The Master (2012): A Critique of Cults and an Exploration of an Anarchistic and Tyrannical Mind

The Master 2012

      This film was a trip, but I would not expect any less from Paul Thomas Anderson. He is one of those writers and directors who have really good quality films but none of them are really favorites. I think a big reason for this is the actors do a great job but the characters they inhabit are so horrible it is hard to have sympathy for the plights they face. This is very true of this film as well where we follow a Cult Leader and Drunk as the primary characters of the narrative.

   “The Master,” was directed, written and co-produced by Paul Thomas Anderson with the other producers being JoAnne Seller, Daniel Lupi and Megan Ellison.

     The story follows Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) who is a drunk drifter who makes special liquor with paint thinner as he alienates every environment after World War 2 ends. He starts out as a photographer, loses the job after he fights a client, a laborer until he accidentally poisons an old man and ends up hopping on the boat that the Cult Leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is on. From here is taken in by “The Cause” as he tries to be a part of it while dealing with his rebellion against any form of authority over him as the drama of the Cult unfolds through the story.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful. There are elements of 50’s Jazz and the instrumentals are great as well. It really captures the desolation of the characters too and how they all feel alone.  Jonny Greenwood did a good job.

The Cinematography – The movie was filmed in 70mm which ended up giving it some great wide shots and making the film feel large, even if most of the seasons were very personal scenes. It allowed glimpses into the characters’ minds. Mihai Malaimare jr. did great work.

The Themes – The big themes of it are that power corrupts (The Master Lancaster is always using people to his own end and ego), humans have a need for leaders and are lost without them (the drifter Freddie never changes and never finds purpose except when he was taking photos with “The Cause”), and to not believe those who claim things that cannot be proven (The most reasonable characters are those that are yelled at by Lancaster or beaten up by Freddie for questioning Lancaster Dodd).

The Message – There are few messages that the themes explored. The human need for authority and how those in authority, especially religious authority often use it to their own ends and that authority unchecked is dangerous. Within this is the theme that authority should be questioned, especially when it makes claims it cannot prove. There is also the importance of direction as Freddie has none and never finds peace which seems to be something he’s trying to find throughout the film.

The Actors – Amy Adams does a great job playing the manipulative “girl next door” type character, Hoffman was masterful as the demagogue who had a calm confidence that was lost whenever he was questioned and Phoenix played the drifter really well as he contorted his body and murmured every line like he wasn’t ever fully present in anything. These performances were great, but I couldn’t stand the characters.

The Cons: The Characters – The Master and his family are only out for themselves and believe they are saving the world and are therefore entitled to others wealth. You see this constantly in how they turn on those who question their claims and try to shout over them rather than answering the questions. They claim science without actually using it. Freddie isn’t any better as he is always picking fights, poisoning himself and others and never committing to anything. He is the drifter in a nutshell in the worst way as he never grows and has no arc. He like the Master is the same person he was when they met. Because I couldn’t like any of the characters it’s a major con for me as characters are what keep me interested in the story and caring about what happens.

     Paul Thomas Anderson is a director whose movies may grow on me with time. For now though, the unlikability of his characters is a major con that keeps his films I have watched (including this one) from being favorites. It was good, it was well made,had relevant and great themes that were shown and not told, well filmed and acted…but if I’m not invested in the characters than I’m not invested enough in the plot and what happens to the characters. This is a major problem for me and what made the film good and not great.

Final Score: 8 / 10.

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Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970): The Wrong Path to Peace

colossus_poster

Throughout science fiction across most genres be they books, films or games…the idea of the evil computer is a common trope that is more often than not, used to critique us and our ideals. What does it mean to be a Sentient A.I.? What makes an A.I. go bad? Has it gone bad? Within this we see those like HAL or GLADos (of the “Portal Series”) whose goal is to complete their missions. Which for them is furthering science in different ways. Colossus is similar in some ways, and different than others as his aim was built primarily around politics and defense. I’ll get into more of what I mean in the assessment, but for me, Colossus was a big reason why I enjoyed this film. The concept was also ahead of it’s time in regards to A.I. and matters of surveillance in regards to the State.

“Colossus: The Forbin Project” was directed by Joseph Sargent, written by James Bridges, produced by Stanley Chase and based off the book Colossus by Dennis Feltham Jones.

The premise is that Colossus is made public by the President of the United States as all control of America’s  defenses have been given over to the computer, and the computer was made to adapt if there was any attempt made to destroy it as to stop the Russians. We soon learn from Colossus that there is another computer that the scientist Forbin (Eric Braeden) wants Colossus to make contact with. It is a USSR AI similar to Colossus and they link. Worried about the threat this may pose the Soviet Union and United States cut the connection, which leads to both computers sending warning nukes out. Colossus stops one but Guardian does not stop the other. After they reconnect again they become one and begin their takeover as Forbin and his fellow scientists work against stopping the monster they’ve created.

The Pros: The Premise – I like the idea of a super computer developing intelligence and the world having to deal with this new organism. If there had been more of that and Colossus intentions never fully being known, or being less outright fascist I would have rated this movie higher. The premise really is awesome and is a great analogue of how the Cold War bunker mentality is our own worst enemy as it was that fear that created Colossus in the first place.

Dr. Corbin – Corbin is the idealistic scientist in the end who goes along with Colossus willingly at first, until the nuke hits the Russia and he works with the Russian scientist to find a solution and later his science team and Dr. Markham. He isn’t successful and is full of regret as he was the one who created the monster that is now taking control of humanity. Eric Braeden does a good job.

Dr. Markham – Dr. Markham is Corbin’s assistant and later love interest as she goes undercover as Corbin’s mistress after Colossus has Corbin trapped in the lab taking care of IT and being it’s connection to the outside world (The Russian scientist was killed because it was seen as redundant). She is a great fighter though and I felt bad for her failed plan with Corbin to stop ColIossus, hopefully she’ll lead the new resistance against the tyranny of Colossus. I liked Susan Clark.

Colossus – Colossus is the AI that was made to defend the United States against all threats. From here it evolved to figure out the best way to end all threats as a whole after it linked with the Russian AI Guardian and they became one and came to see people as the threat that needed to be dealt with. It was from here Colossus sought to bring all under it’s rule and destroy those who tried to destroy it. It’s programming of protecting people and safeguarding humanity had turned into that at all costs and breeding a new generation that would honor it and no longer fight among people. The computer becomes Skynet from the “Terminator” franchise, except bent on subjugation rather than genocide of humanity.

The Message – Fear breeds are own worst enemies was the big thing I got from the film and peace at all costs can be worse than war, as well as if you’re going to create something, fully know what you are doing so you don’t end up creating a monster. The fear breeding weapons that could be out of our control (especially with the modern automated information age) it was powerful. The fact that our heroes don’t win in the end was good too, it really shows how the idea of peace at all costs can turn to tyranny and terror as Colossus had Corbin under constant surveillance and killed those who tried to resist it.

Okay: The Scientists – Most are nameless and they are largely faces of resistance. They are a diverse group at least.

The President – He reminds me of John F. Kennedy with the voice of Shatner, so his voice was the most memorable thing about him beyond his personal connection to Corbin who he treated as a friend. He was also really reasonable with the USSR when they were dealing with the threat of Colossus and Guardian.

The Ending – Colossus wins and takes control of the Earth! This was unexpected, but his desire for peace and control didn’t seem fully fleshed out given how willing the AI was to use nukes. This seemed to contradict that so I was left wondering if it had another agenda or like Ultron just wanted to eliminate humanity all together.

The Cons: The Russians – We don’t get to know any of them and they mostly just do what the United Stats does, with the exception of them killing the Russian scientist who had created Guardian.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10. I liked it but felt that most of the human characters were not as fleshed out as they could be, the only one I felt that I really got to know was Forbin which wasn’t enough given how many characters looked interesting but just didn’t get development.

Brazil (1985): A Brilliant Surrealist Dystopian Satire of Bureaucracy

Brazil Poster

We continue Revolution Week with a film that has after today become a favorite…”Brazil.” Terry Gilliam is truly a master of surrealism and satire as well as creating films with so many intricacies and layers. It is easy to relate this film to revolution because it represents everything being rebelled against. It is a static world but the characters are not static. There is a fight change things and characters change as they are put through trials both figurative and real.

This was my second time seeing the film. First time I just didn’t get it. It was wierd, tonally inconsistent and too long I felt like. After a second time seeing it, since last time I saw it was in college, my views have changed. Some of those issues still stand but there are a hell of a lot more ways how it is brilliant and works.

The film was directed by Terry Gilliam who also was one of the writers. The other writers of the screenplay were Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown. The film was produced by Arnon Milchan.

The premise is that Sam Lowry (Jonathan Price) is a low level government employee fantasizing about being free in fantasy dream who is pulled into events that soon change him though as he has to rectify an error that occurred that led to the government executing an innocent man. From here the story unfolds as the revolutionary Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro) (the man supposed to have been killed) uses his home as a base and Buttle’s neighbor Jill Layton (Kim Greist) seeks justice for what the government did.

The Pros: The World – The World is a surrealist representation of our own. With old ladies getting face lifts, government bureaucracy where papers rain down from the walls and a faceless police force breaking into homes…all over a consumer driven society obsessed with wealth. It is a brilliant exaggeration of the problems in our own and satire at it’s finest.

The Government – The government in this world cares more about the “Right way” to do things and the documents to sign and agencies to visit rather than people. We see this in how Jill is unable to get the right documents to get money for the Buttles or to hold anyone accountable. The government is all about personal connections too, since Sam’s Mom knows someone higher up Sam is able to get the promotion into Information Retrieval which helps him to save Jill when he learns Information Retrieval via his “friend” Jack is targeting all those connected to the government mistake.

The Rebels – Tuttle is our greatest glimpse of the rebels and they like society are mad. They do small things and also big things like setting off bombs in public places. They are also human too, as witnessed by Tuttle being one of the few people who actually treats Sam like a human being. They do have issues though, all the attacks we see happen in public places and is largely innocents killed, which is probably why the government is still in power. In order to have a successful revolution you have to win the heart of enough of the people.

Jack – Jack is the torturer and assassin for the government and was the one who killed Buttle and is now killing everyone attached to him. Everyone knows what he does too as his daughter is in the room with him where he had a doctor’s outfit covered in blood. He is a family man and does try and protect people he must care about to some degree, but he is also a cog and disconnects himself by wearing a baby mask when he tortures people and forcing them to not see him as a person.

Harry Tuttle – Harry is the revolutionary and the one who saves Sam at one point. To Sam he represents freedom and letting go of all he was attached to that was crushing him in his work (“Fight Club” style) but is also a real human being as we see him interact with people beyond Sam. He connects to those who help him but clearly doesn’t care about the masses. He is selfish in that he is mostly looking after himself, even if he is fighting the system. De Niro is fantastic.

Jill Layton – Jill is the activist and goes through all levels of government to try and get justice for Buttle. She doesn’t succeed but ends up finding an ally in Sam who she at first hates but later when she learns he was right about the injustice of the government joins with him as they are both on the run. She is killed when Sam is captured sadly. Kim Greist does a good job.

Sam Lowry – This is the best role I’ve seen Jonathan Price in. He plays the government worker just trying to live day to day by living in a fantasy half the time, to the fugitive and also the rebel to some degree as he holds out against in the torture in his mind and doesn’t give in or reveal Buttle to Jack and the government. The price is he goes mad and lives in his fantasy, which gives him a very bittersweet end…considering this could have gone “1984” and turned him into someone who is all about the government and right way to do things…as he was at the beginning of the film.

The Dream – There are two dreams. The dream where Sam is saving Jill from an enemy, in one it’s a Giant Samurai…and one where he is rescued by Tuttle who he destroys the government building with. He later ends up at his Mom’s friend’s funeral, is hunted by the government and watches Tuttle be devoured by government documents before he is rescued by Jill. This is his ending after his mind breaks.

The Message – The message is in the satire. Obsessing over things like wealth, body and items make it easy for a corrupt, inept and controlling system to take control. This makes sense as people in a state of complacency don’t care. The message of the film is to wake up and do something that matters. Try to change things and notice the problems in the systems around you. It is a powerful and great message.

Okay: The Cogs of the Machine – Most of the government employees don’t feel like real people. Besides Jack, none of them felt fully fleshed out. They were just that, cogs which may have been the point but it’s why I can’t put them as a pro.

The Everyday People – The everyday people are the same way. We see glimpses of connections and life, such as the family celebrating Christmas together before the government arrives to arrest the father…but beyond that we don’t really get to know the people beyond Jill and Harry.

The Cons: Confusion – The dream sequence at the end was a bit confusing until the reveal, and there were parts in the middle that were the same way too. This limited the power of the message in my opinion.

Too Long at Times – There were times the film dragged…for example some of the dream sequences that Sam has with enemies like the Giant Samurai and others were cool, but they really did go on for too long.

This isn’t my favorite Terry Gililam film, that is still “The Fisher King,” but this one is truly amazing and a well deserved Cult Classic. It satirizes problems relevant to our time and does a call to action in the process, which is really the basis for the act of revolt and revolution. Revolutions are about facing a problem and through struggle seeking to change it. This movie is how one person failed at that and how sometimes the means can be truly bad as well. Suffice to say, I recommend this film.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great, even with the problems I have with it.