I went to see this week's big new movie, The Master, which is the latest one from the talented and intense Paul Thomas Anderson. He's made six movies, and they all fall somewhere on the great-to-masterful spectrum. It's been a long 5 years since his last movie, There Will Be Blood, but the time he takes always pays off.
A lot of The Master is pretty inscrutable, but as a character study and a reflection on power, control, and the magnetic appeal of cult leaders, it's dead on. Anderson's main man Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a charismatic leader of a pseudo-scientific spiritual organization called The Cause, which purports to unlock human potential and relieve suffering by helping people understand their past lives. It's a lot like Scientology, but that doesn't really matter: Anderson's interested in his characters, not Scientology. Hoffman's character is a gifted performer, and laser-like in his ability to identify weak, disturbed people who need someone to follow and obey.
Joaquin Phoenix is back, and actually really good, as Freddie, a ferociously messed-up alcoholic vet who returns from WWII with major problems with sex, violence, women, men, and most human interaction. He falls hard for PSH, but he's pretty much the definition of an unreliable narrator, and sometimes it's not clear what's really happening and what's only in Freddie's deranged mind. It's also not at all clear whether his involvement in The Cause helps him in any real way, but it sure is interesting and strange to watch. The movie is visually beautiful, the soundtrack is amazing, and the songs in the movie all speak to the kind of devotion and fidelity that followers like Freddie want to give to their leader.
It's a good movie and all, but here's what I really want to know: What is life like at home for Paul Thomas Anderson and his longtime partner Maya Rudolph?
They've been together for around 10 years, they have three kids, they seem to be happy, and they're both gifted in their lines of work. But while PT Anderson is writing and directing these dark, wrenching, intense portraits of emotionally disturbed people and exploring the deepest recesses of history, the American dream, love, success, evil, violence, and self-destruction, Maya Rudolph is doing her own thing, such as pooping in the middle of the street in a wedding gown.
I don't mean to imply that Anderson's craft is somehow better or more important than Rudolph's; on the contrary, watching Maya Rudolph do Bronx Beat or play Whitney Houston on SNL is vastly more rewarding than that opening oil-well digging sequence from There Will Be Blood. They're both talented and successful, but their styles could not be more divergent. The closest things PT Anderson has to a comedy is probably Punch-Drunk Love, which is actually more about alienation, intimidation, and rage than it is about love. His '90's relationship with Fiona Apple didn't work out, but it made more immediate sense.
I'm glad these two are so happy together, and sincerely hope that they never work together on any projects.