Political Animal


September 30, 2012 9:01 AM The Master

By Simon van Zuylen-Wood

More to come in a minute, but I thought I’d kick off today’s session with a quick note about Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, which I saw last night. The acting is wonderful but the characters themselves are somewhat two-dimensional. The plot is aimless and the movie’s too long. Finally, it feels like something of a vendetta against Scientologists from a director who’s surely come across his fair share in Hollywood. The similarities to Scientology are so distracting the viewer can’t consider Anderson’s depiction of the cult on its own terms.

Simon van Zuylen-Wood is a writer for Philadelphia Magazine.


  • navarro on September 30, 2012 9:35 AM:

    "The similarities to Scientology are so distracting the viewer canít consider Andersonís depiction of the cult on its own terms."

    what does that even mean? if he's trying to make some points about scientology then the cult being depicted would, necessarily, have to be similar to scientology. those similarities add depth to the depiction not distraction. perhaps you should catch a few more hours of sleep and consider rewriting your post to make more sense.

  • c u n d gulag on September 30, 2012 9:43 AM:

    My take on that is that a viewer is so reminded of Scientology that the cult in the movie can't stand on its own two feet, and make you understand how it's a different cult in any way.

    But, I could be wrong...
    WTF do I know?

  • MuddyLee on September 30, 2012 10:13 AM:

    Scientology has a strange history - it IS a cult which can be very unfriendly or even dangerous to followers who decide to leave - it's also a big business that got itself tax exempt status. Any movie that makes people think about whether it's legitimate or not is fine with me.

  • alwaysiamcaesar on September 30, 2012 10:21 AM:

    The use of deprogrammers to reach children who denounce their parents existence reminds me of Tolstoy being apart , through his daughters efforts , from his long suffering wife Sophia while Tolstoy quickly failed and died . The cruelty of these sorts of things rarely fails to upset me . Scientology has as many issues with being a misdirection of human resources as most large corporate entities , but infinitely more cruel . What distracts me about Scientology is the same thing as full time Walmart employees using food stamps to stay alive , why aren't they prosecuted ?

  • navarro on September 30, 2012 10:39 AM:

    @c u n d gulag--
    m'appen you're right. i guess my thought about the movie was that since the cult in the film is a placeholder for scientology the idea that the similarities could be distracting never crossed my mind. i'm still a bit doubtful about that way of seeing the film but the comment i quoted does make more sense if seen in that light. thanks

  • c u n d gulag on September 30, 2012 10:58 AM:

    You're welcome!

    I doubt I'll see the movie, though.

  • TCinLA on September 30, 2012 12:50 PM:

    The good news is, Scientology is on the way to down and out. Not too long ago, calls would have been made and the project would have "died in development hell." That it didn't is proof the scum don't have the power and influence they did.

    Harlan Ellison, who was definitely in a position to know, used to love to tell people about sitting around in a coffeeshop with Hubbard in the early 50s, complaining as writers do about their lack of income. Hubbard looked up and said, "You know, if you can invent a religion and get people to follow it, it's a license to print money."

    Me, from my first agent on, I've always had one "no-no" on my list of things for said agent not to do regarding putting me out for business: "no known Scientologists."

  • TomParmenter on September 30, 2012 1:28 PM:

    I don't think the Scientology angle had much to do with it. "The Master" is like "Life of Brian". Brian was an unwitting messiah in the time of Christ and The Master was running a smalltime religion scam the same time as the vastly more successful Scientology was popping up. Riveting acting, rickety plot, but something made me keep watching.

  • deanarms on September 30, 2012 1:49 PM:

    I thought the movie was remarkably NOT about Scientology. I think Anderson used the idea of L. Ron Hubbard and his early Scientology principles as a point of departure to create the Dodd character. Then Philip Seymour Hoffman took it from there, brilliantly creating this pretty unique, and more importantly, uniquely believable character. Loved the performances (esp Amy Adams and Hoffman; Phoenix was real good too) and the film looked luscious, but the plot, such as it was, went nowhere and the story (sana a plot) was weak. But I'm still talking about it a week after I saw it. Kind of agree with TomParmenter.

  • ChicagoRob on September 30, 2012 6:15 PM:

    If you're seeing The Master through a filter of "Scientology or Not Scientology," you're setting yourself up for a shallow experience. Broaden out and savor its deeper themes (there are many).

  • ChicagoRob on September 30, 2012 6:38 PM:

    (PS - Saying The Master is just about Scientology is like saying The Godfather is just about the Mafia. Or Into the Wild is about hitchiking and camping out. Or Slingblade is about mainstreaming mentally challenged people. Etc.)

  • William2 on September 30, 2012 9:18 PM:

    ChicagoRob, you make the most sense to me than anything I have read here. I wish you had wrote the article. Thanks, W