The scar in mention is of Freddie Quell's. But the scar he bears is of any human who transgresses. The Jesus of post war United States. The cross bearer who fucks underage girls, without any stigmata. Anderson narrows in on messy, expansive debauchery with a formalistic, laser focus. THE MASTER is on fire when the cinema is at its most essential: music is clean and classical; the focus of each shot is precise, narrow.
The order and discipline of the storytelling is what makes the transgressions and scope of the religious founder so compelling.
THE MASTER opens with approximately 20 some minutes of "scoundrel esque" behavior from Joaquin Phoenix's character, a former US Seaman (a marine?) who acts out sexually and morally in anti social, public inappropriateness that ousts him from societal acceptance.
How is one to fit in when one's emotional pain exceeds what polite graces allow? Phoenix's character Freddie Quell explains away some "bad behavior" to a military superior by noting he was reacting poorly
to a letter he received from an ex. The connection is logical, yet in other scenes, his debauchery and risk taking behavior is less explained. The religious portion of the film will focus more on causation at its most nebulous; memories from pre birth.
The LRH ish Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) forms a symbiotic relationship with Quell. Dodd is the hand on the shoulder, the calming, fatherly and non judgmental presence who ( at first) lightens the harshness of Quell's burden. His smile is warm, his pasty skin is soft and his features as gentle as his hair color. In sharp opposition is the angular Quell whose neck always seems to be straining up and away from his spine, with veins and wrinkles strangling his skinny face.
"YOU ARE NOT RULED BY YOUR EMOTIONS. WE DO AWAY WITH NEGATIVE EMOTIONS..AND BRING MAN BACK..MAN...IS NOT AN ANIMAL."
Even while listening on headphones and transcribing this message of Dodd's Quell nonchalantly writes a note to his fellow listener that asks if she wants to fuck. The fact that this question is in conflict with the promise of higher self that Dodd promises is not reflected in Quell. He is still operating, ever casually, from his basest instinct. He is like Truffaut's WILD CHILD, brought in from the jungle family and expected to behave amongst professors.
|ordered symmetry of the gnarled face|
But the union of Quell and Dodd is also a clear and deliberate reflection of what happens in 12 step programs.
Quell is attracted to Dodd as he relates to him yet Dodd has something that Quell wants. This element of identification with attraction to an improved self is a key principle of how 12 step fellowships operate. In looking for a sponsor the basic texts tell people to look for someone who has something that they dont. To find that person who is similar yet calm, when you are anxious. Or someone who has pain like yours, but they act light and they smile, while you shrug, and walk looking downward.
Ultimately, the behavioral issues and help that men seek is unable to be contained. The film tracks a progressive and chronic expansion; it is comprised across oceanic waters, dug in the sand, runs across the desert, compulsive behaviors and tempers unleashed. The beast evades lock down and the clock ticks in time with the staccato of the film's score, tracking inevitability.
As the film progresses, there is a stress on repetition, both in specific spoken utterances ("excuse me, excuse, me, excuse me" and the way Quell and others are asked to repeat their names during intake), and also in the consistent return to the past and alternating progression of Quell's spiritual journey. This rhythmic tension adds with each cycle of the story, each cycle of progression and regression of Quell's journey and Dodd's religion.
The perversion of behavioral science suits some of the people in the universe of THE MASTER. It entails creative storytelling, improvisational science, and aid to people who engage in self harming antisocial behaviors. Using academic perversion to dominate natural human perversions is an implementation of ORDER and DISCIPLINE on the highest levels, not at all unlike the filmmaking employed to illustrate it.