posted by brujita at 5:31 PM on July 23, 2015

I love strange movies by authors, and I love character actors like both of these guys, but I find myself less and less likely seeking them out. Part of that is not really being in the habit of going to rep cinema anymore -- life has just caught up with me and most of the time I'm "oh, something easy and stupid is on Netflix".

And there is no way I can convince anyone around me to site through a PTA film these days.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:45 AM on July 24, 2015

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