Paul Thomas Anderson: The Master of Mixing Images and Music

in 69th Venice Film Festival

by Francesca Felletti

Paul Thomas Anderson’s eagerly awaited ”The Master” is first and foremost a symphony of images and music. It is also a description of the exclusive relationship between a teacher and his best student, exploring themes of paternal and filial affection, friendship, love, power, admiration, and jealousy. The student is an aggressive and troubled war veteran played by Joaquin Phoenix — complete with a hunchback and crooked mouth — who can’t find his place in life. His guru, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is calm and ambiguous: fascinated by the strength and instincts of the almost beast-like youth who embodies the very opposite of the self-control he preaches.

To complete the picture, there’s the story of the birth of a new religion, a sect, a creed. The reference is clear: in all probability, the director of ”Magnolia” and ”There Will Be Blood” has Scientology in mind — an organization founded by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s which is still very active in the US and boasts Tom Cruise as a follower.

In particular, the first half-hour of the film — showing the main character’s experience as a Marine, the end of WWII and the encounter with the Master — leaves the audience breathless thanks to powerful photography and excellent editing, as well as a skillful jumble of sounds, rhythms, melodies. It’s almost as if the screen exudes the same hypnotic-persuasive powers used by the master to bring his students out of traumas, prenatal experiences and previous lives.

Then the narrative slows down, the characters develop, and the events flow (with a few too many sequences which weigh down the film’s 137 minutes), bringing us to the final showdown, where the weak succumb and the strong survive. As always.

Edited by Lesley Chow