The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson

The Master is a 2012 film written, directed, and co-produced by Paul Thomas Anderson. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Laura Dern. The film depicts alcoholic Freddie Quell, a World War II veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and struggling to adjust to a post-war society. He is taken under the wing of a charismatic mystic Lancaster Dodd, progenitor of a new religious movement.

It was first reported in 2009 that Anderson had been working on a script about the founder of a new religious organization (described as being similar to Scientology) played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. In 2011 it was reported that Megan Ellison, daughter of billionaire Larry Ellison, would finance ‘The Master’ and Anderson’s adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel ‘Inherent Vice’ under her new production company Annapurna Pictures. Harvey Weinstein later picked up the worldwide rights to the film.

Anderson initially got the idea for the film by reading a quote that mentioned that the periods after wars were times for spiritual movements to start. To write the script, Anderson combined unused scenes from early drafts of ‘There Will Be Blood,’ stories Jason Robards had told him on the set of ‘Magnolia’ about his drinking days in the Navy during the war, and the life stories of John Steinbeck and L. Ron Hubbard. While writing, Anderson would have Hoffman read parts of the script and give feedback which led to Hoffman suggesting that the film should be Freddie’s story and not Lancaster’s. The film was shot on 65mm film being the first fictional film to be shot in 65mm since Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Hamlet’ in 1996. Adams stated that Anderson would have her appear on set for scenes she was not scheduled to appear in to make her presence felt and at times she had no clue as to whether or not the camera was on her. Anderson compared Phoenix’s commitment to that of Daniel Day-Lewis for his level of concentration stating that Phoenix got into character and stayed there for three months. Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead composed the score for the film. This is the second time Greenwood has scored an Anderson film, the first being ‘There Will Be Blood,’ released in 2007.

Upon the release of the script, comparisons between Dodd’s movement, ‘the Cause,’ and Scientology were quickly made. The press noted Hoffman’s physical resemblance to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard (1911–1986), who served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and after his release from the hospital founded the belief system in 1952, the same year as the religion in the script. A production company official denied that the film was loosely based on Hubbard with producer JoAnne Sellar also denying any connection to Hubbard stating ‘It’s a World War II drama. It’s about a drifter after World War II.’ Harvey Weinstein also denied that the film was about Scientology stating ‘Paul says to me the movie is about a journey for soldiers after World War II… one of the things that happens to this soldier is he goes to a cult.’ Anderson has stated that he’s ‘…always thought Hubbard was a great character, so interesting and larger than life, and kind of impossible to ignore’ and acknowledges that Lancaster Dodd was inspired by L. Ron Hubbard and that he should have known that’s what people would latch onto stating ‘I didn’t want it to be a biography. It’s not the L. Ron Hubbard story.’

Several websites suggested that ‘important Hollywood Scientologists” objected to the project because they feared it might reveal too much about the faith and others even speculated that the Church of Scientology had enough power to stop Universal from green-lighting the film. However, none of the production crew has been contacted by representatives of Scientology. When Karin Pouw, a spokeswoman for the church, was asked if the church had any concerns about the film she stated ‘We have not seen the film, so can’t say one way or another,’ and that the church only knows about the film from what it reads in the press. According to Anderson, at no point did the church make any direct or indirect inquiries about the project or otherwise try to inhibit its progress. Anderson reportedly screened the film for actor Tom Cruise, his friend and outspoken Scientologist, who had some issues it. Cruise had previously starred in Anderson’s 1999 film ‘Magnolia,’ receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his work. Officials of the church, who reportedly heard from Cruise, ‘hit the roof’ when they learned of a scene which suggests the belief system was a product of the leader’s imagination. The scene with which Cruise had issues has Dodd’s son tell [Quell] that Dodd is just making it up as he goes along. There were other lines that Cruise’s people had issues with, but Anderson did not excise any of it from the film.


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