Last week we named Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master to be our film of the year. This week the film failed yet again to make much of an impact on the latest high profile awards announcements of the season (the almost aptly monikered PGA’s). It was the latest in a line of disappointing showings for the film on this season’s wider awards circuit, with but a handful of mentions of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance and a couple of supporting nods being the extent to the films non-festival successes. And yet we can’t help but see this as to play in to Anderson’s grand scheme. Please don’t think of this as some apologist rant, it’s certainly not intended as such, but moreso as an extension to our original piece of critical analysis on the film, elements of which were provisionally discussed without the benefit of hindsight that we’re now afforded.
We observed in our review of the film that The Master was to the prestige picture what Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love was to the Adam Sandler flick. In its deconstruction of the prestige picture things have come full circle and the film been rejected by those it’s critiquing. To quote our own review, entitled “How Else Do You Get Someplace?” –
The Master is a neat subversion of the prestige picture: it features not one, but two grandstanding, demanding performances seemingly designed to split votes. Hidden underneath the lavishness that one might expect of a War Horse or a Ron Howard film there is an aggressive and difficult work. Freddie Quell is to Forrest Gump what Barry Egan was to Happy Gilmore, a strict deconstruction of the prestige performance, with The Master ultimately playing as a profound form of anti-oscar bait.
From the very off The Master seemed destined to be added to the list of great films that don’t win mainstream awards, by filmmakers that don’t win mainstream awards (in spite of the hype created by the world’s film reviewers). Is it really that outlandish to believe that that may even have been the intention?
As quoted above, one can’t help but find the film to be the antithesis of the kind of movie (the prestige picture) that it found itself quickly labelled as. That the film itself challenges, deciphers and deconstructs the whole practice of the award picture itself is one thing, but the context surrounding the film adds a further layer of interest. The controversial subject matter will no doubt inspire conspiracy theories suggesting that that has played some part in the films relatively poor performance (in terms of recognition at least, it’s financial performance is not under scrutiny here), while Joaquin Phoenix’s controversial remarks on the subject of awards season will no doubt lead many to surmise that success has long been damned.
For what it’s worth we still expect to see Phoenix nominated come Oscar night, albeit in a capacity that will see him beaten to the big prize by the type of performance that The Master is critiquing. Is it a shame that a performance as creatively fascinating as Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell won’t be wholly recognised by the mainstream? Of course, but the theoretical subtext afforded by the occurrence adds a fascinating epilogue to the complete affair of 2012s most intriguing picture.