Second Thoughts: The Master @ Norden Farm

In celebration of local Arts-facililitation this week, with The Royal Opera House and The  National Theatre broadcasting live to cinemas everywhere, I wanted to focus on the role Local Arts Centres play in our community. Not only do they stage a spectrum of live performances, from comedy, to music, to drama, but they often provide a catering service, gallery area and an in-house cinema, often showing internationally celebrated films that don’t make the Hollywood cut in multiplex cinemas.

This week I was invited to Norden Farm to see one such film. Although The Master was considered Hollywood enough to be in multiplex at the end of 2012, Norden Farms commitment to great stories allowed another chance to see the show on the big screen, in case you missed it, or if you just wanted to see it again. It is definitely a film that would welcome a second consideration. Although at one hundred and forty-four minutes, it’s certainly a long film and not for the easily distracted.

The stylised film spirals down the consciousness of World War II Veteran (and apparent Franco-Prussian War veteran too) Freddie Quill (Joaquin Pheonix). His alcoholic abuse and sexual musings makes it difficult to sieve out reality from his own fantasy. Does newly wed Elizabeth Dodd really come on to him, in one of the frequent meetings, with her husband just a few metres away? The sexual priority given to every act makes the motives of the characters difficult to muster and the story teller an untrustworthy figure. In the end we are left to question whether Freddie’s sexual insanity is madness at all, and if this sexual malady is not suffered by all the characters.

It’s male sexuality that is probed at and consequently mastubation becomes a ritual. The most notable masturbation scene comes one hour after the first, (where Freddie’s excitement at a female figure in the sand leads to him relieving himself into the ocean) and is used strictly as a means of control. Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams) gets her husband to submit to her will, physically and mentally, as she discusses the fate of Freddie. This conversation seems coded with sexual impulse as she tells him ‘You can do what you want’ as long it’s not at the expense of any of her friends finding out. Her meaning is left ambiguous and after cleaning her hand, with mild disgust, she goes and tells Freddie the same thing. It suggests that it’s Peggy who controls her husband, it is Peggy who is ‘The Master’ although the title is reserved for her better half.

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The relationship between Freddie and Lancaster Dodd (Philip Hoffman) borders on paternal, with Dodd’s encouragement sounding like that to a child: ‘Good Boy’ her repeats or more frequently Freddie is condemned as a ‘bad boy’. Freddie fulfils his role as child with his immature silliness and naive loyalty. Yet since Freddie is not a child, it all seems very weird and is given a suspiciously Plato-esque air relative to the older man and student. Indeed Freddie becomes quickly initiated in The Cause mentality and is slowly moulded to Dodd’s vision. The two appear very similar, and whilst Dodd verbally abuses anyone that does not accept The Cause’s teachings, Freddie physically attacks his opponents and Anderson chooses back-to-back mirroring scenes to confirm this view. Although Anderson fervently dissuades the comparison between the Cause and Scientology, it certainly seems like they are very closely linked.

Yet Freddie cannot stay in The Cause for long and disappears to continue his own reckless life. In the final scene between Dodd and Freddie, Peggy is curiously sitting in the shadows,  behind Dodd and it is her that talks first. When she leaves, it is not surpisrising that Dodd takes the same line of thought as she did. Freddie is either in, or out.

Freddie celebrates his independence in a bar, where he meets his perfect woman. A cute, curvy blonde, who goes back to his. He finally fulfills his sexual prowess and the film makes a note. Yet what is interesting is that Freddie quizzes this new girl in the way that Dodd did him. This echo not only punctuates the sexual explicitness of their prior relationship but allows us to see Freddie as transformed. He is the new master. Notably his new girlfriend is dominantly on top, perhaps another Peggy in the making?

The film’s final scene takes Freddie back to the beach to lay next to his sand-woman, whose bigness seems an oppressive mark on the otherwise clear beach. Whether this is a sign of digression or his submitting to the dominant female figure is unclear. Yet this beautifully framed vision of tranquility is more important for it’s look that it’s substance, like most of the film.

Next week’s film, which starts on Tuesday and continues through the week, is The Hunt, which is a timely Danish social drama directed by Thomas Vinterberg: http://nordenfarm.org/?&tmpl=event&e_id=16660&es_dspl=1&es_title=this%20week&es_str=2013-01-20.

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