308) The Master (2012) Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson Date Released: September 14, 2012 Date Seen: September 23, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5
RV!: The Master (2012) Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson Date Released: September 14, 2012 Date Seen: September 28, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5
You can't take the world straight, can you?" -Peggy Dodd-
The first time I saw The Master, I was totally awed by P.T. Anderson's characteristically virtuosic storytelling. I didn't have much to write about the film, let alone much to say. But then I re-watched it at the Ziegfeld with a particular line, or more accurately a specific motif, in mind. Something about Lancaster Dodd's (Philip Seymour Hoffman) emphasis on laughter got to me. "Laughter is good," he tells a drawing room full of curious listeners. He even says, "The secret is laughter," just before Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) irrevocably loses his faith in The Cause at its 1st Congress. The color drains from his face when he realizes that Dodd, as his son asserts, is "just making this shit up as he goes along."
I fixated on laughter in The Master for a couple of reasons. Firstly, while watching the film first time around, I heard best bud Steve Carlson helplessly laughing in fits and spurts, like when Quell drinks rocket fuel or paint thinner. Secondly, laughter has come to mean something entirely different for me personally in the last couple of months as I've dealt with bouts of lingering depression. Laughter isn't in other words just a symptom of happiness.When depressed, I sometimes find myself thinking of something shameful I've done or something absurd that happened to/because of me, and I'll let out a mirthless little guffaw. And I won't be able to control my laughter, but it just sort of wells up in spite of me. In fact, the mute, self-mocking braying of Jerry Lewis came to mind as I watched Phoenix's Quell the first time around, though I'd hardly go as far as to say that Quell is a Lewis-like character. Still, both Quell and a typical Lewis character have one thing in common: they both often laugh out loud as a means of simultaneously laughing at themselves and others. And that's because I think there are two kinds of laughter: laughter that connotes recognition and laughter that signifies disbelief.