So FINALLY seeing “The Master” yesterday, I was astonished to find that my take-away from it was it’s A Big Gay Movie! Although clearly, it’s not being advertised as such. If only it were, I perhaps could’ve really loved it. But I found myself LIKING it more than I thought I would.
It really was to my great surprise a tortured, a VERY tortured gay love story, with two men who are so totally in the closet that they do not know what they’re experiencing as they both feel this inexplicable need and attraction for each other.
According to the Gurus o’ Gold, Daniel Day-Lewis in the still unseen “Lincoln” is right up there on the top of the list of Best Actors, separated by only one vote from Joaquim Phoenix’s tortured portrayal as Freddie Quell in “The Master.” And in Supporting, though again, he’s a LEAD, and shouldn’t be there, and he’s the title role for goodness sakes! Is Phillip Seymour Hoffman ‘s masterful portrayal of “The Master.” And he’s LEAGUES out in front of everyone else in that category. Maybe he’ll win his second Oscar for his role as Lancaster Dodd, the brutish, dapper, magnetic leader/creator/philosopher of “The Cause” a Scientology-ish cult.
The film is the story however of how Dodd, the Master, can NOT keep himself away from, or let go of the violent, abusive, lost drunken ex-sailor Freddie Quell. He becomes obsessed with him. He takes him with him everywhere, and his wife Amy Adams, does not like it. Unfortunately, her role is really nothing but pregnant wall-paper. She MIGHT get nominated if the film catches on with Academy voters, but there’s not much for her to do except, display her constant pregnancy and glare and glower at Freddie.
The fact that his wife is perpetually pregnant, and there is one scene in their bathroom, where she graphically masturbates her husband(Hoffman has his back to us, thankfully.) is meant to show that yes, the Master IS heterosexual, but NOTHING else explains this film and its’ existence except the explanation that The Master is in the closet and is in love with poor Freddie, who is also in the closet. In fact, the whole FILM is in the closet!
The Master” starts out with a wrestling scene on a beach where a bunch of sailors in tight, brief 40’s navy-issue swim suits, their muscles glistening in the sun, are going mano a mano all around Quell. There is also a large breasted sand dune sculpture of a naked woman that Freddie masturbates, and gets himself a hand full of, of course, mud. Then HE jerks off, facing the ocean. Frustrated libido is everywhere. The film at the end returns to this shot of Freddie on the beach gazing at the gigantic sand woman’s breasts and nipples as he lies next to her on the beach.
Freddie has a girl friend named Doris who he deserts at the beginning of the movie. He’s a constantly in trouble ne’er-do-well, to put it mildly, and an alcoholic who is driven to drinking medicines from everyone’s bathrooms’ medicine cabinets to get high. His potions are so lethal, he accidentally poisons a man at one point a Mexican field hand, who drinks one of his concoctions of paint thinner and whatever else Freddie has devised to put into.And Freddie is then on the run from the law.
One night in a drunken stupor he wanders onto a boat where Lancaster Dodd is having a party that is about to set sail, celebrating his daughter’s wedding. They are to sail “through the Canal to New York” and Freddie stays on board and sails with them.
The Master likes Freddie so much at the outset because Freddie has put together the right combination of paint thinner and peach juice that DOESN’T kill The Master.
And this film is much more about Scientology than I thought it would be. WWII and the post-war 1950s are its’ backdrop and The Master’s control of all his followers in this cult that is called “The Cause” is really rather frightening and chilling. But as the film goes on and on and on(yes, it’s WAAAAY to long) it seemed to me that Hoffman’s portrayal of Dodd got more and more effeminate. And the big gay pay-off scene is of the Master and Quell rolling over and over each other, smiling and laughing, giggling even, as they embrace on the grounds of The Cause’s current posh residence. Over and over and over they roll on top of each other. And they both seem to be having the time of their lives doing so.
It’s the only scene in the film where you see the two men(or any of the characters in this bleak, chilly film) actually expressing human warmth towards each other and having FUN.
There, yes, is a scene, where Freddie, who is prone to alcoholic hallucinations, sees all of Dodd’s female followers dancing around the Master nude. But tellingly,none of the men are.
Clearly, Freddie can’t find happiness with a woman and his only positive, ongoing relationship is with Dodd. Freddie is such a lost soul, you can see why he’s drawn to the charismatic Dodd, but why is Dodd so drawn to Freddie? He loves him. He wants to save him. He wants him with him for the rest of his life. It homo-erotic to say the least.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Master expresses every nuance that is required of him.
And that includes Dodd’s sick, controlling side, too. Which is frightening when it explodes. He HAS to be in the power position over all these people, and to me, he was sublimating his homosexual impulses into this scary, and sometimes violent, controlling persona.
But when Dodd calls Freddie transatlantic from London and says “I need you!” it was a quintessential gay moment, closeted, of course, to be sure. Freddie is watching a Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoon in an empty balcony of a movie theater when this moment happens. But it is telling nonetheless. It was the ’50s! THIS is how closeted gay men expressed themselves, the only outlet they had. Everything was coded, or sublimated. At that time, it was a love that couldn’t even be mention to those that felt these emotions.
So Freddie expresses it in violence and drunkenness and the Master expresses through his obsessive need of control over others. It’s a disturbing film, but it may bring Phillip Seymour Hoffman his second Oscar.
Joaquim Phoenix’s Freddie Quell has to duke it out with Daniel Day Lewis’ Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln.” Only a vote separates them on the Gurus o’ Gold chart. When we can see “Lincoln” in its’ entirety, we will know who really is on top for Best Actor.
“The Master” is a divisive film, because it doesn’t wear its’ homosexuality on its’ sleeve, so you don’t know what is REALLY going on between these two men, but it is there, though unstated, nonetheless. And that was the pre-Stonewall America to a T.