“He was flirtatious, he did drugs”…the perfect mastermind of a shocking private life


We all have a desire to find a teacher somewhere. This is reflected in martial arts novels, where a reclusive master is trained to rule the land, and in religious scriptures, where a messiah is depicted to save humanity. It’s also reflected in TV programmes where experts appear and offer solutions to troubled clients. Viewers want to meet a master who can see through their problems and save them.

Freddie Quell, a World War II veteran, suffers from war trauma. <Photo courtesy of Nuri Pictures
Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), the protagonist of the film The Master (2012), also longs for a saviour. A World War II veteran, he suffered from extreme trauma after his discharge. He took out his inner anger at the wrong places, binge drinking and taking drugs. One day, he visits a religious group meeting on board a ship and becomes a member, turning his life over to the Master (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

The face of Philip Seymour Hoffman (right), who plays the Master, is a combination of stern adult and naive boy. In the film, he straddles the duality of the Master, who acts like a perfect person in front of others, but is actually vulnerable inside. <Photo courtesy of Nuri Pictures
“I am a writer-doctor-nuclear physicist-philosopher” … the too-perfect ‘Master’
Even though he’s there on his own initiative, Freddie is distrustful of the Master’s healing. Even before his war trauma, he is a naturally cynical man. The Master’s teaching that he can use hypnosis to travel back and forth between past lives and the future to heal people doesn’t sit well with him. “Do you believe in salvation?” he asks, and his answer is short. “No.”

As the leader of an emerging religion called Kozu, the Master has the absolute support of his followers. <Photo courtesy of Nuri Pictures
The contradiction of Freddie’s search for salvation without believing in salvation is that he had nowhere else to go. He went to war to protect the peace of the world, but when the war ended, the world turned its back on him. They released them into the world without any measures. After years of killing people to survive, he was furious at the innocent faces that believed the world was just fine. He could no longer live in harmony with the general population.

Not believing in redemption, Freddie sought out the Master because he had no other option. <Photo courtesy of Nuri Pictures
Unable to find answers in the human world, he was desperate to look to the transcendent. The master Freddie found was not only spiritual, but also had many other skills. He was a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, and a theoretical philosopher. His flamboyant rhetoric was backed up by a wide range of reading, though of course it was mixed with bluster to attract followers. Freddie is so immersed in his religion that when an outsider logically points out his master’s sophistry, he punches them in the face.

Freddie is also a photographer. While taking a family portrait in a department store, he becomes enraged at their assumption that the world is a happy place and assaults them. <Photo courtesy of Nuri Pictures
A master who thought he was perfect, living in bondage to all the desires of the world.
Over time, Freddie discovers weaknesses in his master: he is sexually over-indulgent, including a nude party on board, and enjoys alcohol and drugs. He doesn’t seem to be particularly respected by his family. At one point, he is arrested by the police for misusing the foundation’s funds. “Is it illegal to heal people here?” he asks, trying to frame the police action as group repression, but it doesn’t work. He is not a man who has detached himself from the desires of the human world; he is a man who is bound to it as strongly as anyone.

Master is arrested by the police on suspicion of misappropriating foundation funds. <Photo courtesy of Nuri Pictures
His wife warns him not to show his weakness in public:스포츠토토 “You can do anything. Just don’t let the people I know know.” To lead a huge religious organisation, he must be perfect and not show any signs of weakness. The master, on whom the weak depend, is just a weak man.

Two men curse each other as they are taken away by the police. <Photo courtesy of Nuri Pictures
Is there such a thing as a perfect master of all trades?
As I mentioned last week, director Paul Thomas Anderson repeatedly considers the theme of redemption. In “Punch Drunk Love,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “Phantom Thread,” which we previously covered on Cinepresso, we saw how protagonists who suffered from emotional deficiencies in their childhoods reacted to the redemptive light of “love” in their lives.

Freddie’s desire to escape the world can be seen in the way he rides his motorbike. <Photo courtesy of Nuri Pictures
The Master explores what life is like for a teacher who is expected to save someone’s life. Perhaps they have a little more inner strength than the average person to rise to the position of master, but once they become a master, it becomes difficult to show weakness. The group he is leading has already become larger than life, and his mistakes are harder to forgive. He has to deal with the pain in his heart by turning to alcohol, drugs, and sexual deviancy behind closed doors.

The Master’s wife explains why he is dragging a religious organisation on the ship. Living at sea makes it less likely that they will be judged by the world. <Photo courtesy of Nuri Pictures
This story is not limited to religion. In the modern world, mass media has made it easier to find masters in a field, and they are expected to be perfect. Even experts who have overall expertise in a particular field will have strengths and weaknesses in specific areas, and they are not allowed to have weaknesses. It’s the nature of the media to expect people to be experts on things that aren’t theirs, and they are expected to be jack-of-all-trades with answers to every question.

The film ponders what it’s like to be a master who has to perform perfection while claiming to be a saviour. <Photo courtesy of Nuri Pictures
More than any other film in the director’s oeuvre, this is a film that tackles a difficult subject in an ambiguous way. That’s why Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Ho

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