While some attempt to fill the Pete Campbell like void within with anticipation of the new Batman film others try to assuage their existential emptiness by freaking out over the “Django Unchained” trailer. Still others attempt to sate the yawning maw deep within them with excitement over the upcoming Paul Thomas Anderson film, “The Master.”
Two cryptic, artfully edited trailers have thus far been released for the film. The first consists primarily of Joaquin Phoenix being questioned by some sort of military officer/psychiatrist about “an episode” that Phoenix’s character seems genuinely not to remember happening.
This dialogue is interspersed with shots of Phoenix on a tropical beach sharpening a machete, boxing and wrestling with what appear to be other off-duty sailors and finally in uniform inside a submarine drinking liquor that appears to somehow come from inside a torpedo. Phoenix of course seems super intense in the scene but also somehow sincere and vulnerable. His recent very public fake/maybe not fake meltdown definitely gives the scene an added kick.
Also creating additional kick is the fact that Anderson is again using Jonny Greenwood for the film score, as he did for “There Will Be Blood” and Greenwood’s music here creates an almost unbearable tension, even in a 90 second teaser trailer. There is a sense of mounting chaos, similar to the mood created both by Greenwood’s score for “There Will Be Blood” and Jon Brion’s work for “Punch Drunk Love.”
Still, the first trailer was an unusually oblique way of conveying what the film is actually about, seeing as it didn’t include its main character, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, or its female lead (Amy Adams) nor did it even really hint at what’s thought to be the film’s main subject: Hoffman’s establishment of a Scientology-like cult. A second trailer has now been released and, while it’s also somewhat cryptic and continues the trend of artful, unusual editing, at least shows you Hoffman in his role (and Amy Adams, briefly) and gives you some sense of his character’s dynamic with Phoenix’s.
Interestingly, in many ways the second trailer has the same structure as the first. Phoenix is being interrogated by an authority figure over something he’s done wrong, though in this case it’s Hoffman doing the interrogating. This brings an S & M like component of punishment and guilt to a film titled “The Master.”
In this trailer there’s no hint of military life as in the earlier one. Phoenix’s transgressions appear to be totally stateside and civilian. Hoffman asks him “Do you linger as bus stations for pleasure?” as footage plays of Phoenix skulking away from a bus station in some small town, seemingly wracked with guilt, the Greenwood score reaching new crescendos of tension.
And who is Hoffman’s character to ask these questions? In a line of dialogue that already seems destined to live beyond the film like “I drink your milkshake!” Hoffman replies to Phoenix: “”I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher. But above all, I am a man. A hopelessly inquisitive man, like you.”
Anderson has made only five feature films thus far in his career, but in my opinion all of them are classics. By this point a few ongoing themes have emerged in his work. One is the way in which unlikely families can be formed around charismatic, powerful personalities, so the formation of a cult is a natural subject for him.
While in “Hard Eight” and “Boogie Nights” the charismatic father figures turned out ultimately to be mostly benevolent, in “There Will Be Blood” the “master” and “servant” characters were set on a collision chorus that could only end in, well, you see the title there. It sill be fascinating to see what way the dynamic will play out in “The Master.” But seeing this strange, non-traditional marketing campaign for the film play out is exciting in and of itself. See the trailer below: