A few years back Joaquin Phoenix went on the Late Show with David Letterman to tell the world that he was done with acting. He looked like a cross between a homeless man and an insane prophet. He acted completely nuts and followed this performance by not acting for several years. So it is kind of appropriate that his first film in many years sees him playing a madman.
The Master is the story of a shell shocked sailor who spends most of his spare time mixing poisonous chemicals into intoxicating beverages. The ingredients for his concoctions include paint thinner, rubbing alcohol, Lysol, and some clear fluid from the inner workings of a torpedo. When our drunken hero finally meets The Master, The Master is greatly impressed with these toxic mixtures and keeps him around to make him some more.
The Master bears a passing resemblance to L Ron Hubbard, the nonsense he spouts to his followers sounds a lot like Dianetics, The Secret, and the teachings of Ramtha The Enlightened One. It also sounds a lot like the teachings of esotericists like P. D. Ouspensky and G. I. Gurdjieff. If there had been a bit more drug use it could have sounded a bit like Carlos Castaneda as well. In short, everyone who has some wild story to tell and gets a group of people to follow them sound a bit alike. Like Creationism, The Master liked to cloak his nonsense in a cloud of techno babble that makes it sound like science instead of science fiction.
At almost two and half hours, a whole lot of nothing happens in The Master. Our insane hero remains insane, despite the efforts of the Master to cure him through past life regressions. The Master’s movement has a few meetings here and there. The shell shocked sailor beats up a few people who have negative things to say about The Cause, the name of the Master’s movement. There are bits of nudity, most notably during a party where all the woman suddenly loose their clothes-large clumps of pubic hair help to remind us we are in the 1950s.
The Master told us a lot more than anyone would ever want to know about a loser and his random encounter with a cult leader. An actual movie about L Ron Hubbard or Carlos Castaneda would have been a lot more interesting.