22 October 2012

The Master of emotion

The Master was a fascinating experience of sorts for me because it depicts how people feel and perceive events rather than describing their narrative arc. Phoenix and Hoffman spend a lot of effort spitting out their lines, but it’s invested with various elements of warmth, anger, and confusion so as to fill in the unspoken lines and narrative jumps. This is a movie that seems to have confused viewers - as Lance Mannion noted, the movie goes from A to B to G and then back to B a little - because the narrative is sustained on feelings rather than words and events. There’s plenty of the latter, but the confusion and disconnection that Phoenix put in Quell can’t be given any sort of resonance just by very forcefully saying lines and punching things. The shooting, editing, and crafting of performances is rendered in such a way that feeling these confusing or enthralling scenes is more important than getting that logical progression first. That’s how it felt to me. I don’t think the movie is lazy or bloated as much as it’s wed to a main character who’s still struggling in a world he doesn’t understand. To mitigate this danger, Anderson doesn’t just focus on words to describe feelings or character tics to indicate as short hand these feelings to instead dominate the action - that is, take away from Phoenix as a performer what he could instead burrow into and throw back at us - as much as emotion to create better impact than just words or just larger than life actors. He’s taken the route that will create perhaps better in roads of understanding or sympathy to this character that Phoenix embodied that in the real world normal people would avoid with great effort. How do you use emotions to depict the world of this dangerous man? Phoenix and Anderson try an approach that works, I believe.

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