A psychologically troubled novelty supplier is nudged towards a romance with an English woman, all the while being extorted by a phone-sex line run by a crooked mattress salesman, and purchasing stunning amounts of pudding.
Paul Thomas Anderson
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Returning from Navy service in World War II, Freddie Quell drifts through a series of breakdowns. Finally he stumbles upon a cult which engages in exercises to clear emotions and he becomes deeply involved with them. Written by
Alan Young, edit Hal Issen
Two very different men try to fulfill one another.
Unquestionably P.T. Anderson's best film so far. I've always liked his work, but early on I had no sense he would achieve heights such as this. Let me say this, Anderson, ALONE, I think amongst relatively big-budget American filmmakers, allows his imagery to play by its own rules. EVERY other studio filmmaker- from Scorsese to Tarantino, to Jarmusch, plays by some kind of pre-established rules-even if they are the pre-established rules of "art cinema" or "second cinema". Anderson, like Weerasthakul or Bela Tarr, speaks his own tongue. I thought There Will Be Blood was pretty great, but this is Truly Great- a singularly challenging work of art. Similarly, I would compare Daniel Day-Lewis's work in Blood with Phoenix's work here. The former was impressive, creative, witty. The latter is brave, adventuresome, and merciless. More than any of the "canonical" "method" performances of cinema, I think Phoenix reaches into places of himself, of all of us, that's very unearthing demands new philosophical questions. Here's my take, for what it's worth, of the "meaning" of the film. It's a comparison of two drastically contradictory and complementary personalities. One wants to live without any Master by becoming a Master himself. The other wants a master to give some kind of shape to his life. L. Ron Hubbard- inspired guru Lancaster Dodd (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a performance that's beautiful but not ground-breaking) is a con-man, but as I read him, he's not exactly a charlatan. He truly wants to believe the (self-serving) things he's saying, and he needs other people to believe them too. He's very successful at (least the latter half of) this. But this does not make him free. Instead, it turns him into a kind of King and, as we know from the example of Louis XVI, any sovereign is ultimately a privileged prisoner of his/her subjects. They are exempt from the laws of the land, of life, exactly in so far as others believe they are. Dodd's "freedom" from mastery is wholly dependent on the worship of the other, an other outstandingly represented by Phoenix's Freddie Quell, a potentially unbreakable "scoundrel" who Dodd both fears and admires as such. Quell is a completely, irredeemably, broken individual, whose only surviving qualities are sheer animal instinct- screw, eat, and drink. He yearns to be put back together, to be mastered by some other, to serve some sovereign and thus be welcomed back into civilization. But he's too far gone, or too savage, for that to work. He can't be mastered, even by any coherent sense of self. Dodd seeks the solitude of the sublime but is ultimately made completely dependent on the Other, while Quell, very unwillingly, achieves the freedom, and loneliness, of God.
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