Welcome to Mind Control Month | Brainwashing/Deception Week – Day 2. A big part of this week will be covering cults because as far as brainwashing is concerned, cults play a massive/realistic version of that. Today, we’re looking at The Master, which I reviewed once before [review here], and one thing that really impressed me was that after all these years, my score ended up being exactly the same, regardless of having an all-together different scoring system than before – which really just came down to seeing a number between 1-100 in my head and writing it down. It’s time to review it again! Let’s start with the plot.
After returning from the Second World War, having witnessed many horrors, a charismatic intellectual creates a faith-based organization in an attempt to provide meaning to his life. He becomes known as “The Master”. His right-hand man, a former drifter, begins to question both the belief system and The Master as the organization grows and gains a fervent following. (IMDb)
In my former review, I mentioned the film had some similarities to Scientology, which in a way, really popularized the idea of public cults right in the open. That may be true, but a cult is a cult, which messes with your mind in very similar fashions. This film, and others like it, follow the same basic structure. It just depends on the presentation as to how good the film can be, and this is one of the better films on cults that I’ve seen. The main things that you’ll notice is that the film looks fantastic and the performances from the actors are powerful, even to the point of making you think after the film ends.
That being said, it also has no plot. It feels sort of like a true story, where there’s no point to the film other than to tell one man’s experiences with a cult…and that’s a little bit pointless. When movies have real goals, you have something to look forward to. Anything could happen in this film and that annoyed me a little bit.
That being said, those are just first impressions. Let’s go ahead and dive a little deeper into The Master in order to interpret the stars.
PEOPLE SCORE – 8/10
Acting – 2|Characters – 1|Casting – 2|Importance – 1|Chemistry – 2
First, we’ll talk about the people category, which did a pretty awesome job overall…but it wasn’t without its faults, either. The acting was one of the strongest points in the film. Just hearing about a film starring both Phoenix and Hoffman should make you interested enough to watch the film. The characters were all okay, but you’re going to remember the film more for the actual actors than the characters they play. Also, one of the main problems you have when it comes to cult films is that the people in the cult are mostly zombified, so they have no independent importance to add to the plot. What they do have, though, is crazy good chemistry.
WRITING SCORE – 6/10
Dialogue – 2|Balance – 0|Story – 1|Originality – 2|Interesting – 1
Next up, we center our focus on the writing category, which did extremely well in its dialogue…but…that’ really about it. Those psychological questions it poses throughout the film is either truly psychological or they are portrayed perfectly enough to believe it. I’d also call the film’s take on cults original, but this is where the problems set in. The film isn’t really…balanced. It’s all over the place, has no goals in mind, it just goes with the flow…which could be anything. Zero points there. How’s the story? Hard to say, there isn’t much to the story since it’s really not balanced…but there is some importance to character. Finally, as I said earlier, the two leads generate enough interest to see the film… but there’s a question as to if that interest will last throughout the film.
BTS SCORE – 7/10
Visuals – 1|Directing – 2|Editing – 1|Advertisement – 2|Music – 1
While I did say the film looked great, I don’t think that had to do as much with the visuals angle as it did with the use of the camera and directing. Even though the film never really follows a very solid path, the director is able to at least make it feel like it sort of does while making great use of the camera. So, half points for visuals, full points for directing. As far as editing is concerned, it’s simply okay, actually. There wasn’t anything that stood out for me there. That being said, I do consider the film as-advertised, so that’s good, but none of the music or sound choices impressed me.
NARRATIVE ARC SCORE – 7/10
Introduction – 2|Inciting Incident – 2|Obstalces – 2|Climax – 0|Falling Action – 1
The narrative arc category was on target through most of the film, it’s just towards the end where things get wonky. Like I said, it’s a film without any major goals, so when there’s a climax, it just another thing that happens, so it doesn’t feel like a culmination of everything else. That means it wasn’t clearly a climax, so no points for that. The falling action lets things settle down a little, but there is no return to a new norm that I could really tell…maybe a little, but there wasn’t enough clarity to determine a perfect falling action. Everything else worked out fine. The introduction was able to do a fine just letting us get acquainted with Phoenix’s character before he actually gets into the cult (inciting incident). The obstacles come down to people questioning the Master’s methods and how Phoenix’s character reacts to that.
ENTERTAINMENT SCORE – 3/10
Rewatchability – 1|Fun – 1|Impulse/Buy – 0|Impulse/Talk – 0|Sucks you in – 1
How entertaining was The Master? Not very. This is one of those films where you just have to appreciate the technical side of things and ignore how entertaining it is…because that isn’t the point. Is it rewatchable? Technically, this was a rewatch, so I have to say yes…but I’m not sure if I’ll ever see it again. Was it fun to watch? I’ll say this…the sequences with the intense questioning sucked me in and I had a lot of fun watching it…but most of the film really had me disengaged with everything, so only half points for fun and sucking you in. Finally, I don’t care to buy it, own it as a gift, or talk about it with anybody who maybe didn’t know of its existence. So, take that as you will.
SPECIALTY SCORE – 45/50
Mind Control – 5|Brainwashing – 10|Drama – 10|Hoffman – 10|Halfway Decent – 10
Okay, now we move onto the specialty questions that I wrote down before seeing the film. This is mind control month, so how does this fare for that? Well, when I think of mind control, I think of actually controlling one’s actions further than just having them listen to everything you say…so while he definitely made contact with their mind in a controlling way…it doesn’t fully mean mind control – half points there. As for brainwashing, absolutely. That’s one thing you can’t take away from these cult films…there’s a ton of absolute brainwashing occurring here. How about the drama? Oh, there’s drama. There’s an abundance of it in this film. Full points. How about Phillip Seymore Hoffman? There aren’t a lot of films I think of when I think of this actor, though I do know he was brilliant at what he did, RIP. Patch Adams was one, and this may just be another one. Full points. Finally, was it halfway decent? Oh yeah. Totally.