The rest of the long weekend went lazily, with much lolling about Cornwall Park and strolling through the twilit university. Betty could develop a taste for having entire days off.
In the evening, she and the husband person went to the movies. There has been rather a rash of this going around, of late: Betty saw Life of Pi with her sisters over Christmas, and Les Miserables just the other week. This time was The Master.
Betty feels the need to point out that though she has a very high tolerance – a soft spot, in fact – for Paul Thomas Anderson, his work is seldom seemly. The Master is nuanced and beautiful; it tells the story of the leader of a movement called simply the Cause, and the broken stranger who threatens to be either his soulmate or his undoing.
Joaquin Phoenix’s character Freddy Quell is breathtakingly tragic – a piece of ex-Naval jetsam, grimly kyphosed, post-traumatic, abandoned and out of place, alcoholic to a near-savant degree, still sparking from the burns inflicted on his soul by military action and peacetime missteps in love.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is the Master himself, a charismatic and down-to-earth auteur huckster. He is flailing somewhat in the process of writing his philosophical movement’s difficult second treatise, navigating the inconveniences of legal and domestic restrictions on his wishes that the Cause should allow him to cure, love, enjoy and experience all. In the face of disgruntled disciples, obstreperous policemen, and herself (beautifully played, again, by Amy Adams, qv), Freddy is a breath of fresh air – a blank slate, a listening ear, a second chance. The dance the two do together, under the wife’s suspicious eye, shows most sensitively the varied pulls of faith and love, of independence and of pain.
A fellow-congregant of Betty’s once remarked that a life lived in church had given him nothing if not a deep understanding of battered woman syndrome. He wasn’t being cynical – in faith, as in any good thing, opportunities to abuse each other abound, even before we face problems like significant doubt, or scandal. The Cause has plenty of worrying tenets, and the Master is unquestionably gifted to lead with authority, though he’s not the out-and-out deceiver one might want to believe he must be (comparisons to L. Ron Hubbard are justified but glib). To follow, or to go back, or to hang on for dear life is as natural as breathing, whether we’re grasping onto a violent spouse or a dangerous cult or a culture of painful potlucks; and, confusingly, we ourselves are often the party that’s no better than it should be. What then? If love, let go?
One suspects that the scars on Freddy’s soul would take as long to heal as Joaquin’s shoulders will take to complete the long migration to his back (his is a performance that excited Betty’s artistic admiration and professional horror in equal measure). But then one never knows. How few of us, really, are master of anything.