‘The Master’ screens in Chicago to more rapture, befuddlement


Paul Thomas Anderson’s highly anticipated “The Master” screened for the second time publicly last night in Chicago at a hastily arranged benefit for the nonprofit Film Foundation. And the immediate reactions – rapture, admiration, befuddlement – mirrored those following the film’s pop-up presentation at Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre on Aug. 3.

Then again, as A.V. Club film critic Scott Tobias, who saw the movie at Chicago’s Music Box last night, tweeted: “One more thing about ‘The Master:’ It’s comically resistant to instant reaction. A lot of strands in old Duder’s head right now.”

Anderson shot “The Master” to be exhibited in 70mm, a high-resolution format that delivers rich, wide imagery. He has been vocal in championing the format and celluloid itself, though it seems on the verge of extinction.


If that makes Anderson a traditionalist, consider, too, the movie he has made. Though social media sites like Twitter and Facebook lit up after its first two screenings, the movie seems almost deliberately constructed to defy today’s immediate, gotta-be-first, review-by-tweet landscape.

Via email, Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips made essentially the same point as Tobias: “As with most films by ambitious directors, I need to see ‘The Master’ a second time before beginning to respond critically. I’m just grateful my second viewing (during the Toronto Film Festival) will be like my first: in 70mm, the way Anderson meant it to be shown.”

“The Master,” a character study about the relationship between an alcoholic Navy vet (Joaquin Phoenix) and a charismatic leader of a budding spiritual movement (Philip Seymour Hoffman), will have its official world premiere at the upcoming Venice Film Festival, followed by its North American festival premiere at Toronto. (The Music Box and Aero screenings have been billed as presentations of an “unfinished” print, allowing the festivals to maintain their premiere designations.)

With its parallels to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and Anderson’s penchant for emotional remove and a willingness to fully explore characters’ anger and eccentricities, there’s little doubt that “The Master” will generate conversation.

“It’s quite easily the strangest and most esoteric picture Anderson has ever made,” A.A. Dowd wrote in Time Out Chicago, “and frankly too much to unpack and digest in one viewing.”

“The Master” opens in Los Angeles and New York on Sept. 14.

Follow Glenn Whipp on Twitter: @glennwhipp



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