Working On Freddy

I saw The Master for the second time last night, and was once again delighted. On the way home in the car I started developing my impression of Joaquin Pheonix as Freddie Quell….muh!…neeeee-heeee! It’s not easy, but the main thing is to jut your chin out and purse your lips like (a) you’ve just had a sip of pure lemon juice and (b) you’re about to play the trumpet. And then think like a backyard geek and imagine you’re some kind of impulslve, grinning, slithery reptile.

Don’t flick your Freddy tongue but think it — imagine that you’re a bullfrog and you’re looking to shoot your tongue out and slurp down a fly but don’t actually do it.

Be quiet and watchful and compulsively sip from a flask. Tilt your head slightly in the presence of any woman you’d like to fuck, and lean inward and go “heeehhuhhhmm.” And always blurt your words out with a lazy, sloppy slur. Never say “I don’t know” — say “Uhdunnoh.” And then say “eeeeeuuuhhhnnnh” again. And then moan a little bit. And then giggle. And take another swig.

  • Gaydos

    I just put LET’S DO THE TIMEWARP AGAIN over that scene of Freddie Quell you just described.

    We have a new ROCKY HORROR for the New Millenium!

  • Rashad

    PSH blows Phoenix out of the water. So much of this movie is slow, and tedious, and it’s only when PSH speaks in his charismatic ways does it liven up. It would be a lot better if the movie was about him, instead of the annoying drunkard in Quell.

  • cyanic

    I do an impression of Freddie based on the trailer version of the jail scene: “I don’t believe you…I don’t believe you…you’re making this up…I don’t believe…I know you’re trying to clam me down but just say something that’s true!”

  • cyanic

    Rashad with that post alone you’ve lost all crediability.

  • Rashad

    Are you trying to tell me that Dodd wasn’t far more interesting than Freddie? An drunk dickhead from the beginning, is a drunk dickhead in the end. Phoenix is pretty hammy in the movie too. I don’t know why people are acting like it’s some powerhouse showstopper. I’ll take Neeson in The Grey thank you very much.

    The movie goes through these spells where it’s just draining. It’s mostly in the first and third act, and unsurprisingly it’s when Dodd isn’t on screen that much. The movie drained all the energy out of my theater. You could tell people were kind of glad it was over.

    PSH singing that China song was embarrassing too. Horrible choice.

  • Travis Actiontree

    Great film, but I’m already concerned that the “just say something that’s true!” line is becoming one of those clips we’ll see EVERY TIME they talk about the film.

    (Jeffrey, this could be a whole separate thread!)

    “Just say something that’s true!” “The Master, in theaters everywhere Friday”

    “Iceberg, right ahead!”

    okay… now I’m blanking…but there’s plenty more… people?

  • Rashad

    Funny thing is, that line isn’t in the movie.

  • Mark

    Couldn’t disagree more with Rashad. If they cut everything from after Freddy assaults Moore up until the theater phone call, and replaced it with a completely unrelated Freddie-joins-the-circus segment, then you have a classic.

  • Ghost of Kazan


    “Hey, do ya think you could give me back my son?”

    Or something like that.

  • otolith

    70 mm is just the beginning, Douglas Trumbull on high frame rates and the future of cinema, so high it will be like reality,

  • bobbyperu

    I mostly agree with Rashad on this one. Anderson mounts the movie with a lot of style and command of his aesthetic and narrative — no one can argue that it is visually dazzling, carefully woven and “visionary” in some senses.

    But the movie stumbles, badly in my view, by not giving us a single character to connect to — Phoenix is damaged at the beginning and damaged at the end; there’s no real arc, despite the screenplay trying to make us believe there is. We watch the performance sort of half-fascinated at Phoenix’s physical manifestation of Freddy’s ugly, disintegrating soul, but the character is never accessible, never human, never remotely empathetic — the entire experience is like watching an exercise in neuroses, twice removed, under glass.

    Hoffman is typically fine but not any better than usual; the degree of challenge in the role is little for him — and also agree that his final scene singing the China song borders on camp and takes us right out of the movie (if we were even in it up to that point anyway).

    Adams, who is so great right now in Trouble with the Curve, is dreadfully miscast — scene after scene, she is forced to repress her natural effervescence to the point where it really suggests that another actress should have been cast. This has nothing to do with Adams’ obvious talents, but Lady Macbeth she ain’t, and any talk of an Oscar nod begs the question of, “For what?” Perhaps for using the c-word half effectively? No depth, no substance, just one half good monologue about declaring war on the world.

    The movie is being wildly, wildly overpraised. Sure it’s visually dazzling, has an exhilarating first third and is odder, stranger and richer than most movies in its strength of vision. But it is also a movie that cares not a bit about creating anyone identifiable or engaging or real — it’s all director and theme, precious little humanity and adds up to not much when the credits roll.

  • berg

    he moves hunched over with arms like a gorilla and his head tilted a and sharp like a predatory bird

  • Raising_Kaned

    “okay… now I’m blanking…but there’s plenty more… people?”

    Republicans that post off-topic on movie sites about politics are fucking morons…wait, wait — what were the rules of this silly game, again? ;)

  • Raising_Kaned

    “Rashad with that post alone you’ve lost all crediability.”

    Only just now? And not, say, early 2010 (or thereabouts)? ;)

  • roland1824

    bobby’s take is spot on. If you go back to the early draft screenplay that leaked and see how different it is from the final film, it’s clear PTA had various elements, scenes and themes he wanted to hit, but he never quite had a complete story and thus not a fulfilling film.

    I do wonder how much input Joaquin had on Freddie’s character. PTA has wanted to work with him for a while and might have given him too much rope.

  • Bastard in a Basket

    I think it helps to see the film twice because the first time you’re figuring out what it isn’t.

    I do think Freddie does undergo an “arc.”Not every character need go through a breakthrough arc in order for the film to be great.

    Many great films have very subtle, almost nonexistent arcs to their characters. In the case of Freddie, his whole struggle is that he keeps trying to find a way to fit in to a new society and be accepted, and then he self destructs and destroys that reality as soon as things get good. This is partly because he knows that Dodd is mostly full of shit and he can’t totally commit (The set piece at the rally in Arizona makes this clear). With The Cause, Freddie self destructs, but Master keeps having him back, and would never let him go. So then, one day (the motorcycle sequence), Freddie just leaves. And he finally goes to see the girl who he was always too afraid to return to before. And when he finds out she’s married, he lets her go. He says he’s happy for her. He says it wouldn’t matter to write to her, and he goes. He lets that part of his life go. He is alone again.

    And then he goes back to Dodd to ask for a job. But something major happens here that turns the film and Freddie’s arc on his head. It is Freddie who ultimately rejects Dodd. Perhaps Dodd’s story of how he knew Freddie in the other life sets off his b.s. meter again. In any event, Dodd practically begs Freddie to stay. Then he sings to him and if it sounds “campy” because he raises his voice it is because Dodd is only getting more desperate. Dodd is controlled by his own “Master”: his wife, the cause, and his own followers, all of whom blindly follow him but none of them actually appears to be his friend (unlike Freddy).

    Master asks him to stay and Freddie says “perhaps in another life.” He has learned to let go of that need for a Master, or of the need for The Cause. I think it’s important too that Dodd tells him that if Freddie leaves they will be mortal enemies in the next life because this declaration only reminds Freddie that Dodd’s love is conditional on the type of control and blind loyalty that the Cause demands.

    And then finally at the end of the movie, he doesn’t talk to the girl about how he wants her pussy or if she wants to fuck. He merely says “Will you have a drink with me?” And then doesn’t have rough sex with her, but instead sweet and slow love. And he even mocks The Cause and they both laugh at it, showing that he possibly can finally admit how silly it all really was. He then gently sides up the naked sand woman (in contrast to the perverse scene earlier with the sand woman). Greenwood’s discordant notes are also gone in these final Freddie moments.

    By the end, Freddy may self sabotage again, who knows (he clearly is still drinking) But, he has let go of that old girl who he focused on so much. And he has learned to let go of that need for a Master, or of the need for The Cause, and is willing to try and be happy on his own again. That indeed is an arc.

  • Gaydos

    Bastard in a Basket: You’ve just described an incredible movie. Someone should make it.

  • Chris Willman

    “the entire experience is like watching an exercise in neuroses, twice removed, under glass.”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

  • Chris Willman

    Bastard in a Blanket has a pretty good take.

  • creepingmalaise

    First Heath Ledger as the Joker, now this! Wells is channeling Rich Little.

  • Thunder Redux

    People seeking profundity in the Master will be sorely disappointed. The movie is very light, superficial. No big themes explored, no deep thoughts anywhere to be found.

    Which is fine, if you like “piffle” types of movies.

    PTA simply is not a smart enough writer to do his ideas justice.

  • Bastard in a Basket


    I think it is all there in the film just in more subtle and less expositional type ways. Those important moments are just not where you would normally expect them to be and most people will miss them entirely on the first or second viewing.

    Even Dodd himself has a satisfying “arc.” We know that if he can train Freddie to suppress his animal instincts, he could prove the effectiveness of his Cause. Dodd also loves Freddie because he envies Freddie’s freedom and can relate to him on a certain level (He tells Freddie when he first meets him that he is “so familiar to him”). Dodd also loves the hooch and is prone to outbursts just like Freddie. Both the final Freddie/Dodd scene and the scene with Dodd on the motorcycle show that Dodd secretly wishes he could be as free as Freddie. Yet, because he is “The Master” he can never be like Freddie.

    Again, the Arizona rally for Dodd’s new book is a key set piece in the film. Just before Dodd’s big speech/reveal regarding his new book, Anderson shows Dodd in his quiet and dark office looking pensive and sad, like the world is on his shoulders. This appears to be a man who is growing tired of his own sham. Then he comes out and his big answers boil down to “laughter” being the secret of the cause. Freddie has a big perplexed look on his face as he listens. Dodd even slips up on his continuity with his original book which Laura Dern points out to him which basically causes Dodd to explode again.

    The final Freddie/Dodd scene of course has the great line by Dodd: “If you can live without a Master, let me know, because you would be the first”. We even learn that Dodd has apparently lost his daughter because of the Cause (Dodd’s wife apparently says the same with a reference to a Scientology type term that means she has been outcast). I think this is foreshadowed by Dodd’s daughter’s animal like (i.e. Freddie-like) actions earlier in the film when she grabs Freddie’s crotch. In any event, Dodd appears to be more successful than ever but is a prisoner of his own lie and is left alone in his big office at the end (not unlike Plainview in TWBB).

    The ending is even surprisingly hopeful for Freddie. He is still a wandering, mentally unstable, alcoholic. But his last scene shows Freddie and a lover, laughing and embracing and being intimate. He uses the Cause questions in a playful way. The Cause may have even helped Freddie in some way. He seems less sexually aggressive. He even had a sense of pride when he finally tells Dodd’s son in law that his Navy ship won the war and “what have you ever done?” Again though, Freddie has a core of truthfulness and he knows that most of Dodd’s teachings are ludicrous. He is free from Dodd and (based on his final scenes) his future isn’t as doomed as we may think.

    I think PTA would be wise to use David Chase’s words regarding the ending of the Sorpanos: “It’s all there”. I think it is “all there” just waiting for all of us to interpret and explore.

  • cinefan

    “scene after scene, she is forced to repress her natural effervescence to the point where it really suggests that another actress should have been cast.”

    To me, that’s what makes her performance so fascinating. Her character in the film reminds me a lot of Mary Tyler Moore’s mom in Ordinary People. In both films, you have a mother who has repressed her emotions and inner life so deeply and thoroughly that she is not capable of expressing warmth and empathy to the people around her in a productive and positive way. When you see actresses as warm and positive and affable as Adams or Moore portray characters like this, it definitely has an unsettling and disconcerting effect on the audience.

    In regard to Adams’ performance, I think she brilliantly uses her body and face to convey and articulate emotions that her character can’t express verbally. There’s one scene, in particular, I love where she’s reading out loud obscene, sexually explicit words to Joaquin Phoenix’s character and Adams makes her character’s hands and body shake just a tiny little bit as she’s saying the words (she is so offended by what she’s saying that she can’t physically hide her disgust). It’s a subtle but brilliant acting touch on Adams’ part and her whole performance in the film is suffused with little physical touches and nuances like that.

  • cyanic

    I wish Bastard in a Basket had a different username but he articulates better than the why’s of why The Master is the genuine article.

  • Jericho Cane

    I always thought Plainview said “Bastard FROM a basket” but regardless, Bastard’s clearly a hardcore PTA fan who knows his shit. After reading his posts I’m gonna see THE MASTER for the third time in as many days. It got better the second time and I can only imagine it will continue to improve with each successive viewing.

  • LFF

    You know what I immediately loved about this movie? The “CLOCKWORK ORANGE” references. There was a couple walking out behind me who I overheard saying “it was a story without an ending” which made me giggle. It certainly had an ending. He was cured all right.