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The Master (2012)

I saw The Master in Jerusalem with a retired gay Canadian diplomat who wanted to convert to Judaism—and was a diligent prospective Ulpan student. “You sure do get yourself into some situations, don’t you, 738?”. But of course—experience is the spice of life.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a drifter (ex-navy) and an alcoholic who encounters Lancaster Dodd (the film’s eponymous “Master”, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is a Hubbard-like figure—the leader of a pseudo-scientific cult called “the Cause” which investigates your past lives through hypnosis and “processing”.

He works from a motor yacht, like Hubbard, called Aletheia—which means “truth” in ancient Greek, but truth as to “re-member” since souls are bathed in the Lethe when they reincarnate; so this is truth as to a-Lethe yourself, re-member yourself—the goal of Platonic philosophy. And that’s relevant, because Dodd, like Hubbard, is into “past life regression”.

So Dodd adopts Freddie and tries to “reprogram” him with his techniques—with little success, since Freddie disturbs the activities of the Cause with his violent outbursts and alcoholism (he brews his own spirits, described as a “magic potion” by Dodd—and probably mostly composed from Sterno and dregs from the liquor cabinet).

To understand this film you have to flip the roles—Freddie is the Master, Dodd is the apprentice (despite all appearances to the contrary).

This is evident at the film’s end. Freddie has a dream in which Dodd calls him, after about a two-year absence, to go see him—which he does. Dodd is now in England and “the Cause”, just like Scientology, has taken off in a big way (just like Hubbard did in England).

In a final confrontation, Dodd asks Freddie to commit himself to the Cause forever (a Hubbardesque 3-billion-year commitment, just sign on the dotted line…)—and Freddie, who has no stable family (mother in the nuthouse, father drank himself to death), breaks down in tears; but he doesn’t take the offer.

However, among the last things Dodd says to Freddie is “The pull of the dream. The intersection of the astral planes. Only a man as strong as you can listen to those calls...” He also says that there’s adventure about when Freddie is there. Afterwards, he offers him “the contract”—his last chance at “redemption”.

It’s those final words “only a man as strong as you” which are the give away as to who the real Master is—it’s Freddie, the apparently fucked-up alcoholic deadbeat, who is strong enough to listen to his dreams, whereas Dodd is actually dominated by…his wife.

His wife Peggy (Amy Adams) sits in on the whole conversation—and even lambasts Freddie about “true commitment to the Cause, once you’re in, you’re in for 3 billion years”.

Now, earlier on, back in Philadelphia, where the Cause has set up shop, we see Peggy approach Dodd at the bathroom sink before bedtime—and she masturbates him over the sink and as she does so she <hypnotically> tells him what the Cause is going to do, and that he’s allowed to “fool around” so long as nobody she knows finds out.

Specifically, Dodd had given a speech, influenced implicitly by Freddie, where he speaks about “love”—he speaks about love in Philadelphia (city of brotherly love). But Peggy tells him, as she gives him hand relief, as the hardened pros say, to drop that idea and that “we’re not going down that route—it didn’t work for them, and it’s not going to work for us”.

Some people think this refers to a homosexual relationship that Dodd wants with Freddie—given their infatuation and longing glances. But people impose a sexual interpretation too easily, because it’s high-status to be gay today so everything has to be “repressed homosexuality in the 1950s” (Scientology meets Brokeback Mountain).

The “route” Peggy refers to is actually “brotherly love”—and “it didn’t work for them, it’s not going to work for us” refers to the Christians, who also preached “brotherly love” when their cult started.

So, who controls “the Master”? His wife—she is clearly “the power behind the throne”, and in the penultimate scene she even sits in an antique chair that looks like a throne while she berates Freddie (“You can’t take this world straight, can you?”). Dodd, meanwhile, is pictured, in this English mansion, next to a globe (“the world is not enough” or “the Lord of this World”—aka Satan, aka his wife, whom he has sold his soul to for world power).

So the joke in the film is that Freddie the fuck-up is actually the Master—he follows his dreams, prophetic dreams, even when it causes total disruption to his life and those around him. Dodd, meanwhile, the supposed masterful cult leader who has conquered his “animal instincts” (an obsession with him), is totally controlled by his wife (through very animalistic masturbation)—his wife is his true master, and woman is the Devil, and she wants him to rule “this world” and not practice brotherly love.

At one point, Dodd even asks Freddie something like “how do you do it?”, because he wants to know how Freddie has become a master of himself and not been mastered by the world (by woman)—and he calls Freddie’s homebrew drink (“it doesn’t hurt you, not if you drink it smart”) a “magic potion” because Freddie is the real magician, not Dodd.

And what Freddie offers Dodd is brotherly love, not “rule of this world”; and, indeed, in their last meeting, Dodd, who is big into reincarnation, tells Freddie that when they meet again in their next lives it will be as enemies—because he has chosen to serve Satan, whereas Freddie has chosen to serve God.

Remember, what was Jesus called? “The Master” (rabbi). This is what the film is really about—Freddie is the true Master, because he follows his dreams and not the lies and blandishments of women and their obsession with worldly success. Meanwhile, Dodd, who apparently has “mastered” his animal instincts and the world, is really in hock to his wife.

Incidentally, the villain in Doctor Who is called “the Master” and that is because Doctor Who, as noted many times before, aims to corrupt the young. The Doctor, as Time Lord, exists outside space and time and helps and saves people without thought for reward—so he’s God, right? He’s really kind and friendly, too…But the Doctor also stole his time machine, the TARDIS, so he’s actually a rebel angel against the Time Lords, the true authority of time—the rebel angel is Satan (and his minions).

As I noted, the Doctor at one time explicitly rejects “the sacred heart”, as a computer room is so dubbed in a sci-fi conceit, and that is because the character, like everything from the BBC, is really a perversion. “The Master” is Jesus (the sacred heart)—yet in Doctor Who the Master is portrayed as “the villain”, whereas the Doctor, the rebel angel, is portrayed as good.

To return to The Master, Freddie Quell’s name is German for “the spring” or “the source”—so there’s an idea in “Quell” that he is “the source”, “the fountainhead”, “the spring” that provides brotherly love, dreams, and adventure. Dodd, by contrast, is rather like “plod”—although he looks special “masterful”, he’s just plodding along (under his wife’s yoke—the 3-billion-year contract, just sign your soul to the Devil).

How does Freddie do it? At the film’s end he’s shown in flashback hugging a sand sculpture of a mermaid he made with his shipmates in the service—earlier, when he worked as a department store photographer, he is shown as dating a “living mannequin” who walks round the store dressed in clothes to advertise them (who may, since he hallucinates due to his homemade booze, be an actual mannequin he had sexual fantasies about).

So the implication is that Freddie doesn’t have relationships with real women, just women in his imagination—so although he is very sexual, imagines all the people in an innocent dance at a Cause event naked, he is not controlled by women, because he really has relationships with imaginary women or symbolic women.

Dodd, by contrast, is controlled by actual fleshy women—his wife, his daughter, the women he has affairs with.

The idea that women are from the Devil is established early on, before Freddie even meets Dodd, by the fact that when he meets the “living mannequin” in the store the music that plays is a number that has the lyrics “get thee behind me, Satan”. That sets up the whole message of the film right there.

In short, to serve woman is to serve “the Lord of this earth”, like Dodd does, whereas to be your own master is to follow your dreams, your adventure, your spirit of brotherly love.


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