Although Tom Cruise may not agree with the way The Master portrays Scientology, he would have to concede it is an eerily captivating masterpiece. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix deliver absorbing, Oscar-worthy performances. The film provides a chilling look at the origins of the controversial religion of Scientology and its charismatic founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
The movie centers on Freddie Quell (Phoenix), a World War II veteran who suffers from anxiety, alcoholism and violent episodes, struggling to survive in society. Phoenix perfectly captures Freddie’s strange and irrational behavior. It is a fitting role for the actor who filmed and starred in the disturbing I’m Still Here. After roaming the country escaping his problems, Freddie stows away on a ship carrying the group of Scientologists and meets Lancaster Dodd, aka L. Ron Hubbard, aka “The Master.”
Dodd sees Freddie as a lost soul his teachings can help and enjoys Quell’s stomach-wrenching alcohol concoctions that include ingredients ranging from siphoned torpedo fuel to paint thinner. It is Hoffman’s portrayal of Dodd that makes this movie so amazing. His powerful performance shows how one man’s charisma and energy could captivate so many people and — don’t hunt me down for this, Scientologists — draw followers into a cult-like organization.
Dodd takes Quell into his community and introduces him to the strange beliefs and practices of Scientology. For example, Dodd performs hypnosis on his followers to expose their past lives and unlock their secrets. Critics of the practices are angrily mocked and refuted, even as it becomes clear Dodd is simply making them up as he goes along. Quell struggles to accept Dodd’s bizarre teachings and to break the persuasive force of the leader.
The Master is an enthralling account of Scientology’s beginnings, with spectacular performances that drive home the compelling force one man can have not only on a large group of followers but also on a confused man searching for answers. The film will leave you captivated and will also remind you not to drink the punch just because the leader tells you to.