Going chronologically backwards in my eccentric, slightly-OCD-like way, choosing movies from almost every decade of film even, I start with a recent flick from 2012, The Master. It stars two personal favourite actors of mine, not to mention a director who I’d kiss the feet of. Yet, somehow, despite buying the Blu-Ray for AU$6.99, I still have avoided the movie, as if I didn’t want to spoil what I knew would be a grand film. This is the only subconscious reason I can think of as this movie is asking me to watch it. I fucking loved There Will Be Blood, had an absolute Ball with Inherent Vice, and I think it is high time to meet the characters of The Master, who hopefully entertain as much as previous PTA creations… Which I don’t doubt will be the case. I know little of the plot or the characters, and I cannot wait to see my favourite actor of all of time, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who suddenly has such a different screen presence as his body of work is now finite. Rest In Peace big fella, let us see one of your final, essential pieces of acting. As for Phoenix, he can do no wrong as far as I am concerned….
…And the amazing non-vocal acting of Phoenix paints thousands of words as his behaviour and general demeanour is erratic and quick-tempered. He is quick-talking but his words tumble out before he thinks about what he is saying. He is roaming the streets drunkenly and on the run, and he seems constantly on the edge of violence, all examples of mental health issues leading to physical problems. While nothing specific is mentioned apart from a ‘nervous condition’, it is clear almost immediately that Freddy is one of many unfortunate souls who return from war only to be taken advantage of due to their warped sense of the world. Again, while not specifically mentioned, this is obviously an exaggeration of how Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder can affect people. This is perhaps the most creative film to explore this subject of returning veterans and the suffering they go through to this day, as it didn’t take long for me to care in an odd way about Freddy. My Puppa never talks about the war, apart from one time when he was watching an old movie with my father, and as a fighter plane flew low for a strafing run, he matter-of-factly commented, “Now that isn’t a good feeling.” Apparently he has said barely a word about his experiences apart from that remark, who knows if he suffered from his time spent on the battlefield.Freddy’s awkward demeanour had me hooked almost instantly, as I immediately saw an interesting character, who happens to have intercourse with a woman made of sand while stuck on a beach at war. This dark sense of humour was present throughout the movie, and it matches my rather unorthodox tastes perfectly. There were many funny moments, mostly due to Freddy, and while it was hilarious it also reminded me of myself at times before I was diagnosed – a rather eccentric and erratic character with no real sense of decision-making, judgement or perception of reality itself. Despite his flaws I identified with the man and I was wishing him forward as soon as I met him. As his personality developed, I found myself relating to him in a way I never have; few characters have had such a profound effect on me. Among epilepsy and other fun things, while I can’t say I have been at war, I can say that I understand PTSD and how it can ruin lives. Freddy has flashbacks, his behaviour is unpredictable, and being so disconnected from society has left him naïve and trusting, easily manipulated. This situation is obviously magnified after he meets Lancaster Dodd played by Hoffman, yet another truly fascinating PTA creation whose introduction changes the entire tone of the film, as Hoffman’s performance commands attention.
Freddy and Lancaster’s meeting lead to Freddy’s involvement in ‘The Cause’ which immediately reminded me of my story that is here… in draft form… On this site, one I am trying to eventually finish… As somewhat similarly to this movie I also was conned and twisted into staying within what you could call a sect or cult – though this was under the guise of drug rehabilitation. The fact Freddy is a proud booze-hound adds yet another layer to this movie for me as well. This movie’s themes and key relationships have really inspired me to continue with my true story, as this has been a type of catharsis for me.
Now this may sound bizarre, but I was amazed at the similarities between this film and the facility I was kept at.
Freddy is judged often by many, if not all of his peers, with his dirty laundry out for all to smell. This was exactly how the facility I stayed in operated – we didn’t speak to anyone one on one, we confessed our deepest regrets to total strangers staring at us, often the entire group. I also got chills during a scene where Lancaster is grilling Freddy with deep questions in quick succession, often repeating them again and again, as if not satisfied with the answer. While this is again is obviously exaggerated, I again can’t help but feel empathy and an eerie sense of déjà vu, as I have seen countless ‘therapists’ in my time, and Lancaster truly reminded me of one of the most horrid doctors I ever had the displeasure to meet. It also reminded me of another psych I once saw who was fond of a similar technique – battering me with questions one after the other, with no time to think. The scheme I guess was to peel back layers of emotional protection to uncover the truth, which is most certainly happens in this movie.
The deception throughout the movie, due mainly to Lancaster’s mannerisms and his charm and charisma, not to mention the passive-aggressive way in which he treats Freddy, is another big theme that hit home. I feel a bit like Freddy in this sense also: too trusting, naïve and too nice for my own good. I am gullible; very easily fooled, especially when the intent is manipulation – a theme so strong it is a force within this film. This behaviour of Lancaster is likely to go over the head of someone like Freddy, unaware of what the real situation is or how humans normally bond. Their relationship deepens further as Freddy is obviously seeking some sort of approval, after what seems to be a neglectful childhood of some kind. This shows when he returns home from war and has no one to go to, increasing his dependence on the one person he meets – Lancaster – who becomes important to him. I can relate slightly to this feeling as there have been times in my life where I only had one person I could trust or talk to, and that situation caused an uncomfortable dependence on that person, which in my case was not fair to my friend or our relationship.
This dependence again rings true for me, though in another, rather abstract way: my dependence was drug-related, but the reason for it was because I didn’t have anyone to go to either at the time, much like Freddy at the film’s beginning. Times have changed and I’m a happy camper these days, but it felt like many aspects of this movie were a strange, surreal allegory for many aspects of my life. Honestly I am still quite shocked how this film somehow used a kaleidoscope to mirror different elements of my life, and it has really caused me to sit down and think. I shall probably come back to this film and write more, as it feels so multi-faceted – much like any PTA film really.
It took me three bloody years to watch this. What was I waiting for?!
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