Taken at face value, The Master is about a deviant drifter who finds comfort in an author and his new-age form of psychology. But if you start looking deeper you find messages about religion, cults, human sexuality, and what drives men to do what they do.
Freddie Quell (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is a degenerate and perverted drunk with post-traumatic stress disorder from his service in World War II. Freddie stows away on a boat and when he is found out he must face the captain, Lancaster Dodd (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) an author of a recent book and leader of the movement that has sprung up from the book. Quell joins the movement, hesitantly at first before becoming Dodd’s star pupil.
The parallels between the movie and Scientology are obvious but I think it is much more about any religious group or cult. How man innately wants to be part of something greater than himself and the danger that can come of that from charlatans and scammers.
The movie is gorgeous to look at. It looks like the late 1940’s / early 1950’s and the characters are all so unique and distinctive. The stand out is, of course, Joaquin Phoenix. His mannerisms and speech are so perfect for Freddie Quell that he really becomes the character. I would not be shocked to hear that he kept in character even when the cameras were off..