The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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September 28, 2012

Benji Tunnell: Actors make Scientology movie powerful

JOPLIN, Mo. — Scientology has held something of a fascination for me.

What has been deemed a Hollywood cult has seemed to capture the minds of those who you would think would know better. Yet, a recent article listing the silent members of the church showed that it was even more widespread than I had initially realized.

And after an interview with former member/director Paul Haggis, which cast the religion in a very negative light by showing bullying tactics and mind manipulation that take place, it seemed more and more like a cult. I couldn’t help thinking that this pseudo-religion would be a fascinating basis for a movie, but had assumed that with the power the church wields in Hollywood that such a film would never take place.

But with writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” we get our glimpse into the world of Scientology, or at least a fictionalized version based on the religion and its leader, L. Ron Hubbard.

Anderson delivers again

Anderson is one of the few consistent directors working today. After his last film, the brilliant “There Will Be Blood,” many were anticipating his follow-up. After hints of what his next story would be about, anticipation continued to build. And for the most part, it is worth the wait.

“The Master” follows the story of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a Navy veteran and drifter who bounces from job to job and place to place until he stows away on a ship. Aboard the ship is Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic leader of a religion based on his writings called “The Cause”.

The religion uses a combination of hypnotism, brainwashing and past life analysis to convert and convince members. Followers are fervent in their beliefs, even when Dodd’s own son claims his father to be a charlatan (as did Hubbard’s son). The movie watches as Quell grows within the religion, dedicating himself to the master’s wishes, before slowly growing disillusioned and beginning to drift away.

“The Master” is a beautifully filmed and scored movie, showing the quiet desperation of Quell and the powerful manipulation of Dodd. Anderson has a reputation for bringing out the best in an actor (just look what he did for Mark Wahlberg), and what this film will be remembered for is the performances. Here are the three that stand out the most:

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