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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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A snake in the grass drinks his own poison

Movies usually present the life and religion of conservative masses as that of simple-minded, bigoted country bumpkins. Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" (2012) explores the life and religion of the liberal elite, presenting them as sophisticated frauds eagerly exploiting eagerly exploitable colleagues. If we spoke of "There Will Be Blood" (2007) as "madness," we might accurately speak of this film as "intoxication." And, as is the case with the previous film, "The Master" is amazing in its characterizations, sails us through its cinematography and faded colors, but its narrative confuses us. It is said to be a story about the development of Scientology, but it also recalls Byrne's "The Secret," as well as most every television healer on either side of the Atlantic or Pacific. I don't know that the story is about the religion or the cult leader, as much as it is about the rabid pit-bull he keeps on his leash.

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The Master: Who are you?

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I apologize for the lack of postings the last few weeks. A recent flare-up of heart problems left me with little energy to write. But as the emaciated old man in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" says: "I'm feeling much better!"

At one point well into Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" I thought that the movie was going to reveal itself as a story about the meaninglessness of human existence. But that notion was based on a single piece of aphoristic, potential-thesis-statement dialog that, like much else, wasn't developed in the rest of the movie. Which is not to say that "The Master" isn't about the meaninglessness of human life. The line, spoken by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the cult guru known to his acolytes as Master, is addressed to the younger man he considers his "protégé," a dissolute mentally ill drifter named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), and the gist of it is that the itinerant Freddie has as much to show for his life as somebody who has worked a regular 9-to-5 job for many years. The point being, I suppose, that for all Freddie's adventures, peculiarities and failures, he isn't all that much different from anybody else. Except, maybe, he's more effed-up.

(spoilers)

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