Although The Master has been steadily shown in front of lucky audiences who have managed to grab rare preview screening tickets, the film is still somewhat shrouded in mystery. So far, the cast and crew have refrained from spilling details to journalists, this is especially true for Paul Thomas Anderson, who is noticeably reticent in offering any insight into what his films are about.
With a film like The Master though that is highly understandable, considering part of the film deals with a cult which has been compared in many quarters to Scientology, which (due to its high profile members) is quite a force in Hollywood. It is rumoured that when the funding from Universal fell through in 2010, the powers that be behind the religion were behind the decision. But now the film is nearing its release date and PTA has finally opened up about the film with some neat insights into the process and what the film is truly about.
In speaking to Newsweek, Anderson states that the film does deal with the idea and the dangers of cult religion but that the Scientology element shouldn’t be focussed upon. In fact, David Ansen’s terrific piece states that Anderson was quite uncomfortable when the subject was brought up:
I didn’t want it to be a biography. It’s not the L. Ron Hubbard story. That was a hook you could hang your hat on… [But] I was naive. I should have known that’s what people would latch onto. I’m much more defensive and protective of [Scientology] than I would have thought.
I think the film should speak for itself, most people have an opinion about the religion and with a subject as divisive as this it is good that a director wants the audience to make their mind up. That being aid, I find it fascinating that he sympathises with the movement considering many people who have seen the film say it is rather condemnatory. In order to make sure he wasn’t making “the L. Ron Hubbard story” he chose to centre The Master around Freddie Quell, on the advice of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
More revelatory is Anderson’s process in writing The Master, which goes some way to explain why there was such a big gap between this film and his last one, There Will Be Blood.
Check out what he said below:
I was first writing scenes that didn’t have a home. I do that a lot, and then finally they come together. I like to write every day and keep working and not wait around for something to happen. Richard LaGravenese once said that writing should be like ironing a shirt: you keep going over the same spot, and you go a little deeper and a little deeper. I don’t want to sound all mumbo jumbo, but it gets to a certain point, if things are going well, where you’re not writing it; the character is going where he’s going.
Ansen also notes that Anderson re-used scenes that were reworked from There Will Be Blood for The Master. No notes on what those scenes are though and due to the noted similarities between the two films, we likely never will know.
In terms of his actors, the director had rampant praise for Joaquin Phoenix, who is making somewhat of a career comeback with this film, with reports are that his performance is nothing short of extraordinary.
At a certain point, Joaquin is just incapable of faking it. He’s like Daniel [Day-Lewis], his level of concentration. He just got in character and stayed there—for three months he didn’t stop. Joaquin is very unpredictable. A lot of the time I didn’t know what he was going to do.
The article has a few other treasures buried in it and is well worth a read if you’re interested in the film and what it has in store for you. In addition to that, in conjunction with another screening in San Francisco another clip has been released for the film. It’s nothing much but it is pretty much telling you to see this film in 70mm, it looks simply stunning even on a little YouTube window. On the silver screen it will nothing short of extraordinary.
The Master hits the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals before its release on September 14th.
Check out the clip below.