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Copernicus gets into the meaning of THE MASTER!!


Some of the greatest masterpieces in art are works of awe-evoking beauty, constructed to technical perfection by a master at the peak of their abilities, but whose precise meaning is elusive.  If it can’t be easily categorized, it just sticks in the brain, and is endlessly debated, sometimes for centuries.  But is THE MASTER just such a masterpiece, or is it a fraud, with all the trappings of the real thing, but hollow at the core, as some suggest?  Critics are divided.  It does have an 86% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but many praise the acting and look of the film while complaining that it is inscrutable, or fails to pay off in a narrative sense.  My own views are complicated, and they have evolved considerably as I’ve continued to think about the film every day since seeing it at TIFF.


One thing that most reviews have avoided, even those praising it, is getting deep into the meaning, of the film.  But I think the legacy of THE MASTER is intertwined with what it is trying to say.  So the first part of this review will be light on spoilers, but I’ll get more deeply into what I believe the meaning of the film to be in the second half.


The film opens with Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell, a sailor finishing his tour during the last days of WWII.  Right off the bat he seems half-crazed.  He builds a woman out of sand on the beach and starts humping it.  Then he masturbates into the ocean, is seen lounging around on the ship, and taps a torpedo and starts drinking the “torpedo juice.”  This isn’t the typical picture we see in movies of someone who has helped win a war.  We never see Freddie doing substantial work -- he seems to be a free spirit, content to go wherever life takes him, pushing well past the boundaries of good taste, and up against the edge of antisocial behavior.  


After the war, Freddie becomes a portrait photographer, albeit an alcoholic one who likes to have backroom sex with his coworkers.  When he provokes a fight with a customer, he escapes to become a migrant worker in California, only to have to run again.  Ultimately he stumbles onto a boat where he passes out, and wakes up to encounter Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), self-described commander, writer, philosopher and nuclear physicist, and his group of followers, known as “The Cause.”  Dodd takes a liking to Freddie and his wild nature, particularly his penchant for mixing up impromptu hooch from whatever is at hand, including paint thinner.


The two become a codependent pair -- Freddie the one member of the flock who isn’t a sheep, and Dodd the father figure and guiding spirit who gives the drifting Freddie direction.  Their relationship forms the core of the movie, which begins in earnest with an electric scene involving Dodd putting Freddie through “processing,” a series of questions designed to elicit an emotional response, involving trauma and, at times, past lives.  While this is largely a two-character piece, we occasionally get a scene with Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams) in brief, but forceful appearances, and Dodd’s children, some of whom believe he’s a charlatan, even as they go along with his charade.


The thing that sets THE MASTER apart, despite all its flaws, are the jaw-dropping performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman.  This one-two combo is among the best pair of performances ever to appear on the big screen.  It is a career-making performance by Joaquin Phoenix, his most immersive, and strangest.  His Freddie is animalistic, twisted, explosive, and dangerous.  His entire body is transformed from his posture, to his mumbled speech, to his arresting cackle.  Meanwhile, his counterpart, Philip Seymour Hoffman, plays a charismatic leader, grating pedant, and ruthless manipulator.  He’s seemingly in control, until he’s crossed, when he erupts with a scorching ferocity.  His performance is equally impressive, even if we’ve seen glimpses that he was capable of it before (notably, his character in PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE).   And when the two actors share the screen, the fireworks will go down as some of the most memorable scenes in cinema history.


Acting of the highest caliber, particularly with such mesmerizing scenes, will be enough that THE MASTER will be remembered for a long time.  But a collection of memorable scenes is not enough to make an all-time great film.  This is where it stumbles.  THE MASTER is repetitive and drawn-out.  Some scenes seem to go nowhere, while other scenes that would seem vital are not to be found, notably, an ending.  There is something like a narrative, as we see different scenes in the life of Freddie and Lancaster Dodd, as their relationship progresses only it fails to resolve into anything like an arc.  It seems that Paul Thomas Anderson is taking a page from one of his heroes, Robert Altman, who eschewed neatly tied up narratives, or sometimes even a cohesive plot, in favor of a collection of scenes with strong acting.


And yet, Paul Thomas Anderson is no dummy.  He’s positioned THE MASTER to be epic.  It is epic in scope, spanning many years, epic in subject matter, the foundation of a religion, and epic in presentation, the first fiction feature shot in 70mm in 16 years.  This has amped up the expectations of critics, and created a certain aura around the project.  And rightly so, it is a stunningly beautiful film.  This isn’t entirely due to the reduction in film grain --- when is the last time you noticed grain in the modern era?  Shooting in 70 requires different lens and lighting choices as well, and it forces you to pay extra attention to every aspect of a shot from the composition down to set details.  And even in terms of film playback, extra attention has been paid.  PTA has been personally going around to some cities (Toronto is one of them -- I saw it at the TIFF Bell Lightbox 1), testing the 70mm presentation of his film.  Finally, there is a psychological effect as well: a 70mm film is more than a movie, it’s a goddamn once-a-decade event.


So I don’t think PTA intended THE MASTER just to be an exercise in great acting in a thrown-together collection of scenes.  There are themes in THE MASTER, for sure, but do they come together as a whole piece of work?


Aspects are loosely based on the founding of Scientology by L. Ron Hubbard.   It was founded in the postwar era, with boats playing a key role, has a belief in reincarnation, claims that the universe as much older than is scientifically known, and has a questioning experience that is reminiscent of “processing” shown in the film.  Even still, the film is no simple takedown of Scientology.  In fact, it goes to great lengths to set up the parallels between Scientology and “the Cause,”  but then is maddeningly silent about how a cult can make the transition to full-blown religion.  Lancaster Dodd has a legion of devoted followers, yet we see very few of them, outside of a couple of scenes with Laura Dern.  We never get a sense of why anyone (outside of Freddie, and he’s a special weirdo) would devote their lives to following Dodd.  In fact, nearly every follower shown in any detail at some point becomes disillusioned with Dodd, and yet continues to hew to his mercurial strictures anyway.


Instead of the founding of a religion per se, Paul Thomas Anderson seems more interested in the dynamic between his two main characters.  Ultimately that is all about how each fills a need in the other, and the mechanics of manipulation.  


Some scenes, which seem puzzling at first, like Freddy improvising unholy tipples out of any chemicals at hand, are based on a certain reality, but are clearly meant to be symbolic.  Freddy is “making it up as he goes along,” something said later about Lancaster Dodd.  And his grog may induce short-term intoxication, but it is ultimately poisonous.  This is just a physical representation of the ideological nonsense that Dodd is peddling.


One epiphany I had that only hit me a few days after seeing THE MASTER is that Freddie is basically a dog, and Dodd is, well, the master.  The clues are there -- from the opening shots, Freddie is seen alternately lying in the sun and humping an inanimate object.  He wanders onto the master’s boat like a stray.  Freddie never quite understands or goes in for the intellectual underpinnings of the religion, but he’s fiercely loyal all the same.  When the tenets of the religion are being explained, all he can think about is sex.  When anyone attacks the master, Freddie defends him ferociously.  When he’s caged he lashes out until he does himself physical harm.  Dodd refers to Freddie as a “silly animal,” and claims that his followers are not animals.  The master even trains Freddie with repetition, both by repeating the same commands over and over, and by making him do the same task over and over until he breaks.  He even refuses to let him eat with the rest of the group until he complies.  Freddie stays with the family as they move from place to place.  There is even a scene where Freddie “runs away,” with the master calling after him.


Seen through this lens, THE MASTER is not just a simple ridiculing of scientology -- that would be too easy, and SOUTH PARK has done it better anyway.  Instead it is a subtle and subversive indictment of all religion.  What is religion than a series of rules governing how to act and interpret the world, brainwashed into our consciousness through repetition?  It is manipulation through rewards and punishments until we accept a fanciful story that would not even pass the giggle test when examined in the sober light of day.  It is a collective delusion that is at times recognized as such by the practitioners, until they force such thoughts away to stay in their in-group.


This criticism is never overt in THE MASTER, which is a brilliant move, because devout Americans would never accept it.  If these techniques are tangentially attributed to a cult, it becomes possible to mock such a small tribe as being backward and utterly different than yourself.


Still, the relationship between Lancaster Dodd and Freddie is more complicated than dog and master.  Some jackass is going to analyze this movie in a Freudian context.  Freud was as much of a fraud as Lancaster Dodd.  Still, I suppose it is possible PTA had some of those ideas in mind when he wrote it.  It is true that Freddie is a lot like the id:  instinctual, hedonistic, libidinous, chaotic.  He even seems to have little concept of time, as demonstrated when he doesn’t realize how many years it’s been since he’s seen the girl he once wanted to marry.  And Dodd is akin to the super-ego:  controlling, judgmental, perfectionist, even spiritual.  But who’s the ego?  Amy Adams’ character, Peggy, is a pragmatist, but she’s barely in the movie enough to register.  Was PTA saying that Freddie are two extreme versions of mental states that need each other to be whole?


Taking that idea a bit further, could Freddie and Dodd be two parts of L. Ron Hubbard?  LRH was in the Navy, and was somewhat of a photographer, but here it is Freddie, not Dodd who has those traits.  And Freddie and Dodd are complete opposites --- Freddie is all about sex and affairs, while Dodd is a family man who seems almost incapable of normal sex.  Freddie is uncontrollable, while Dodd is the epitome of stifling control.  Some of their scenes even play like an internal dialog, particularly one where they end up in a single shot in side-by-side jail cells.  Freddie is caged fury, smashing his whole body against the bunk and stomping a toilet to pieces.  Meanwhile, Dodd struggles to angrily maintain control.  One bizarre scene even shows all the women in the thrall of Dodd naked, singing (but not reacting to the fact that they are naked), and seems to be something imagined by Freddie.  And yet, it also seems real, because Dodd’s wife seems to react to it in a subsequent scene.  But as fun as it would be to imagine PTA pulling a FIGHT CLUB here, I don’t think that’s what he literally intended.  


Instead, I think metaphorically, these are two exaggerated aspects of all humans, who need each other to be complete.  Dodd lusts for power, dominance, and control, and Freddie needs a direction to channel his urges.  But who is in more desperate need?  I wont give it away, but the film has an answer.  It doesn’t end in any conventional way, with the teacher having learned from the student, or the mentor dying, and the student replacing him.  Nor  do the two annihilate each other in a blaze of glory.  Instead THE MASTER just seems to run out of scenes.  That is making a statement all by itself.  The problem is, the ending does not, on first viewing, reinforce any of the themes so elaborately laid out in the rest of the two hour plus running time.  It feels like a real missed opportunity, as if PTA could not figure out what, exactly he was trying to say.  


THE MASTER is fascinating, complicated, and masterful.  But at the same time it is infuriatingly flawed when it comes to delivering on an elaborately constructed setup.  Almost all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films are about an individual struggling to find control, and to find a family.  Other favorite themes include manipulation, power, and exploitation.  THE MASTER is all of these, writ large, in a gigantic, operatic fugue.  And yet, at its core, it is both as manipulative as the master, and as wayward as Freddie.  With the relentless repetition, distortion of reality, and construction of an epic, larger-than-life tale, Paul Thomas Anderson seems to be slyly commenting on the parallels between the manipulations inherent in being both a director and cult leader, between the cults that develop around films, and those that coalesce around religions.  And yet, by not giving us the answers, he reveals that he too is making it up as he goes along.  Is he a genius for pulling off such a huge following, or a fraud for doing it without all the answers?  Well, I’m the other half of this partnership.  I’ve worshiped you wholeheartedly for some time, Mr. Anderson.  But right now, I’m done with your manipulations.  I’m going to go have sex.




- Copernicus (aka Andy Howell).  Email me or follow me on Twitter.

Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 21, 2012, 8:25 a.m. CST

    Outstanding review, Copernicus

    by Jacob Underhill

    A good read, and spot-on (in my opinion). I have not seen you review movies before in a non-sciency-y light. You seem as comfortable examining the cogs of a narrative metaphor as you are at exposing the stripped-gears of faulty internal logic - I, like you, loved the new Star Trek but got frustrated my the weird logistical errors sprinkled throughout the storyline.

  • And people praise PTA as the new Kubrick? this is ridiculous.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 9 a.m. CST

    Great Discussion

    by Sirmausalot

    This is super 'review' and gets at the narrative problems with the film. By the end of the film, you may be left wondering 'Who is truly insane?' Although the film had an unsatisfying conclusion (as did No Country for Old Men) it does resonate for many, many days beyond viewing. The performances are phenomenal and much of the story strong until it seems to peter out without finding a satisfying 'third act' and certainly no climax worth mentioning. The Doris story seems a bit too trite. I read Hubbard's wiki entry and there certainly many ways to take the story. But I agree that PTA took Hubbard and divided him in two (with a little David Misgrave thrown in?)

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 9:23 a.m. CST

    All theme, no narrative.

    by Brian Hopper

    A typical problem for a PTA film, and The Master is no exception. I genuinely admire PTA's strong grasp of theme. His films, unlike those of many others, are ABOUT something. But he really does struggle in the story department. In The Master, like his other films, you feel the lack of story especially in the second half. The film doesn't feel like it's going anywhere. Lots of people in my theater (Cinerama Dome) were sighing and squirming in their seats: boredom. The Master is ambitious and admirable, but undercooked. Not mentioned in many reviews I've read: just how genuinely unappealing Joaquin Phoenix is in the film. I know (or assume) that's by design, but his character has literally NOTHING going for him. The least empathetic protagonist I can ever remember in a major American film. And he's not doing the antihero thing, either, in which the main character is a creep but there are things you like about him. When I say he has no redeeming qualities, I mean NONE. Joaquin Phoenix is in almost every scene in the film, and is painful and often revolting to watch in many of those scenes. On a practical level, that simple fact makes the film a challenge to sit through.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 9:54 a.m. CST

    Get off your high horse, Cop

    by Logan_1973

    I'd rather read Harrys rambling drivel than another word of Cop's pretentious reviews.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 12:01 p.m. CST

    Great Review

    by Banjohik7

    This is one of the best reviews I've read so far of the Master.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 12:05 p.m. CST

    Same goes for those who need a likable protagonist.

    by dahveed1972

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 12:07 p.m. CST

    Thanks, this is by far the best review I've seen of The Master

    by elecam

    I can't believe how many other reviews have missed most of the major themes, but this was an excellent take on the movie. I do think the ending payed off. It reminds me a lot of the final line of Eyes Wide Shut. It's the only time in the entire movie Freddie seems actually happy.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 12:30 p.m. CST

    Excellent review

    by Larry_Sanders

    Huh... maybe this site ain't so bad after all.

  • And the reason Amy Adams chastises and tries to control Dodd afterward is because he was beginning to make a fool of himself under Freddie's influence.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 2:50 p.m. CST

    Best review of this movie I've read. You unraveled it completely.


    Well done. Really got me thinking.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 2:56 p.m. CST

    still undecided

    by animas

    I enjoyed There Will Be Blood, but like watching Malick, my patience isn't infinite.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 3:56 p.m. CST

    What's "complicated" about this film exactly?

    by Badltnt310

    Two opposite personalities who need each other - fine. But that is so obviously laid out that there is no depth to the themes. You point to any number of themes int his film (as you can with most dramas), but The Master doesn't explore them in any way beyond that of a shallow high school sophomore student trying to act like an intellectual. Fail.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 4:27 p.m. CST

    Similar interpretation, broader concepts

    by Brostradamus

    I walked out of The Master about an hour ago. Hands down the best film I've seen this year, and perhaps even in the past few years. The credits rolled an I sat there thinking about it all. Questioning whether I was free and, if not, who were my 'masters'? Throughout the film I felt that Phoenix's character was a representation of man as animal, which this review brushed on with the notion of Freddy being a sort of dog to The Master. In my view PTA was presenting humans as we truly are, animals, and religion as something that misleads is from this fact. And in the end, no matter what religion does to change us or make us feel comforted, we are still animalistic in nature with our own wants and desires. A poignant example would be when Freddy sits down to listen to a recording of The Master where he's talking about human beings being above animals as spirits and not needing to let their emotions or animalistic desires control them. Freddy proves his true human animalistic self when he scratches down "Do you wanna fuck?" and hands to another woman across the table. This was a very thought provoking experience of a film and I'm sure the meaning and my interpretations will be rattling through my head for days.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 5:13 p.m. CST

    Like Kubrick, PTA uses hidden and dual narratives

    by David Duchovny

    Is the Shining really a horror film or does it say something about the slaughter of the native american by the us government? Or is about the ending of the gold standard in america? Or is it a giant in-joke about the "faked" apollo moon landings? Is it all of these things or none of them? I think it's way too premature to write anything about this film until it's been analyzed properly. One or two viewings isn't going to cut it. There Will be Blood should have taught everyone to take their time with it.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 5:51 p.m. CST

    thank you, m6y

    by Raptor Jesus

    Your comment meant more to me than this entire review.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 7:44 p.m. CST

    m6y, I also saw it in the Dome, and got the same reaction.

    by Ian Masterson

    Agree with your view completely

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 8:48 p.m. CST

    Great review

    by Kevin

    Well done. More please!

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 9:01 p.m. CST

    Sounds like this is an apology piece after it got shit on a little.

    by shutupfanboy

    Might as well had the PR department write this up. I have zero desire to see this flick and I am sure due to that, it will sweep the Oscars.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 11:22 p.m. CST

    no, you poison him

    by GhostDad

  • Sept. 22, 2012, 1:31 a.m. CST

    Best Review that I've ever read on this site

    by FilmFan311

    Having the day off today, I went to the very first Screening of it in Denver this morning. Fantastic review! Joaquin and Philip were fucking amazing! One of the best one-two acting punches To come along in many a year!

  • Sept. 22, 2012, 1:48 a.m. CST

    Best quote ever...

    by Michael Morning

    "What is religion than a series of rules governing how to act and interpret the world, brainwashed into our consciousness through repetition? It is manipulation through rewards and punishments until we accept a fanciful story that would not even pass the giggle test when examined in the sober light of day. It is a collective delusion that is at times recognized as such by the practitioners, until they force such thoughts away to stay in their in-group."</p> <p> YES! I wholeheartedly agree. The only difference between the belief in Santa Claus and the belief in gods is that at some point we grow up, stop believing in Santa Claus, and the community around us agrees. But even question whether there's a god and the community ostracizes you.

  • Sept. 22, 2012, 1:56 a.m. CST

    I Actually Think There Was An Ending In There

    by LastPairOfSocks

    I believe the final two sequences of the film deliver on what can be called an "ending". Freddie arrives at The Cause's new digs in London. Its quite swanky. Dodd's son is there; still living off Daddy's money but despising the man. Mrs. Dodd is there challenging Lancaster's decision to even invite Freddie to visit as he is beyond help and beyond hope. Lancaster has achieved great things, but he's surrounded by people who are using him to their own gains. He needs Freddie badly at this moment; as a friend AND as an underling. Because I believe, at it's heart, The Master, the film, is truly about how we are NOT in control of our emotions or our lives. A little off topic at the moment, but all thru the movie we are treated to scenes of characters challenging Lancaster. Moore questions his beliefs. Laura Dern's character questions the revisions included in his 2nd book. Mrs. Dodd more than once ponders if they should be involving themselves with Freddie. Lancaster is trying to manipulate all these characters to liking him, believing him, and advancing his career. But he is failing. They are taking over and turning him into a tool of their own devices. In moments of real stress, Lancaster is so on edge he can't help but burst into a rare display of true valgarity (PIGFUCK!). And suddenly we see the animal inside. The uncontrollable, emotionally unstable thing that is in all of us. Back in the swank office.... Lancaster needs Freddie. He needs his friend. The one person who doesn't challenge him. The person who will drink with him. The person who will willingly and without question participate in whatever crazy "application" is being tested that day. But he also needs to change Freddie. He needs to concur him. He needs Freddie to champion his cause; to prove The Cause can cure and heal the lowliest of the low. It's all in the song. Such a twisted and nightmarish moment, that song. In the span of two minutes we see Lancaster at his most animalistic. What begins as a playful almost semi-flirtacious like moment quickly becomes downright terrifying. I was transfixed. Lancaster is not in control of his emotions and what lives just under the facade is a monster. His very philosophy is unraveling before his eyes and he is just grabbing at straws. And the last one is Freddie. So Freddie leaves and, as Lancaster made crystal clear, they won't be seeing each other again. And what does our hero do (And yes, I do believe we can be empathetic to Freddie. I likened him to Charlie Chaplin's The Tramp, only if PTA made a Chaplin movie)? He goes and finds a girl and has sex with her. And in this moment he is happy. Even after the eye opening realization that his sweetheart didn't wait for him, that he lost her, Freddie can still find happiness, but it is not The Cause that cures his restlessness. Its the basic animal act that governs us all. The desire to procreate, or, fuck. You can live your life struggling to control your emotions. You can try to be The Master. But I ask you, who has found peace as the credits roll? Is it Lancaster, almost blowing his top and losing his mind while singing what is the equivalent to a top forty hit of the day? Or Freddie? Asking a girl to put it back in cause it fell out and dozing drunkenly on the beach next to breasts made of sand. I got my ending.

  • Sept. 22, 2012, 2:08 a.m. CST

    After seeing the 70mm print...

    by Gleemonex

    I feel like I have a deep and personal connection with each and every one of Philip Seymour Hoffman's mustache hairs. Lots of close-ups is all I'm sayin. But holy crap did those water shots look amazing.

  • ...and have that "ah-ha!" moment where it all clicks. Might take a few years, but I sincerely believe that will happen.

  • Sept. 22, 2012, 12:09 p.m. CST

    John Huston Got There Decades Before.....

    by Stewart Wolfe

    ....with 'Wise Blood', which in essence is a film of similiar themes ie. religion as a social and cultural manipulation upon the individual and the masses. And having seen both flicks, let me tell you that Brad Dourif knocks both Phoenix and Hoffman out the ball park with his performance. That's no disrepect to those two or too PTA (a brilliant director). It's a clever, wonderfully crafted and put together film but too transparently manipulative to be regarded as a classic. It revels in it's own cleverness. A fatal flaw. And unlike 'Wise Blood' it has no heart at the it's centre.

  • Sept. 22, 2012, 5:45 p.m. CST

    Totally agree

    by Tighxo

    Film is elevated by being gorgeous and the two performances. I was left jaded and cold after.

  • Because you think Freud was a fraud, that means that this interpretation is less-valid, especially considering I've seen many, far more intelligent reviewers, interpret the film in the id/ego/super-ego way? It means it was impossible for Anderson to have done it this way? Or that Anderson doesn't think he's a fraud? Or that in spite of one thinking someone's a 'fraud,' they cannot be interested in their work? Get off your fucking high horse, Copernicus? This is a great film with a lot of great ideas and interpretations behind it. For you to discredit a particularly interesting one because you think someone's a 'fraud' makes you narrow-minded and a shitty reviewer

  • Sept. 23, 2012, 9:18 p.m. CST

    Amen, renetabard

    by Logan_1973

    Pretentious is the word.

  • Sept. 23, 2012, 11:12 p.m. CST

    The Shining did not have dueling narratives

    by JacksParasites

    I know the weirdness of it has led many pattern-seeking people to go anomaly hunting and find all sorts of alleged "hidden meanings" in The Shining, but is just a product of the psychological phenomena known as pareidolia. We're driven to see patterns, particularly when presented with ambiguous stimuli such as amorphous shapes. This is why it's easier to see images in things like clouds than in most other things we might be looking at. It's this pattern-seeking tendency that allows us to see coherent objects and subjects from the millions of pixels in films to begin with. If Kubrick did have hidden ideas in The Shining, it almost certainly had nothing to do with the gold standard or the slaughter of Native Americans, etc. It's just a great film by a master artist that happens to be full of weird, ambiguous imagery and dialogue that can be endlessly analyzed and used to find almost any interpretation the viewer is looking for. It's like Yoda's cave; what you find is ultimately what you brought in with you.

  • Though Copernicus has the right to believe whatever he wants, I have a real problem with his blanket statement on the nature of religion. A person cannot make that kind of statement and fully understand the true nature of the Christian faith. 1. God’s favor does not come from obeying rules. C.S. Lewis correctly pointed out that the one belief unique to the Christian faith is “grace”. “The notion of God's love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of law -- each of these offer a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God's love unconditional.” - Philip Yancey 2. Christians are not motivated to “be good” out of guilt or by the promise of any spiritual benefit. The Bible doesn’t expect anyone to be able to keep all of the commandments or be perfect. In fact, the rules are there to point out just how impossible it is to be good enough to earn our way to Heaven. It points out our sin and our need for a Savior. Our eternity and our inheritance are provided to us as a result of God’s mercy and grace. Once we accept his gift and become His children, our desires begin to change. At that point we don’t start acting more like Christ because we have to. We do so because we want to. 3. You can’t claim that Christians have been brainwashed by constant repetition. I didn’t become a believer as a result of being brainwashed. My family didn’t even attend church. I sought out answers and had a desire to learn more about God. Once I heard the Gospel, I responded immediately. 4. Religious leaders cannot manipulate people using the Bible as it is written. You can argue all you want that Christianity was invented in order to create a way to manipulate and control the masses. However, you can only do so if the people have no idea what the Bible actually says. There is no way that man would write the Bible as it exists. The Bible takes all power away from mankind and gives it to God. The Book states that no one is without sin and everyone is in need of a Savior. That includes every Biblical character aside from Christ Himself. That also includes every religious leader on the planet. You can’t earn your way to Heaven. You can’t give enough money or say enough prayers to get what you want from Christianity. All good works are voluntary and are none of the Clergy’s business. The church can’t grant believers a single spiritual favor. There are no magic relics, no supernatural baptismal waters, no sacraments or disciplines that add grace to your account. 5. True Christianity doesn’t bring harm to the world in any way. A person can only blame evil acts or religious wars on Christianity if he doesn’t understand the contents of the Bible. There have been many atrocities that have been spearheaded by people who have called themselves “Christian”. These culprits cannot truly be considered Believers and they certainly don’t represent God. They are fallen people doing evil things and using God as their excuse. The Bible neither backs up their actions nor justifies them in any way. True Christianity offers love and hope to everyone. 6. The Christian faith doesn’t ask for blind, brainless belief. Sure, many things in the Bible can only be described as miracles. However, the Christian faith is not a blind faith. It is a reasonable faith. God is not afraid of the hard questions, and the church shouldn’t be either. When people try to discredit the Bible by putting various “proofs” under the microscope (archaeology, physical evidence, secular history, fulfilled prophecy, accuracy of documents, etc.), most of them come away believing that the Bible is true beyond any reasonable doubt. This can be seen throughout history beginning with the Apostle Paul and continuing today with investigative thinkers like Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel. A movie website is certainly not the place for an exhaustive examination of the evidences, but any seeker can get their hands on all that they need with a simple Google search. I don’t expect to convert anyone on a message board and I cannot argue anyone into Heaven. Still, statements like the one Copernicus made appear on AICN way too often and usually go unchallenged. I think it is a careless and uneducated way to handle the topic. The comment should have read more like an opinion instead of an uncontested fact. There is a good chance that more than half of the AICN readers were put off by the mean stereotype, and that is not the best way to treat the people you are trying to reach.

  • Freud may not be as hard a scientist as Einstein, but that is only because anyone trying to understand the brain in a holistic sense can only do that through elaborate invention, and that includes today's neuroscientists. Freud was a scientist who was willing to revise his views, was open to the interpretation of specialists in his field, and founded a science that has been largely confirmed in its basic tenets by modern investigation. Dodd, aka L. Ron, was a dogmatic fraud whose ideas were an amalgam of pseudopsychology, science fiction, and basic mysticism. There was no true effort at investigation, only fantasy. And once the views were established, there was no chance at change or further interpretation. I know its cool to be hyperbolic but a statement equating Freud and L. Ron is the height of stupidity masked as postmodern insight.

  • Sept. 24, 2012, 2:14 a.m. CST

    jzarbaugh you are in the wrong place to be spouting religious nonsense

    by Ryan Dawson

    ...not that I contest your right to do so, but it is inadvisable to proselytize on a thread dedicated to discussing a film all about the basic fraudulence of religious organization. You wrote, "When people try to discredit the Bible by putting various “proofs” under the microscope (archaeology, physical evidence, secular history, fulfilled prophecy, accuracy of documents, etc.), most of them come away believing that the Bible is true beyond any reasonable doubt." This is why you have no credibility with the thinking world and why your claim to be open to the hard questions is a total pretense. You are saying that the bible is a better authority to understand the world than science! You truly believe that the bible is a book written by god when it is painfully obvious that it was written by non other than a group of human beings!!! God is a literary character you fool, and if you can't see that than you are as deluded as Dodd or L. Ron. Christians that truly believe in the Bible have to believe that the world is 6,000 years old and that dinosaur fossils are an elaborate hoax pulled off to discredit religion. There is no thinking person that can ignore the basic evidence that shows that the bible is wrong here as in so much else. The bible is timeless literature, fascinating history, and in some small respects a decent moral guide, but it is deeply, profoundly confused about the nature of reality. Christians, and others of religious faith, have every right to espouse their views publicly and to enter into discussion about their truth and merits. But do not claim to be open to argument and evidence when the whole essence of your thought is dogmatic!! It is downright Orwellian to claim to be open minded and rational and then tell everyone that they have to believe absolutely in this special book that God wrote and that scientific evidence to the contrary is nonsense. Therefore Copernicus, your misguided comments about Freud notwithstanding, I hope you will continue to write without censoring yourself, never giving a second thought to offending the sensibilities of delusional idiots like jzarbaugh.

  • Sept. 24, 2012, 7:50 a.m. CST

    I didnt think the film had much to do with religon at all

    by Logan_1973

    The Cause served as the antagonist in the film; its purpose was to provide motivation and an obstacle for the Dodd and Freddie characters. Yes, it really can be that simple.

  • Sept. 24, 2012, 8:49 a.m. CST

    MarvelousD: you sir, are a true leftist

    by Monroville

    You are saying that the bible is a better authority to understand the world than science!

  • Sept. 24, 2012, 8:50 a.m. CST

    So what happened to the REST of my post?

    by Monroville

    Seriously, Harry, get someone to write some new HTML code or just copy and paste the forum codes from a hundred other sites that know what they're doing.

  • Sept. 24, 2012, 9:03 a.m. CST

    So let's try this again

    by Monroville

    (this is supposed to be a quote, but obviously AICN forums do not recognize such buttons or characters from your computor) = You are saying that the bible is a better authority to understand the world than science! = I do not think J-man means what you think he means. I do not think he is saying that the Bible is above science, so much as you cannot use science as a weapon against philosophical belief the same way you can't criticize a horror movie for not having any comedy in it. You CAN criticize those who believe in something with their own belief (are they consistent? Do they have integrity?). This is what Jesus did with the Sadducees and is what got him killed by the institution. In fact, one can say that christianity was not corrupted until the romans institutionalized it (once they realized they couldn't slaughter it away). The thing is, one can easily tell the difference between someone who follows a productive, well-meaning faith and someone who blindly believes simply because of some hidden ulterior motive. Compare Ed Begley Jr. with Albert Gore Jr. One lives to the tenants of environmentalism, whereas the other ignores those tenants while profiting from fear-mongering millions into paying him money to speak about things we already know about (while doing nothing with his profits to create a solution). It seems to me that POLITICS has become the new religion, with 48% of the masses more than willing to vote for Black Bush (let's face it: the only thing different from Bush and Obama is the skin color), with no other rational reason other than (1) they hate Romney/Republicans, (2) they love HIM. Not the things he has accomplished, but his image and personality. The problem was never religion, as that is too short sighted. It was and always will be people who prey on the desires/fears of others to the extent that they twist beliefs in a higher calling to enslave the masses while benefitting themselves at the masses expense. This can be applied far past what we've seen in the past and present with beliefs like Christianity or Islam.

  • Not to mention, this is a talkback regarding the validity/non-validity of religion... so I think Jzarbaugh has some justification to post a rebuttal for his own belief. Though it is kind of funny (in a Monty Pythonesque way) how you lambaste him for his post while making a post that sound religious in it's arguments (you know, the whole "you're an infidel for believing in what you believe, and this is why you are stupid for not believing in my belief!"). But please! Let's see some more open-minded, tolerant posts out there! I mean, we don't want to be a bunch of elitists looking down our nose and acting condescending towards the culture or habits of others, you know. (Just remember: there are a LOT of undocumented workers from Mexico who might read this site... and they are Christians too.)

  • Sept. 24, 2012, 12:48 p.m. CST

    Great Review (Though Wrong About Freud)

    by Jason B

    This is what I've been saying since I saw it at TIFF that everyone is focused on the elements of the film and not the whole. The one aspect of your review I believe is wrong is your disregard for the Freudian aspects. Freudian philosophy didn't become popular until the '50s so it doesn't surprise me if Anderson incorporated it. As for who is the ego and who is the superego. It's quite clearly the reverse. Hoffman is the ego, Amy Adams is the superego. Whenever Adams is shown in private with Hoffman, she's advising him of which decisions to make and insuring Hoffman doesn't get too embraced in his own id. A key scene this is shown is the bathroom scene (don't want to spoil, but it should be fairly obvious).

  • Sept. 24, 2012, 1:42 p.m. CST

    Freud being a fraud

    by copernicus

    Freud based his work on his own supposed insight and not the scientific method. He ignored data to the contrary. Most of the concepts he championed have no scientific basis. I do acknowledge that PTA might still have used this in his films (and in some ways Dodd is an analogue of Freud). But I did so hesitantly, because I wanted to avoid being the kind of person who over-interprets every dramatic story based on his first-year psychology class.

  • Sept. 29, 2012, 7:07 p.m. CST

    MarvelousD - I'm afraid you have misunderstood

    by jzarbaugh

    I ended my overly-long post by stating that my intentions were not to proselytize anyone. I merely pointed out six points of contention I had with Copernicus' statement concerning religion. If you dissect his blanket statement, he missed the mark concerning Christianity all every point. The statement you have a problem with was merely my attempt to point out the three people that came to mind that sought to discredit the Bible only to come to faith as a result. I know it has happened to many more people, but they are the three I know a little about. Add to that information all of the times that governments and people have tired and failed to silence the Bible and you have a pretty good case for it's powerful and enduring nature. I never said that the Bible was a better authority to understand the world than science. I will however say that science and the Bible never contradict one another when each is rightly understood. Also, keep in mind that God's purpose in giving us the Bible is not to teach us science. I have no problem believing in dinosaurs, by the way. I am a big fan. There are also many Christians that do not believe in a young earth, and I have no problem with that. It really isn't an important doctrinal issue. Finally, I do not recall telling anyone that they had to believe in the Bible. I don't believe I was arrogant and I don't remember telling anyone they are wrong. I merely mentioned what I and millions of others believe to be true. Still, anyone that knows me can tell you that I truly am open to any discussion. I really do want to know the truth. If I am not following the truth then why would I want to be holding on to it? Most people would also tell you that I am tolerant of the beliefs of others. Your comments, however, reveal that you do not hold to the tolerance that you say I should have. "Tolerance" does not simply mean being tolerant of things you agree with. In the same way, I will fight for you to have the freedom to express your opinion, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.

  • Sept. 29, 2012, 7:23 p.m. CST

    On censorship

    by jzarbaugh

    I want to be clear that I did not want Copernicus to censor anything. He just needs to make sure he understands the facts before he makes blanket statements that are possibly insulting to his reading audience. That is considered good practice and respectful writing. If he does his research and honestly feels like portion of his audience is delusional for any reason (Satanists, Mormons, Christians, Jedis, etc.), he should certainly feel free to express his opinion. It is just common courtesy to be kind to others. Especially the ones you depend on to make a living.