In Toronto, filmmakers, distributers, critics and reporters have gathered to witness what is generally the line-up of films that will begin having the word “Oscar” surrounding them. The Toronto International Film Festival has long been the introduction of films that kick off the Fall movie season and the place where movies are positioned for awards gold. One of those movies is the highly anticipated, Paul Thomas Anderson-directed The Master, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams.
The Master, the first film from Anderson since his Oscar® winning There Will Be Blood in 2007, is taking full advantage of the audiences’ lust for it by opening nationwide hot on the heels of its Toronto premiere. It’s a move that could have proved risky for any film if reviews leaned too negative coming out of the festival, but the want to see an Anderson film is always strong enough to ignore any reactions from critics and get devoted fans into theaters. However, reviews have actually put the interest in the film even higher, with critics revealing the mixture of both overall puzzlement and brilliant performances. It’s all a wordy way of saying ‘you have to see it for yourself,’ which is never a bad word-of-mouth argument for an independent film.
Phoenix is being called a strong hold for leading actor nominations for his portrayal as Freddie Quall, the rootless, disturbed, and sometimes violent Navy veteran who becomes enthralled by The Cause and its charismatic leader, Lancaster Dodd (Seymour Hoffman). The movie presents ideas that compare to L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology and the release of his book “Dianetics,” but more embraces the time period in the 1950s when many grass roots communities began to emerge with leaders presenting grand visions and aimless folks looking for a place of belonging finding comfort in their teachings.
“It was fertile ground for telling a dramatic and engaging story,” says Anderson. “Going back to the beginning of things allows you to see what the good intentions were and what the spark was that ignited people to want to change themselves and the world around them. Post-World War II was a period when people were looking forward to the future with great optimism but, at the same time, dealing with quite a lot of pain and death in the rear view mirror.”
The title of the film, The Master, refers to Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character, who takes Freddie under his wing. But as Master tries to adopt Freddie as a son like figure, so to speak, Freddie himself struggles with his desire to belong, but his inability to commit to The Cause. The result could be described as a unique spin on the love story, with the wants and desires at conflict, both internally and between each other.
“When I look at the film now, I see Freddie and Master as two people who are desperate to stay together and connect with each other,” adds Anderson. “I think they see strength in each other and also feel a desire to help pick up the other’s weaknesses. I see both as generous men with very different ways of communicating what they have to give.”
As The Master makes its way out of the festival circuit and into theaters, fans will now get to see what the intrigue is all about and begin watching the film’s Oscar® chances take shape.