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Twisted Truth and Half the News: Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master Tries to Pretend It Has Naught to do with Scientology

By Cindy Davis | Think Pieces | August 13, 2012 | Comments ()


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Since the December 2009 announcement that Paul Thomas Anderson's next project would star Philip Seymour Hoffman and be called The Master, the movie world has been aflutter. Coming off the heels of There Will Be Blood, the accomplished director was purportedly taking on a touchy subject: Scientology. And we've all heard about Scientology, right? It's kind of like the mafia--everyone knows about it, but you don't talk. Those who do...well, you know.

Like an insidious white van tailing its latest escapee, Scientology's reach is powerful and far (so they say). We regular folk devour the sordid tales behind closed doors, but it was entirely unexpected to read that a prominent filmmaker was about to kick up the Scientolodust and blow it all over Hollywood and beyond. In 2001, Director Peter N. Alexander (never heard of him, have you?) had a similar idea; he made a film called The Profit which premiered at Cannes that year. Though Alexander also claimed his film wasn't about Scientology, the similarities proved too much for the religious group to swallow. In conjunction with an ongoing negligent homicide trial (Lisa McPherson), the church was able to stop further distribution of The Profit. So has Anderson has cleverly disguised his film as a more generic attack against cults, or is he just in the right position to be able to withstand whatever Scientology throws his way? Where Alexander had no other films under his belt nor big named backers, Anderson has a great reputation and the Weinsteins. He doesn't need controversy to sell a film. But rather than claim an outright inspiration, he plays coy and people involved with the film deny any outright Scientology association.

A few of the most obvious connections lie in early descriptions of The Master--an influential, charismatic man, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, starts a religion. One can hardly deny the physical similarities between the actor in character (Lancaster Dodd) and L. Ron Hubbard:

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Hubbard and Dodd both married women named Mary Sue (Amy Adams).

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Hubbard and Dodd both created a religion that requires its members to go through psychological processes; Scientologists work toward becoming "clear," while Dodd's followers' goal is "optimum." Scientology's Sea Org members must sign a billion year contract--Dodd's The Cause have to go for three billion years. Hubbard called Scientology naysayers "squirrels," as does one of Dodd's followers (referring to those who are against The Cause). Mary Sue Dodd speaks of attacking as the only way to defend The Cause; Scientology uses the same tactic. And in what seems a clear reference to Hubbard's creation, Dodd's son tells Freddie, "He's making up all this as he goes along. You don't see that?"

To be sure, The Master has another angle. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Freddie, an ex-Navy alcoholic drifter who becomes Dodd's (temporary) disciple. Anderson was interested in exploring the "lost souls" who returned from World War II. But from its first rumblings, someone on the inside has always associated the film with Scientology. It has been a purposeful connection. Things like, "Anderson screened the film for his Magnolia star, Tom Cruise" and "Harvey Weinstein wants to screen the picture...to John Travolta" don't make their way into the media by accident. So why does the other hand keep trying to dissociate? As bold a filmmaker as he is, Anderson makes no comment himself--it seems silly for others to keep making the public denials. Let the people see the film and draw their own conclusions. If the similarities are as apparent as they have been reported, the disclaimers are foolish lies.

New photos released this weekend:

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Cindy Davis believes in calling a spade a spade.








Are you following Pajiba on Facebook or Twitter? Every time you do, Bill Murray crashes a wedding.


Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • DarthBetty

    I am excited to be creeped out.

  • gunnertec

    "it’s kind of like the mafia—everyone knows about it, but you don’t talk. Those who do…well, you know."

    This is this the kind of bullshit that I tire of. If the mob at large were a litigious group rather than a blood-thirsty one then this construct might be right. But, they're not and you're not.

  • DarthBetty

    I am very excited to be creeped out.

  • CardinalChunder

    I think it's an excellent strategy. The church of Scientology loves to find one tiny detail in any criticism they can disprove (or just plausibly deny) and then claim that therefore the whole thing must be wrong.
    If it was a true story movie the film makers would have to base it on a real person that had been through Scientology in that period, and heaven help them if the story on the screen deviated in the slightest, tiniest way from that person's life. Even if the character was an amalgam, the church would want to know what events happened to which person, and then they'd go about destoying those people's credibility (Easier to do when you've got their auditing records, which they thought were private, to bring up anything that might possibly hurt them in public, even easier if they're dead and can't fight back).
    This way I imagine they'll have to go to court and argue why a film about a lying, cheating, con artist that started a religion is actually about LRH. Which would be fun.
    Also it's not just the director and studio marketing that makes this film different from the other one that never made it out, the church today is a whole lot weaker and smaller than it used to be. They'll happily harass ex members through the courts, and buy up local officials, but something this big? As long as they can present it to their dwindling congregation as evidence of a conspiracy against the church, they may well just let it ride.

  • Adam

    Jesus Christ, your Cosmopolis pop-ups on every fucking image are unbearable. Your site is become a chore to visit, which is a shame because I really enjoy your work... You guys are consistently quality. I understand the need for revenue, but this is just absurd. I thought the pop-down starbuck refreshers ads were bad enough...

  • eeeeee

    It's the price of admission, son. Free content ain't free (except it actually is free, stop whining bitch).

  • Atoz15

    Saw this trailer last night and it looks incredible

  • Kenny G.

    My question is...what is Kirk Cameron doing at the wedding in that 2nd picture?

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Huh?

  • laylaness

    I am so glad to see Joaquin Phoenix back with us. The man is phenomenal.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    There's aging make-up happening there, right? Because otherwise, Joaquin Phoenix invented time travel, then spent 10-15 years in an era without plastic surgery or BttF2-style rejuvenation treatments.

  • Fredo

    Part of the disassociation is for the movie's own sake. If people show to see PTA's "Scientology" movie, they'll do what you just did and look for all the ties and similarities. ("Oh look, he's attracting actors! Just like Scientology!" or "I wonder if we'll see a young Tom Cruise here"). With a work already so associated to a controversial topic, you don't want to add more fuel by admitting to it. You want people to go see The Master and judge it as The Master; not the "Expose on L. Ron Hubbard's Batshit Insanity."

    Plus the white vans may be outside his door right now.

  • I wouldn't want to tango with Scientology's lawyers, but this kind of fictional representation doesn't work well in exposing the real subject (if that was the purpose. I realize it might not be). The fictional layer allows fans of Hubbard to say that it's just a straw man, not an actual portrait of their dear leader. See also "Bob Roberts."

  • Devil Child

    Every worthwhile critique of Scientology makes it sound like you're attacking strawman.

    It's more ridiculous than critiquing Salafiyyah, the tenants they're supporting are so basically wrong to the synapses of the non-brainwashed that most people automatically assume you're spreading propaganda when you start your conversation. If anything, P.T.A. was probably happy he couldn't do a Hubbard biopic: this way, he won't have to make up redeeming qualities about Hoffman's Hubbard to keep people in the theater from committing suicide.

  • Tammy

    What if the "denials" are just one more layer of meta? A play on $cientologist double-speak. Either way, I can hardly blame him for winking at us. He wants us all to see the connection but doesn't want to open himself to the horrors of $cientologist litigation. And it keeps us all talking about it. Win/win all around, from what I can tell.

    In other news, when did Joaquin Phoenix turn into Jeremy Irons???

  • birdgal

    I'll second badkitty--whatever it is, he should keep doing it!

  • eeeeee

    Starve himself?

  • badkittyuno

    I'm not sure, but it's working for me

  • Hawkeye Fierce

    Dear God. I have always like Joaquin Phoenix. Does the fact that I am loving him even more in this wrecked, emaciated form reveal something profoundly disturbing about my psychopathy?

    Probably. And I should probably care a whole lot more about that.

  • I'm just so glad to have Joaquin back in any form, really.

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