The Critical Reception of The Master

We consider the critical reception of The Master, a film by Paul Thomas Anderson.

Uncut gave it 6/10. Empire gave it 5/5. Roger Ebert gave it 2.5/4, and Roobla gave it 5/5. It drew boos from the crowd at Cannes, but is also widely acclaimed as a masterpiece – like any film by as prestigious a director as Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master is divisive. The more famous the director, the more loudly the cheering and heckling becomes. It may all be pointless, because we’re careering through space towards our own and the planet’s fiery death, but still we should ask the question – because in the end that is all we can do – is it any good? We look at the critical reception of The Master.

It is good. That is the answer to the question. It’s incredibly good. It probably doesn’t deserve five stars, but then the Roobla review was written by a certain Paul Anderson – coincidence? or something more sinister? – but awarding it five stars feels right. There’s no problems with that, unless, of course, you’re Roger Ebert, or Uncut, or anyone else who thinks it’s less than perfect. Obviously.

The film’s about how we are beholden to those around us, in different ways. Lancaster Dodd is as trapped by The Cause as his wife is by her constant childbearing, or as Freddie Quill is by what is hinted at as being post-traumatic stress disorder. The most telling scene is when Dodd tells Freddie that (to crudely paraphrase) “if he can find a way to live without answering to anybody else, come back and tells us about it”. Of course, in the end, he decides to stay with The Cause, but it is a choice that he has made because he has nothing else – he is controlled to the circumstances that life has thrown in his way.

Richard Corliss of Time points out that it must “extend or expand Anderson’s artistry”, like every film must be a giant leap forward artistically. This is a strange thing to criticise the film for, as it seems to suggest that to judge a film one must see it as the latest in the progression of a film-maker, instead of on its own two feet.

To dwell on the differing opinions surrounding a piece of art is absurd, as this piece is effectively reviewing the reviews of a film. This is the first step towards critics coming full circle and eventually swallowing their own tail, just regurgitating and judging what has already been swallowed once. Some people liked it, and they are the heroes. Some people didn’t like it, or misunderstood it, and they are the villains.

That said, it is fascinating that one reviewer can watch in awe, holding their breath from moment to moment, completely absorbed, while another can be completely bored and just missing the entire point, but then who is anybody to judge? We are all sentient human beings, evolved to have our own thoughts and emotions and opinions on what are probably minor films in the canon of major directors. This is what we were bred for. This may be a Roobla, but all of the writers are human, proudly and unashamedly so.

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