Influences on “The Master”
How the film makes a larger statement about the character of man.
Understanding a film is sometimes as simple as looking at its influences. In the age of remixes, video essays and media literacy, filmmakers have access to the entire history of cinema at their fingertips. With a movie as complex and enigmatic as Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, certain images, characters and ideas are lifted directly from a disparate array of older films. Other films from the 1940s also inspired Anderson to coalesce the narrative forming in his head. The central figure behind the movement in The Master is clearly based on the founder of the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard.
The Master’s vision of America in the early 1950s reflect the disillusionment of returning soldiers and also the blatant hucksterism of sham faiths that target vulnerable individuals. Most famously, Anderson’s film points to the legacy of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology to make a larger statement about the character of man. When this film talks about man, they are not talking about humankind but the male gender specifically. One cannot fully comprehend The Master without also watching John Huston’s Let There Be Light, a documentary about traumatized WWII veterans. Hubbard spoke of “helping man" and under Anderson’s direction, Philip Seymour Hoffman becomes a Hubbard-esque figure.