Mark Dujsik on “The Master”

Joaquin Phoenix stars in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” is that special sort of film that I believe warrants more than one podcast. This past September, I spoke with filmmaker Mike Eisenberg soon after we experienced the film’s much-hyped advance screening at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre. It was a very good discussion, but I knew there was much more left to discover. A month later, I spoke with Mark Dujsik, the excellent critic at, on the day that The Weinstein Company decided to release the film everywhere (and they did literally mean everywhere). Now that the general public has gotten a chance to judge the film for themselves, I decided to post Mark and my discussion as a conversation starter of sorts (please feel free to add your own take on the film in the comment box below).

After this podcast was recorded, I saw the film twice more and it was much more satisfying upon subsequent viewings. Though I still believe that it’s PTA’s least accessible film to date, I think that was also his intention. It’s a challenging portrait of spiritual disillusionment that truly conveys the frustrations of its main character, a wayward WWII vet (Joaquin Phoenix), who joins a faith-based group led by an L. Ron Hubbard-esque “Master” (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Whereas Hoffman is obsessed with bringing mankind to its original state of “perfect,” Phoenix has an animalistic preoccupation with sex and idealizes a lost love, whose name turns out to be Doris Day (who symbolized for many in the ’50s the very image of unattainable femininity). The key image in the film, I think, is that of Phoenix carefully molding a woman out of sand on a beach in order to (unsuccessfully) relieve himself of his sexual frustrations. Like Hoffman’s faux religion, the woman is carefully constructed, entirely contrived and can be demolished by a single wave.

The program was produced by Columbia College Chicago. Technical producers were Rebecca Nystedt and Steve Ahlman. An Indie Outlook production.

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