Deconstructing The Master

01/12/2012 | By

A nice collection of PTA quotes from previous interviews from the LA Times

Deconstructing ‘The Master’
( The Weinstein Co. )
Even after seeing Anderson’s deeply engaging film a handful of times, we still find ourselves hopelessly inquisitive, too, about its messages and meaning, not to mention whether a sailor could really drain and drink the alcohol from a torpedo and live to tell the tale. So we combed through the interviews Anderson has given recently, allowing him to explain or, at least, explore some of the mysteries in “The Master.”

What attracts Freddie to The Master?
( The Weinstein Co. )
Freddie (played by Joaquin Phoenix) returns from the war, undergoes tests and is told, along with other vets, to “find a steady job.”
“I read a lot of stories about these guys in the war who were great soldiers because they liked having a master… a commander telling them where to go and what to do. When they came back and didn’t have that, they hungered for it again. They just needed someone to tell them what direction to go, particularly if a natural direction for them wasn’t to raise a family. They didn’t have anyone to kill or beat up. They needed someone to point them in the right direction.” — Anderson to Total Film

What attracts the master to Freddie?
( The Weinstein Co. )
Dodd’s family and followers certainly haven’t a clue why he keeps this scoundrel around. Does Dodd?
“Salvation, probably. [He] wants to save him, I suppose, and hug him and hold him in his pocket, but he probably also wants that thrill of being bitten by him, that kind of thing that happens in certain relationships.
“You’ve seen people in a relationship that was very strong to them, and when that relationship ended they were never exactly quite the same afterward. They were never able to fully trust or embrace or invest in another person again. I wonder if it was sort of along those kinds of lines. Once you’ve lost that love of your life or that person you are connected to, somehow you’re in a different place the whole rest of your life. You’d be very, very lucky if you had anything like it again. I’ve seen that happen with some friends and people I know. I could see that kind of applying to this too, maybe.” — Anderson to Filmmaker magazine

Can you really drink torpedo juice?
( The Weinstein Co. )
Apparently, though we don’t recommend trying any of Freddie’s cocktail recipes at home. Anderson took inspiration for an early scene of Freddie draining and drinking torpedo fuel from a story Jason Robards told him while working together on “Magnolia.”
“I don’t remember what boat he was on, but he was coming back, and V-J Day was announced, and they’d run out of booze. And they broke into the torpedoes and drank the booze out of there. And the way he tells it is he woke up the next morning on the mast of the ship and an inch either way he would have fallen to his death. And that story just stuck with me as a great story and something to get into a film.” — Anderson to NPR’s “Fresh Air”

Why did those women suddenly appear naked?
( The Weinstein Co. )
At a party attended by a fawning group of acolytes, The Master dances and sings the traditional song, “I’ll Go No More A-Rovin’.” As the scene unfurls, all the women partygoers abruptly lose their clothes, continuing their revelry au natural.
“It was an idea I had and I thought it could go either way — like, ‘This could be great or it could be kind of silly.’ Maybe it is still silly, but hopefully in a good way! The part that I like most about that scene is seeing that The Master can out-party Freddie. Freddie’s like, ‘I can’t even get up off this couch,’ and yet The Master’s still dancing and singing. The naked girls? We’re seeing the world through Freddie’s eyes. He probably undresses every woman he sees. As we all do. We all do!” — Anderson to Empire magazine

Questioning The Master’s beliefs
( The Weinstein Co. )
Does The Master believe what he’s saying or is he, as his eldest son tells Freddie, “making it up as he goes along?” Or need the two be mutually exclusive?
“I really do believe that he is a scientist, and he’s a writer, and he’s actually very open, I think that we are on a journey, and we are discovering, and we are making this up as we go along. I think when he’s comfortable, he does admit that.
I think he’s very open about that, until he gets put into a corner, sort of face-to-face with some kind of skepticism. And then he probably asserts himself as knowing much more than he does, or that he feels that he does.
“I’ve always felt with this guy, that the pressure’s on. At a certain point, it’s a very difficult position to be in. The more people that are around or following you, the harder it becomes to say, ‘I don’t know what’s going on, let’s keep discovering, let’s keep that journey going.’ ” — “Fresh Air”

OK, fine. But does The Master really want to help people?
( The Weinstein Co. )
“I guess you have to ask yourself, ‘Why would somebody be so interested in helping other people?’ It’s kind of a funny question to ask. I mean, what’s wrong with that? But maybe at the same time, somebody’s trying to master their own madness, their own kind of hunger, to fix what frustrates them about themselves. And some people are good at talking. And some people like to have people around them… like an extended family.
“That’s what I saw in Lancaster Dodd. He likes a good time. He likes to go fast, to devour life. He has a very positive attack on life — and other lives.” — Empire magazine

Freddie needs a chiropractor, right?
( The Weinstein Co. )
What’s with Freddie’s all-elbows stance? Is he trying to keep people away or hold his insides together? The character’s stooped posture was largely Phoenix’s creation. Anderson liked it and never questioned the actor on the choice.
“I kind of had my own theories about it because he puts his hands on his hips, and this sort of stuff about his kidneys being all torn up from the war, maybe something happened, maybe it’s just easier. Maybe it’s comfortable for him to kind of reach back and hold his kidneys and help him stand. But then again yeah, there’s always that thing… the way somebody holds himself is an extension of… what’s going on with them on the inside.” — “Fresh Air”

Amy Adams talks dirty
( The Weinstein Co. )
Late in the film, Dodd’s wife, Peggy (played by Amy Adams), works with Freddie on some mental exercises and we see Adams staring straight into the camera, reading Victorian-era porn and telling Freddie to change the color of her eyes. It seems to be an attempt to desensitize Freddie from his sexual obsessions, though Anderson suggests the motivation might not be quite that deep.
“That day in particular was a day where a bunch of our cameras broke. And Amy was around… and I presented this idea to her. I think we tried it with some other people too doing it… and it wasn’t as effective. And I kind of thought that the best idea was to have Amy do it, probably just the perverse thrill of seeing her character read these kind of really dirty, dirty, dirty words. And yeah, it was really hard not to laugh. I had to step out of the room. She did great.” — “Fresh Air”

‘Wall, window’
( The Weinstein Co. )
In another exercise, Dodd has Freddie beat a path between a wall and a window, over and over (and over) again.
“That was based on a thing that I had read in the very early days of Dianetics. The idea was to take you through a number of different emotions: anger, apathy, withdrawal, to the point where you are actually OK with it. It’s a disciplining exercise, I believe. There’s something very dramatic about that. It’s a good situation to get in dramatically, but also between these two characters, too. Somebody who’s desperate to tame themselves and be good for their master, and get into this and figure out, ‘What is wrong with me?’ and ‘I don’t want to act like this anymore.’ It lent itself to a kind of flammable dramatic sequence.” –Anderson to The Huffington Post

Dancing to the jailhouse rock
( The Weinstein Co. )
Anderson had several ideas for the scene in which Freddie and Dodd are thrown into adjoining jail cells. He solicited thoughts from Phoenix and Hoffman without reaching a consensus, so he decided to roll the camera and “just see what happens.”
“I think the agreement was is that what would be nice is if it just kind of dissolves quite quickly into like a really childish lovers’ spat where everybody just goes zero to sixty suddenly and you’re just screaming obscenities at each other and nonsense, that it just dissolves into schoolyard stuff him. What they were saying went out the window. It didn’t matter. They just wanted to get each other.” — “Fresh Air”

No sympathy for this devil
( The Weinstein Co. )
Some viewers have been put off by the impulsive Freddie, finding him coarse, unsympathetic and impenetrable. But Anderson drops hints about his past along the way, detailing Freddie’s deep desire for family and stability, a longing that leads him to Dodd.
“I remember thinking sometimes, while we were shooting, ‘Is he a ghost, almost?’ You get into researching that period and there were all these sailors surrounded by death and just so many bodies. You just think about guys being literally out at sea and surrounded by their buddies floating in water and stuff like that and you just think, `Maybe he’s a ghost himself. Does he even know it?'” — The Huffington Post

Exit: Sand woman
( The Weinstein Co. )
Following his parting with Dodd, Freddie enjoys an agreeable romp with an English girl he met in a pub, even incorporating a little processing into their time in bed. Anderson then returns to a recurring image — Freddie on the beach with a woman sculpted from sand. This time, though, he seems, finally, at peace.
“It just felt right. I can’t tell you why. If I have a strong instinct, I go with it, and try to get the intellectual chatter out of my head.” — Anderson to Newsweek

‘No other love’
( The Weinstein Co. )
The film’s closing credits feature postwar vocalist Jo Stafford performing an earnest, deeply moving rendition of a song about an all-consuming love.
“It was seven or eight years ago I first heard this. But Jo Stafford is just the greatest and… she’s probably my favorite singer of that period.
“This one just rose to the top for the way that it felt and obvious sort of connotations in the lyrics, how it could fit the relationship of these two men and how they feel about each other. Also, it’s just really nice to have a woman’s voice come in as a nice feeling to the film after these… it’s so kind of boy-heavy between the two of them, you know, it’s really nice having this sort of angel voice come in over the film.” — “Fresh Air”

Love it, hate it: ‘That’s what makes horse races’
( The Weinstein Co. )
“Skeptics are great, believers are great. I can’t think of a film that everybody likes, I wish I could. That’s kind of what makes horse races, as my dad used to say. We’re in a neat spot where these films that we made, a lot of people love them, a lot of people scratch their heads, some people get actively aggressive toward them, and I love that. We certainly don’t seek it out, but it’s great to make a film that people are excited by and are talking and arguing about.” — Anderson in Canadian Broadcasting Company radio interview