Movies That Rule: The Master – By Cameron Heffernan

In this installment of “Movies That Rule” Cameron takes a look at the Oscar nominated movie, “The Master” and it’s undeniable overtones of control and cult mentality.



“A man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent a pleasure. I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them. To enjoy them. I want to dominate them.” – Oscar Wilde.

This isn’t a quote from the movie, this merely represents almost everything this film attempts to portray along with the subtle hints that what you’re watching may be what was the founding of one of the most prolific religions/cults to ever exist in modern society.

“The Master”, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is his first film since the stellar “There Will Be Blood” in 2007. Much like Anderson’s other films, ‘The Master’ operates in the same vain; taking a historic period or development in modern Los Angeles/The West Coast (Oil, Porn, Raining Frogs) and turns it into a modern opus evaluating the more melancholy ideals that lead awful men to do great things. In ‘Master’ Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a Naval officer, and all around substance guzzling drunkard, lost in the mundane of what is everyday life in post-World War II America, stumbles across Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), when he stows away on Dodd’s rented cruise liner.

It is from this point on that you are introduced to the cunning snake-oil salesman. Dodd. A self-proclaimed “writer, doctor, nuclear physicist a theoretical philosopher” he is the celluloid embodiment of L. Ron Hubbard, or at least how PTA feels he may have been. Little is known about the charismatic leader and the beginnings of his greatest story, Scientology. According to his website, and it’s introductory 9-minute biography video,  he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Winning 21 merit badges, becoming the youngest Eagle Scout in American history, exploring the entire world and absorbing any and every culture he ever came in contact with.

The other side of Hubbard, the one most skeptics of Scientology know and detest,  can essentially be summed up in a largely debated quote from a 1980 Readers Digest column by Eugene Methvin.

“Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.”

‘Master’ seems to focus on Hubbard’s later life and the founding of his baby, the character of Quell represents the modern day hardcore follower of Scientology, the ruthless devotee who fights with drunken blindness for what they believe in, whom takes and does not question, best summed up by Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams, who is amazing in what little role she plays).

“We shall never dominate our environment unless we attack.” As most Scientologists do when they feel their beliefs are attacked. Really, unfortunately  as any religion does.

Quell is lost in all his endeavors, starting out as a portrait photographer  in a department store, he grows tired and decides to quit in the best manner possible – by fisticuffs with a rather plump patron. He later is blamed for poisoning a fellow field worker with his torpedo-fermented specialty booze, to which he later describes in a hypnosis treatment with Dodds as, “he didn’t drink it properly.” This whole ordeal plays into the idea of past traumas and how we can’t escape them and those are what weigh down on our soul and create our negative energies.

‘The Cause’ as it’s referred to in the movie – because actually calling it Scientology would’ve probably gotten PTA killed –  is all about tapping into your past life and realizing the traumas that you’ve experienced in those and how they effect you. Scientology is also very much about this; how we’ve lived numerous past lives and these are why we have reoccurring ailments, things like cancer, AIDS, fear, really anything that humans can contract or have happen to them is because of past-life experiences. Scientology doesn’t apply to modern medicine and they believe they can cure things like cancer with meditation and other buku-bullshit like that.

At this point we’ve all heard the “this-and-that” of why Scientology is a “legit” religion and why it really isn’t. You could argue on what really classifies, what makes a religion, no matter what it is or who they believe in, “legit”. Things like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism are steeped in history, culture and really anything that could give legitimacy to  life. Where Scientology attempts to give this perceived legitimacy is that we are just shells, and that our souls jump from shell to shell when it dies (almost like the reincarnation theory of Buddhism).

L. Ron Hubbard was a smart man, he studied human psychology and philosophy all over the world. What he saw though was that humans are malleable, you can form them if they are downtrodden enough, that people, when at their lowest can be told what to do if they believe it will help them in some way. Quell is lost on this earth, a lonely sad man who once crafted a woman out of sand and loved it, he’s only looking to love again, his previous love left him while he was at war, now he looks to escape this past and create a new future, what Dodd sees, and for that matter, what Hubbard saw, is that Quell and the people who have things like this weighing down on them, are just sheep for them to herd.

Writing isn’t a thing people do for riches, or to make everyone believe in one thing even though it may be wrong. I for one love the idea of sharing my opinion of things in hopes that others share them or oppose them and would like to take part in debate and further any discussion of merit. With men like Hubbard, who once wrote for humanity, turned and discovered that it’s just easier to use your influence and betray your readers.

To sell them a dream only for them to find out that it’s really a nightmare. One you’re not allowed to wake up from.



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