You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
–Bob Dylan

There is a moment in the documentary Grizzly Man when two bears are fighting and one of them unexpectedly shits himself. To we humans that would be the utmost embarrassment. We try so hard to control ourselves, especially when we have an audience. It’s true that in moments of pure terror we let loose uncontrollably because pure instinct takes over and rational thought vanishes. The struggle between these two impulses is what, I think, drives Paul Thomas Anderson’s most accomplished, exquisite film to date, The Master.

There aren’t many people in this world, let alone filmmakers anymore, who have something to say that elevates not just the ongoing cinematic conversation, but the human experience. No, this movie doesn’t say: God does not exist, find your own religion. Maybe it implies that. But in taking on the subject of anyone having a master at all it sends you out of the theater and into some deep thinking about what or whom your master is. Is it money? Is it sex? Is it love? Is it conventional religion or do you keep searching, in hopes that you will be gripped by a master and shown the way? Most fascinating of all, and the subject of Anderson’s film, are the people who fancy themselves god-like leaders capable of starting a whole new religion — of perpetuating the myth that the answer to the human experience is really that attainable.

Since so many people have said they don’t know what The Master is about I will not presume to tell you. Not definitively. I can only tell you what I think it’s about (and will stay away from spoilers). I will not try to be the voice of authority here; maybe it’s true that’s each interpretation has value on its own. To me, though, it examines the grinding sensation of what it means to be part animal and part human – with ruminations on life, evolution, science, religion. This isn’t a film that has the answers; It’s a film about people who think they do.

Thematically and visually, The Master gets close to what Orson Welles did with Citizen Kane; the summation of an auteur completely in command of the story while reaching unimaginable heights with his artist’s eye. All of Anderson’s films accomplish this to a degree. But The Master ups his own game so profoundly I can’t imagine him ever topping it. Perhaps this will be a career high point never to be equaled, as with Orson Welles who came close but never topped Citizen Kane.

The sublime peak modern auteurs reach for but cannot achieve, and why Welles’ film continues to wipe up the floor with them, has really to do with the audacity to take on weighty, non-personal subject matter. There are so many personal stories to tell and they are worthy stories. But to tackle the broader human experience is not for the timid. Anderson is cock-sure as a filmmaker, like Welles – he still shoots on film and this one is 70mm, to serve as not just a great cinematic experience but one that underlines, bolds and highlights why film should never be supplanted. He is strong on ego, thrusts his notions about life onto the world without hesitation. This, I think, is one of the reasons why The Master is so masterful; there is no hesitation in storytelling here. This is balls-out.

Thick with unforgettable imagery, The Master tells the story of Freddie (a career best performance by Joaquin Phoenix) – an untamed man who hasn’t yet learned how to stifle the animal within. That is to say – when he sees a naked woman made of sand on the beach his first impulse is to fuck it. The moment is so vivid for him because it uncorks that which we were put on earth to do – even looking back at that scene I question myself, “did I really see that?” This is a film that demands repeat viewings for that very reason; you can’t possibly take it all in at once.

Freddie’s impulses are at the surface, so if you scratch his skin even a little bit, he gushes. He appears uneasily onto the film like unexpected menstrual blood in white cotton underwear, like a shitsmear on a clean piece of paper — what to do with Freddie? He pounds on people when he feels anger, he drinks weird concoctions and everything he sees is or has to do with a woman’s pussy. When he looks at women he sees them naked. It is a constant, unwinnable obsession, this. Somewhere inside, though, Freddie imagines he is not this concoction of instinct, this tool to forward the human race, but someone capable of loving a real woman. He holds onto that notion, though it’s something very much removed from the reality of his life.

Freddie stumbles upon Lancaster Dodd (brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman) – someone who is clearly a religious huckster, a Bible salesman, a slick willy with some cockamamie new technique to explain the human experience to Freddie and other disciples. Of course, Freddie is just the kind of person that the sect pulls in – a lost man.

The scenes between Freddie and Dodd are so good I won’t spoil them for you except to say that Freddie is the circus act and Dodd is the would-be animal trainer. Funny thing about religion is that there are always excuses as to why it doesn’t work. When it comes down to blind faith, well, what good does that do someone incapable of it? L. Ron Hubbard is the model for Dodd but not the only one. If it’s a comment on Scientology, it serves as a reminder that guys like Dodd pop up all over the place. The Master IS about Scientology, absolutely. It nails the pseudo-religion for all that it never will be and all that it has been. But in so doing it really nails all religion, though, doesn’t it? What’s the difference between a fake God-like Dodd and a fake God-like Jesus? You have to ask yourself that question. In the end it is simply used as a power play, power over people, money, stature, wealth, all in the name of a higher power that tells you you are not an animal. You have risen above it. Hubbard managed to build an empire. The thuggism of Scientology and the violence that hovers over all religions, going all the way, is the perplexing part, just as it is within us – we can be tamed but only up to a point. All the while, there is unseemly in Scientology, Catholicism, Freud, and The Master about poring over the inner psychosis of us. It is unseemly because what are we doing exactly? Are they healers or voyeurs?

As Freddie’s awareness grows, he must weigh the two paths in life. Does he celebrate the song of himself? Let loose the drumbeat of his primate rage? Or does he learn control it, by adopting Dodd’s guidance and control. Does that then translate to passing out flyers on the street corners, to suppressing every sexual inclination he has in the name of what – salvation?

Phoenix is in Brando territory with his crumpled, puckered, explosive performance as Freddie. what is most surprising about his portrayal is how sympathetic he often seems. You don’t really expect you will feel for Freddie but you do. You search his face for clues, not knowing what he will do next. This is also true of Hoffman, as these are wholly original characters, not a cliche anywhere. Amy Adams just gets better as she feels around for what she might be good at. Whatever role she takes on she commits to it fully and there is a scene in this film between her and Hoffman that is as horrifying as it is memorable – like so many scenes in The Master it very nearly pierces the barrier between film screen and audience – after that scene, you too almost want to wash your hands. The scenes are like truth-seeking missiles with no landing point. But you feel them when they hit.

Oh, this film. Like life itself, its beauty passes much too quickly. You want to stop time and you want to stop each frame of this film and pore over every shot. Anderson has mastered shot composition thoroughly that there isn’t a single wasted visual. It isn’t just about how beautiful it is to look at, it is that – it is so that. But it’s also how he uses the movement of the actors, the color palette, and the continual juxtaposition of the expected and the unexpected – and the music. Good god, the music. Once you pass a sequence you are hit with another that is just as good if not better than the last. One of the most memorable for me, among many, is the jail scene with Freddie on one side and Lancaster Dodd on the other. Freddie explodes but Dodd simply stands there, silently judging Freddie’s weakness. It sums up the differences between the two characters so well. But the whole film is filled with moments equally powerful.

By the end my heart broke for Freddie. Not because he was flailing and destined to die in a bar fight, contract some life-threatening STD or fall into depression, but because the beauty of that character is his profound need for something so ordinary. The touch of a woman. The love, maybe, of a woman. The taste, the feel, the satisfaction of a lover happy to be there, smiling down at him, damp and sweaty for the partaking.

The key to Dodd’s religion, and maybe all religions, is in the remaking of our natural selves to serve a higher cause. It gives us a reason to believe, explains our impulses and there is never a wrong answer as long as you are serving your master. But real life is uglier than that. Real life throws up in our faces every day the good, the bad and the ugly mankind has brought to the table. It isn’t to say Freddie stands for the Ayn Rand kind of self-centered hedonistic lifestyle either because in Freddie’s world, money isn’t his master. He doesn’t want power in that way. But maybe what he really wants he can’t ever have. Living without religion means confronting that eternal angst. There is nothing uplifting about the notion that when we die, we die. I found truth in Freddie’s devotion to the right now, for however long it lasts, and wherever it takes him.



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  • gnome_chomsky

    Absolutely brilliant review…

  • Max


  • win

    So is this The Tree of Life of 2012? I really dont love holescript films.

  • Cyrus

    how exciting! what a review!

    how is Laura Dern? is she a possible supporting nod ?

    also how is Patty McCormack, she plays Mildred Drummond and she’s the little girl who won a nomination back in 1956’s The Bad Seed.

  • Melissa

    Sasha, would you consider this movie the one to beat in the Best Picture race? Or is it too cutting edge for the Academy? I’m thinking Argo is the safe bet…

  • All I know is that male critics tend to sputter and burn out when faced with discussing something complex like spirituality or religion. I’m so glad I read your review first.

    Beautifully visualized, it really makes me want to see the film.

    And I thank you for that.


  • Tero Heikkinen

    To me, Magnolia represents a perfect film, There Will Be Blood comes very close to that. The Master being even better than these two would probably make me insane.

    Sure, PTA is the greatest American director since Kubrick left us. I hope Academy agrees with Sasha and finally gives him a trophy. I would be fine with a Screenplay Oscar, but he’s an even better director. Comparisons to Tarantino always come up, and that’s fine because they are friends and both have a film out this year. Difference is that PTA is better in both writing and directing whereas Tarantino (excluding Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction) is not a really original director, but he is a very good writer, although all characters sound like him. I would be really pissed if Tarantino won something next February and PTA didn’t. This I can say without seeing either film yet.

  • AlecFPrice

    Great review Sasha – my anticipation for this film couldn’t be greater but where other critics have written around what the film may or may not be trying to say or accomplish, your analysis stands apart. It’s writing like this that keeps the site vital.

  • Great review. Loved this movie.

  • Jesse Crall

    This is such a sharp review that it’s forcing me to reevaluate my own thoughts about The Master. The circus trainer/animal comp is especially good.

    I was planning on seeing The Master again anyway but I’m gonna have to re-read this for sure after I do.

  • no no

    just saw it…confronted by media to ask my opinion for a show…, because I love normally adore PTA as a filmmaker, I respectfully declined to give my opinion.

    Yikes. Where do I begin.

    It seems in the internet age, people are so inclined to be deluded and swayed by reviews that are completely disingenuous. I don’t know how anyone can say by any stretch of the imagination that Master was a great film. It’s not even half-decent. By far this is PTA’s least impressive film, but most ‘studied.’

    Cinephiles may get the impression that he viewed masterworks of great filmmakers, and decided to remake scenes and piece them together to make this. I’ve heard the Master is supposedly, PTAs more ‘mature’ filmmaking.

    What bull.

    I’m starting to think that ‘mature’ means safe, conservative and unadventurous. Magnolia was full of balls. I hope that he can summon up the courage to do something like that again.

  • Am I the only one who wasn’t bowled over by Magnolia? I much preferred Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood.

  • k-a

    great review

  • VVS

    1) First of all. See this in 70mm. The visual is stunning. Better than Real IMAX.

    2) The acting by Joaquin Phoenix is phenomenal. I’ve never seen anything like it, or anything on the same level. I personally thought it was better than Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood, so in my opinion it’s quite possibly the best acting I’ve ever seen. It’s like Marlon Brando mixed with Heath Ledger’s Joker or something. Very bizarre. He’s so spontaneous and unpredictable in every scene, and he shifts from emotions at the drop of a hat, with complete conviction and truth.

    3) The narrative is hard to grasp. It has a very unusual structure, if you can even call it that. It will take many viewings to get some kind of understanding of the film. It has a weird effect. You get a SENSE of what the movie is saying but you can’t quite understand it in thought/verbal form. You feel the essence, but cant pin it down to describe it. Trying to figure out the connection between the images of the water, and what the film says about the behavior of these 2 men and how its effected by water. Or how Dodd’s comments about them being enemies in the next life could possibly connect to other Anderson films. Are these 2 characters reborn in a film of his that takes place later in time? hmm. Or the huge implications of what Freddie does at the end with the girl he fucks. It’s in there somewhere…I’m just trying to connect it all.

    I would say that No way is Daniel Day Lewis gonna top this performance, but the unusual narrative form may prevent oscar voters from giving the prize to Phoenix at the Oscars

    Oscar chances:

    I would definitely nominate Phoenix for Best Actor. Hoffman gives a performance worthy of a Best Supporting nomination. Amy Adams, ehh, it was good but not worthy of a nomination unless the category is weak.

    Cinematography is astounding. Definitely worthy of a win.

    Paul Thomas Anderson is worthy of a best director win.

    The film itself is going to be tough for the Academy voters. I think many people won’t like it.

  • JFK

    Sasha, you’ve outdone yourself here, wow! I can’t wait to see this, a few more days…

  • Tero Heikkinen

    I was thinking that DDL may not be the one who is the most anxious to win again, but when he loses to Phoenix, he would be happy that the award goes to a PTA movie. He admires PTA so much anyway. Most likely Spielberg, too. But you know what I mean.

    Do we even have a legitimate third candidate in Best Actor anymore? I don’t think so, but we all know how Brody won a decade ago.

  • steve50

    Outstanding review, Sasha! One of your best pieces.

    I don’t know why you don’t consider yourself a critic.

  • Jeremy09

    Before this review, the main impression the consensus seems to have is it’s an incredibly gorgeous picture, filled with top-notch acting, and static characters with zero character development.

  • Sasha, well done, well done. More of this please.

  • unlikely hood

    On this, I agree with steve50. I wish even 10% of online reviewers took films as seriously as you do.

  • Ricky

    I have to agree that this really is a brilliantly written review Sasha. It is so much more interesting to read these sorts of reactions to the films themselves than the politics behind why and how the old white men run Hollywood. We know that already, this is revelatory stuff.

  • A legitimate third Best Actor contender? At the moment, Bill Murray (if the first two are Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix). He’s more overdue than Phoenix, and Day-Lewis has already won twice before. And Hyde Park on Hudson is much more up the Academy’s street than The Master.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Paddy, sounds about right. If Academy loves that movie (like expected), this could be it.

  • julian the emperor

    This is one of the best pieces I have read by you, Sasha. Really well-thought out and eloquently put. It is funny/peculiar that the prison scene is what you single out as a mesmerizing example of PTA’s craft. I just read the review by Anthony Lane at The New Yorker and he singles that one out for the opposite reason; that it is too obvious and too declamatory a representation of the duality of the master/servant dynamic that is at the heart of the film.

  • steve50

    Cripes – After 24 critics sounded, The Master now sits at 90 on mc, with tough nuts like Turan and Scott giving it a perfect 100.

    I don’t think I’ve been dying to see a film so much in 40 years.

  • Mattoc

    Tom Cruise is happy with Sasha’s review, still not happy with the film…

  • Jeff N.

    Pauline Kael is smiling down from heaven on Sasha for this review. A work of thorough and gleaming beauty in its own right. Inspiring for every writer. Another hot one, Ms. Stone 🙂

  • Mohammed

    The sign of great storytelling across the world is often not about character(s) A going to place B, but what has happened to them along the road and how this have changed them. Catharsis.

    The Master isn’t that kind of story. It’s a story about people starting out in point A and staying in point A. I can’t see how what’s so great about such a story.

    The best movie about faith that I’ve yet to see is still Spring, Summer, Winter, Spring from South Korea. A film that adresses change in faith in a profound ways.

  • unlikely hood

    Paddy – but Murray won’t have the BP nod and Phoenix will. That’s always been huge, maybe even more in a year with 8, 9, 10 BPs when the Academy can’t be trusted to watch more than those. Phoenix will also pile up more precursors – looks like his to lose.

  • AdamA

    PaddyM, you are not the only one! I actually kind of hated Magnolia–but There Will Be Blood is probably in my all-time top ten.

  • Matt K

    I am looking forward to the movie!

    But on the no difference between Dodd and Jesus? Well, this is a good selection in response:

    John Calvin “Christ Clothed with the true substance of human nature”.

    Also relevant to the topic of the film is the section from Calvin’s Institutes:
    “Through the Fall and Revolt of Adam, the whole human race made accursed and degenerate of human sin”

    A pretty good selection from the latter: “While revealed truth concurs with the general consent of mankind in teaching that the second part of wisdom consists in self-knowledge, they differ greatly as to the method by which this 212knowledge is to be acquired. In the judgment of the flesh man deems his self-knowledge complete, when, with overweening confidence in his own intelligence and integrity, he takes courage, and spurs himself on to virtuous deeds, and when, declaring war upon vice, he uses his utmost endeavour to attain to the honourable and the fair. But he who tries himself by the standard of divine justice, finds nothing to inspire him with confidence; and hence, the more thorough his self-examination, the greater his despondency. Abandoning all dependence on himself, he feels that he is utterly incapable of duly regulating his conduct. It is not the will of God, however, that we should forget the primeval dignity which he bestowed on our first parents—a dignity which may well stimulate us to the pursuit of goodness and justice”

    Pretty good stuff. You just can’t beat the Calvin… But yeah, pumped about the Master… I hope it comes here next weekend!

  • Daveylow

    I wish I found this film as amazing as others have. I was glad to see it in 70mm in Toronto. But the film is overlong and repetitive and by the end I found not much had changed for Hoffman’s and Phoenix’s characters. Amy Adams is stunning, though. I saw at least 15 films I liked more at TIFF this year.

  • unlikely hood

    I’m confident that this will be PTA’s best film to begin with “Ma”. Two things I hated about Magnolia that you won’t read on any other site:

    1) the first 15 minutes gives you the best set-up ever – ever! – for fate, coincidence, what-have-you – I mean the guy was shot falling past a window! – and then the film *never uses coincidence* again. So many films ask you to accept so many preposterously unlikely meetings between former lovers, rogue CIA agents, or whoever – nothing like that happens! Why set up this whole theme and do next to nothing with it? (If he’s saying we are existentially *searching for* coincidence, that’s a little hard to buy.)

    2) After the frogs rain, no woman speaks a word of dialogue. That’s right, the last 15 minutes are female-dialogue-free (not counting screams), and not just Julianne Moore driving around, but a lot of men speechifying implicitly saying honey, shut up and listen to what I have to say. If Amy Adams gets one line in the final 15 minutes of The Master, she’ll be doing better than the ladies of Magnolia.

  • unlikely hood

    But Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood are masterpieces, and Punch-Drunk Love is underrated.

  • win

    Why people try to lie themselves?

  • Jason B

    The film was an impressive clunker that I probably will have to force myself to watch again, which I find shocking since I’ve always left PT Anderson’s films wanting to immediately watch it again.

    The Master, however, loses power as you realize PT “is just making it up as he goes along” and is really not exploring anything deeper than dated Freudian ideas of the id/ego/superego and his continued interest in paternal figures.

    Anderson put all his trust in his actors and cinematographer to carry this film, if left to its script, the film would have been nothing. One has to at least respect that.

  • Robert A.

    “Am I the only one who wasn’t bowled over by Magnolia? I much preferred Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood.”

    Nope! I’m right there with you, Paddy M. And with you being a fellow Rosemary’s Baby freak, we sort of have a hive mind going here…

  • Excellent, excellent review. Makes me even more excited for my most anticipated movie of the year.

  • www

    Excellent review but excellent film?

  • See my review if you want too 🙂

  • Tory Smith
  • CON

    Movie looks like Larv Von Trier movie. Has PTA inspired by him?

  • steve50

    I’m with the Boogie Nights/TWBB over Magnolia crowd, but find a lot to admire in Magnolia.

    Thanks to @unlikely hood, now I have to see it again because I never noticed that lack of female dialog after the frogs – good observation.

    The thing that I like about PTA is that there aren’t many directors out there making films that would have a comment like that written about them.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Funnily enough the frogs were written very early on without thinking any Bible references. It was while he was making it when he added all the 8’s and 2’s to the prologue and throughout the film. That, of course is for Exodus 8:2.

    Btw, the 1+ hour making of for Magnolia is one of the best ever made. If you have not seen it, see it now. Fans of the film have looked into the deleted scenes to find out about The Worm and about other big mysteries in the film. It really didn’t open to me perfectly until on my seventh or so viewing. Now I find new stuff there still (after 20+ viewings).

    After the frogs, most lead characters don’t get to have dialogue, not a sexist thing. Many men don’t get to speak either. The last shot shows a woman for 2 minutes and the male dialogue is practically inaudible. Men feel more comfortable writing for men, TWBB is pretty much all men talking. At least PTA tries sometimes.

  • I don’t need to read a critic’s thesis about how “brilliant” The Master is, I saw it with my own eyes at TIFF. Although upon my initial viewing I was left less than impressed, there were still quite a few scenes that thoroughly entertained me and giving me the desire to watch The Master once or even twice more, to try to understand this “brilliance” that is being bestowed upon it. I’m just perplexed why I didn’t get it the first time. But be that as it may, I gave it a 7.5/10 score at my blog. One primary issue I have with it is the view of the female body and the purpose of the female according to the sick character played by Phoenix (btw, I think he is a shoo-in for an Oscar nom, if not an all out win). I’m just sick and damn tired of the way the female nude body is used like toilet tissue in films, and yet, not a sliver of male nudity in said film.

    The Master

  • mecid

    @ Simone

    it is interesting that You are not the only one who says: I need to watch it again to understand.

    But will academy watch it again and again to nominate it or just they will nominate it in spite of actors and director.?

  • Tero Heikkinen

    I think that Academy members will not watch movies again and again, so any film that requires multiple viewings is automatically in trouble come nomination time.

  • mecid

    @ Tero

    I also think that.

    @ Simone

    I have checked your reviews. It is interesting that your highest rated film is Cloud Atlas with 9.5+ and second is Ago with 9.5.

  • Jeremy09

    IDK, a good friend of mine has seen it and it said he wants to see it again to experience the story and the performances again, but not because he didn’t understand it. It’s about a war veteran who is struggling to find something meaningful in life and links up with someone enticing in nearly every aspect and they form a relationship. There’s a few narrative jumps here and there in flashbacks, but other than that what you get is what you see.

  • @mecid, I’m just a regular person movie fan, if I don’t like something, that’s it, I just move along. But when I do get a hint of something about a film that is at the cusp of something remarkable, but I just ‘miss it’, I do go back for second or third viewings. No shame in that. I can’t count how many films I was ‘so so’ about during the first viewing, and fell in love with it on the second viewing. I sense that with the Master as I like the director and Hoffman and Phoenix. In fact, I’m going to treat my friend (who served as my Tiff catsitter) to a viewing of The Master when it comes to town in a couple of weeks. I do want to see this again.

    In regards to loving Cloud Atlas, I just LOVE all things Wachowski siblings, and I LOVE science fiction. I’m going to watch that again when it is released. And Argo is straight up Oscar fare that I enjoyed very much and I echo Ebert’s sentiments that it may be the one to beat. A very, very crowd friendly political drama from a director whose work I enjoy.

  • KMS

    Great films bring out great writing ABOUT film. It’s hard for a critic to strive for greatness when writing about the tsunami of crap that monopolizes our pop culture, but a stunning achievement from a unique and master filmmaker can’t help but inspire those who see it to pour their heart, soul, and talent into generating thoughtful, powerful criticism. When I see a film that makes my heart sing and my entire body tingle, like Boogie Nights did almost exactly 15 years ago, I can’t wait to tell the world of its innumerable wonders. Sadly, it’s not a feeling I experience often.

  • mecid

    @ Simone

    I am happy that there are still some moviegoers who are not “english flag”.

  • KMS

    As a side note, I don’t subscribe to Kael’s belief that you need see a film only once to properly critique it (I’m paraphrasing, probably quite poorly). Anyhow, there is no reason a film can’t reveal new wonders to someone through repeat viewings. Some films that did that for me include Miller’s Crossing, The Thin Red Line, I Heart Huckabee’s, and The Conversation.

  • So overrated

    The Master is a regrettably uninteresting film. PTA’s technical skill is again much in evidence, but the film suffers from a lack of considered ideas, and never manages to shape its stumbling around into either a compelling character portrait of any person in the film or into an affecting narrative. PTA is perfectly content to merely string along a series of scenes of Phoenix’s Freddie guffawing, slurring, mumbling, and generally indulging in asinine behavior (Is any veteran supposed to be inherently worthy of cinematic screentime, no matter how insipid?). This won’t even be a top 15 film for 2012. And Phoenix’s performance is being misjudged by many people. It’s excessively tic-driven and mealy-mouthed, inferior in technique as well as totally insensible to the pathos of his superb acting in Two Lovers. There were only a few scenes in The Master that allowed for Phoenix to project any emotionally complex state or reaction, one being the processing, where his distress was totally persuasive and his use of his face in those close-ups immensely skilled. But again, too much of it was just one-note physical gimmickry. I felt nothing watching him punch walls and rant repeatedly and cock his head askew and screw his mouth. The desultory annals of a semi-retarded World War II veteran. Shot with care!

  • ^
    should be noted that ‘So Overrated’ rarely uses the same ID twice but is always promoting Tarantino.

    Nothing wrong with the opinions. As the saying goes, yada yada, everybody’s got one.

    But the habit of multiple IDs becomes misleading when it seems to be a effort for one person to multiply his voice to make it look like his opinion is shared by many others.

    frowned upon.

  • Vilnio

    My holding Tarantino to be a far more consistent and better filmmaker is completely beside the point, and I didn’t bring it up here. So, if you would, respond to the actual comments.

  • I don’t need to respond to your comment.

    I’m just telling you point blank: your comments lose credibility when you can’t pick one ID and stick to it. Because either you’re unwilling to claim consistent credit for your opinions or else you’re trying to make it look like there’s whole gang of readers who share your opinion.

    Your esteem for Tarantino is not beside the point if part of your slippery intention is to undermine one of his rivals this year. No way for me to know if that’s what you’re up to. But it’s fishy enough to catch my attention.

  • John Adams

    “I don’t need need to respond to your comment.”

    If you’re not willing to discuss the film, you’re basically trolling. Keep talking about non-issues.

    I’m trying to undermine a film that is being overrated, certainly. Tarantino has nothing to do with it, as if Django proves to be a disappointment, the film will be in my sights as well. And why would I need to maintain a consistent ID when the post content is either identical or near-identical?

  • g

    Good lord I cannot wait to see this movie and I really wish we had a theatre here with 70mm, why oh why did I have to be so close to seeing it at TIFF!

  • “And why would I need to maintain a consistent ID”

    I’ve told you why. It’s misleading to pretend you’re part of team of people who all think The Master is not up your team standards.

    No other reader here does that. Why do you need to?

    Sick of slippery behavior and deception this week.

    I’m not going to argue with you about a movie I haven’t been able to see yet.

    Interested to see what everyone thinks, but I’m not going to ponder over the validity each comment because I want to keep my head clear.

    Just trying to keep the discussion above board, ok? You seem to want to fly under the radar. I don’t like that. It smells funny.

  • Team Anti-The Master Squad lol

    “It’s misleading to pretend you’re part of team of people who all think The Master is not up your team standards.”

    Where have I pretended to be part of a team of people? I go around posting the exact same thing. Where is the deceit? If I wrote 20 different brief attacks on The Master, then you might have a case.

    Yeah, so come back when you’ve seen it. I’ll respond to anything pertinent, but your misjudged suspicion no more.

  • Vitaliy Shtabnoy

    I’m surprised by how quickly I went from being utterly lost in trying to get a grasp of this film, to forming some kind of seed of an idea about it. Just 24 Hours after seeing “The Master,” I knew I had watched something special. But I couldn’t verbalize my reaction, nor could I come to a conscious understanding of what it was. I felt the ESSENCE of it all….But I couldn’t translate it from the subconscious to the conscious.

    Fast forward 24 hours. Here it is. Follow my thought pattern real quick.

    Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” is a brilliant work that serves itself up as a much braver, much more complex, brother of Steve McQueen’s “Shame.”

    Both films are about a protagonist who follows a socially deviant lifestyle. The dramatic conflict in both stories revolves around forces and people in the protagonist’s life asking him to change his way.

    In “Shame,” Brandon, as played by Michael Fassbender is a man with a sexual addiction. He is man with pathos, as characterized in his performance, carrying an unexplained, yet justified pain and turmoil. As a result, the audience can easily make the leap of caring about the character and his progression through the story. We never find out if Brandon makes progress, as McQueen ends the journey where Brandon’s inclination to deviancy is once again challenged, after having gone through the events of the story. A mature decision in terms of film making and story telling for sure. I loved the film. It gently pushes boundaries of film making, while still remaining relatively safe, with respect to story.

    “The Master” takes the same dramatic conflict, and pushes way beyond safe…right off of the edge of the cliff. We will be hitting the water any time now, folks….either that or the rocks. However, with the critical response to the film so far, I think we can assume that we are hitting the water. Paul Thomas Anderson took a huge risk, and avoided hitting the rocks.

    Early on in the promotion of “Shame,” it was revealed that Fassbender’s character was largely based on Brando in “Last Tango in Paris.” The impulse of deviant behavior is shared by all 3 characters. In a way, both “Shame” and “The Master” are homages to “Last Tango in Paris” that strive for something new. I applaud both efforts, but let’s be real…if this is truly a bout in the ring, then we need a champion. One in the form of a director, and one in the form of an actor. There is no doubt that there were qualities to Fassbender’s acting that were reminiscent of Brando’s performance…mainly, his ability to be emotionally vulnerable in the space around him. However, Joaquin takes that component and contorts it into emotional volatility. He squeezes the emotional life of the character with ferocity and gives it an unusual theatrical characterization. The result is striking…Marlon Brando in Last Tango meets the razor sharpness of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. This is not a character you are likely to encounter in the real world, yet he feels realer than any character you have ever seen. This is the pinnacle of real acting.

    Anderson explores the depth within the dramatic conflict of social deviancy by looking at the 2 polar opposites related to it. A primate…and an evolved self-conscious man. The drama immediately becomes bigger because it explores social deviancy through the perspective of these 2 polar opposites.

    The primate as characterized by Joaquin Phoenix, and its evolutionary higher evolved form, conscious man, portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

    To say that Joaquin’s character, Freddie Quell, is a “man” of primitive nature, would be an understatement. He fucks, or attempts to, anything that turns him on. Anything resembling a woman, whether it is of human flesh or of beach sand form, is a target for his nature. His way of solving conflict is through physical force and aggression. If I were to attempt to relate to another film-enthusiast what Joaquin Phoenix’s does in his performance, I would say…

    Imagine an old aggressive, sexually crazed ape that views the world with disgust and judgement through its screwed up face.

    His posture and gait convey something of old age and something of an ape or a caveman
    He is constantly fucking something or fighting somebody
    His facial expression expresses distaste with the world around him

    The audience is never given anything, in the traditional sense, that would justify Freddie’s behavior and his outlook on life…The viewer is challenged to be emotionally invested in his journey to change. I’m not sure whether PT wants the viewer to make this leap without the type of conventional justifications that film audiences are used to, or whether he wants you to become aware of your inability to do so. Do we really care about fellow man, regardless of his or her faults…or do we need those faults to be reasoned and explained for us before we allow ourselves to care about the individual?

    Early on in the film, it is alluded that Freddie may suffer from PTSD coming out of war. However, a flashback reveals that his behavior was not much different prior to the war. He drinks homemade potions of chemicals and his mind may be warped. We can’t even trust the events that we see in the film, because they are all shown from his perspective. What is real, and what is a hallucination or a dream?

    The self-conscious man comes in the form of Lancaster Dodd, who the audience is likely to perceive as a cult leader with strange practices, due to their preconceived notions stemming from early chatter of Scientology influence. But is Dodd really that strange? He is obsessed in his quest for understanding man, he has his convictions…no man is above having those. But besides having this obsession is he really doing anything that hurts the individual? We don’t see him influencing his followers in a way that asks them to be disrupting to society. Even the exercises which he uses to gain understanding are oddly similar to what Freud might have used on a patient in his experimental days…or a Lee Strasberg (Method acting teacher) would use on actor to uncover their emotional life. And while it’s not your regular day of the mill type of practice, there is not much wrong that can be pointed out in it. Still, I can’t help but ponder the implication….Why is Paul Thomas Anderson basing the image of a “conscious man” on the foundation of what we know L. Ron Hubbard to be.

    Dodd is obsessed with Freddy and what he presents in his never-ending quest to understand man. He wants to TAME Freddy…to be his Master… To subdue his animal urge and instinct, and to make a conscious man out of him.

    He wouldn’t be his first tamed ape. In the story, we are introduced to 2 characters who we are lead to believe have already been “tamed” by the Lancaster Dodd. His son-in-law and daughter . The actor who portrays the son-in-law (Rami Malek) is arguably the only other person in the cast who has a phenotype similar to that of Freddie. His jaw is ape-like, and he has dark brooding features. He is a tamed, young ape who has already given into Dodd’s way of thinking of man and social behavior. Whether he understands it, or simply succumbs to it, we never find out. The daughter proves herself to also be an “ape” when she exhibits behavior similar to Freddie… Both she and Dodd’s son have the Master’s blood, but challenge to his way by showing rebellion. Val Dodd accuses his father of “making it up” as he goes along. Elizabeth Dodd gives in to her animal urges of wanting to fuck Freddie, despite the sanctity of marriage, which she has recently entered into.

    Dodd is surrounded by Apes.

    You can argue that if Freddie is plagued by his primal instinct impulse, then Dodd is plagued by his obsession to understand man’s behavior. Neither exists in a state of balance, and this interferes with both character’s adaptation to social normalcy.

    But even though Dodd is a higher evolved man compared to Freddie, he is still in touch with his primal being. Lancaster Dodd is the only man who tolerates Freddie’s behavior and finds humor within it ….But he is also the only other person that indulges in Freddie’s drink of the day concoctions. PT poisons the mind of the one character who seems to think he understands Freddie, and once again we are robbed of a justification for Freddie’s behavior. As long as Dodd drinks the potion, we cannot trust his thought to be rational. Anderson does not want us to have it easy at all…he continues to challenge us.

    In the end, Freddie never overcomes his nature. His initial desire to become conscious of his own behavior drives him to a dead end as he cannot infer any kind of necessity or reasoning to do so in his warped state of mind. The struggle between the 2 forces in the film is strong, but neither can overcome each other.

    Where as “Shame” ended on a hopeful note of uncertainty, “The Master” ends in a mix of dark, humorous and horrifying realization that changing a ‘man’ like Freddie Quell is a futile quest. And Freddie adds insult to Dodd’s war wound by making a game out of his practices. One of the last scenes of the films depicts Freddie using one of the Master’s exercises on a female who he is having sex with. It’s likely that Freddie doesn’t even understand the point of the exercise, but even if he does, the idea that he would use it to serve his sexual animalistic urge is frightening in respect to dramatic conflict of the story.

    I don’t know if Paul Thomas Anderson was actually inspired by, or considered, “Shame” while making this film. But I’m inclined to believe so. Taking into account the similarity of the character journey in the basic outline of plot, I can’t help but think that Paul Thomas Anderson saw a worthy opponent and challenge in last year’s Underground Champion of Film.

    Paul Thomas Anderson was considered to be the underground King of film for years. With the release of “Shame,” Steve McQueen let it be known that he was vying for that crown. Many critics and film-enthusiasts were impressed. Perhaps PT was one of them, and thought he put this story on its head, bringing even more depth to the dramatic conflict rising from social deviancy. I’m excited by the thought that Paul Thomas Anderson and Steve McQueen are battling it out in the arean of film like some Underground Hip Hop Legends.

    I wonder if Steve McQueen will even realize, and if he does, will he come back trying to outdo something from Anderson’s own filmography?

    Well, whether it is a battle of film makers or not…I know one thing….what PT has done with “The Master” is create a new type of story format where the protagonist’s conflict with change asks for emotional investment of the audience despite not justifying it. I applaud Anderson’s courage and creativity. I have no idea what he will do next. But there is no American director better than him at the moment.

  • Where have I pretended to be part of a team of people?

    ugh. Every time you put on the mask of a different ID.

    It might not be apparent to anyone casually skimming comments. Only reason I noticed is because suddenly we have have “half a dozen new visitors” all bashing this movie. So I’m calling you out, and asking why don’t you please drop the Man of a Thousand Faces routine.

  • I don’t think people ought to be allowed to use multiple IDs unless requested and for a specific and justifiable purpose (at the discretion of Sasha and Ryan). It’s misleading and it can manipulate the conversation on the comment pages.

    I’d rather know whom I’m addressing or whose comments I’m reading. Making one person look like ten is blatant fakery, arrogant trolling and manipulation of the honest people who post here.

  • mecid

    Now when you read reviews (especially post-Oscar) for The Tree of Life after 1.5 years from its premiere nearly every review says: empty, turned off after 10 min, unwatchable, unanswered questions, nowhere movie and so on. it was also art-house. want to say that good movie should not be 1-watchable movie or it should not has 1 year effect. so after some years we can give question ourselves: “was it masterpiece or good film or can I watch it again?”. If you can say yes to this answer then it is really good film.

    I hope that Master is not that type film. I also like Phoenix so much. He is among few amazing actors of our generation.

  • alan

    in regards to the contender tacker thing….hoffman belongs in the supporting category, and anderson is going to get an original writing nod!!

  • KMS

    Early though it is, I think Anderson will win Best Director, but the film will NOT win Best Picture, despite a nomination. The ONLY way PTA won’t win Director is if Django is a massive critical and financial smash.

  • The ONLY way PTA won’t win Director is if Django is a massive critical and financial smash.

    Pfft. And you’re calling this in September?!? Consider that they’ve passed over giving David Fincher, Terrence Malick, Darren Aronofsky and Alexander Payne their first directing Oscars in favour of Tom Hooper and Michel Hazanavicius in the last two years, and this statement makes about 0.01% sense.

  • Jason B

    @Vitaliy Shtabnoy – “Paul Thomas Anderson was considered to be the underground King of film for years. With the release of “Shame,” Steve McQueen let it be known that he was vying for that crown.”

    I sincerely doubt he even gave SHAME two seconds thought. Steve McQueen is still too novice to even be considered vying for PT Anderson’s crown. But McQueens does show some promise.

    As for a “create a new type of story format…” I don’t see why people are making The Master out to be as unconventional and original as they are. It is more-or-less a very conventional story structure, but more minimalist in execution.

  • richard Crawford

    Pauline Kale liked Anderson. However, she would hated “THERE WILL BE BLOOD”.

    ASK her daughter.

  • Mattoc

    If you don’t think there’s anything wrong with using multiple IDs by choice…then you’re as dumb as a hat full of assholes.

    What is this, IDENTITY the blog?

  • Mattoc’s Daddy

    Lovely. More ranting about IDs, with absolutely no comment on The Master.

  • sartre

    Wow, what a pleasure it was to read another superlative review inspired by this film. It sure has the capacity to intellectually, emotionally, and aesthetically engage those it works for more fully and it clearly has a rich subtext that resonates with appreciative viewers. Can’t wait to hear the three-way podcast discussion about the film between you, Ryan, and Craig. Bravo on a bravura piece of writing and analysis, Sasha.

  • Paddy M, here here. The director’s branch has given fuck all about guys that are “due” in recent years. Much to my own personal frustration. I have a hard time believing they’ll give it to PTA or QT this year for this exact reason. It’ll probably go to Ben Affleck.

  • mecid

    Some say Hoffman’s performance is better than Phoenix’s. It is intersting what will they do. Hoffman Sup Actor and Phoenix Best Actor, otherwise or both Best Actor?

  • steve50

    Chris Price is right – there isn’t another branch of the academy less interested in who’s due than the directors branch. And they just go crazy when an actor joins their ranks. While that shows openness and encouragment for new blood, it must be disheartening for the veterans. No wonder many of them belittle the importance of oscar and outwardly show little interest in receiving one.

  • I can’t wait for this film. If this is half as good as Boogie Nights, Magnolia or There Will Be Blood, it will be amazing. Great review.

    English Proofreading

  • KMS

    I’ll stick by my prediction, despite it allegedly making 0.01% sense.

  • KMS

    I seem to recall insisting on this very site last year, against a sea (or at least a puddle) of naysayers, that Tree of Life would get a BP nod and Dragon Tattoo would not.

  • KMS

    Also, how can you lash out at me when I simply stated what I THINK will happen? It’s not like I pulled an Ebert and said what WILL happen (a notion of his that’s already been trumped by Argo failing to beat out Silver Lining’s Playbook for the TIFF audience favorite).

  • Nik Grape

    Thought-provoking and inspirational review Sasha, thank you.

    I’m eagerly anticipating the release this Friday, so that I can watch it again with refreshed eyes. The film is a cocktail full of such venomous spice that it’s like Freddie himself made it in one of his smirched dark-rooms, the vapor of bodily fluids wafting in the claustrophobic air like the subterranean disquietude lurking in the film.

    As far as Oscars go, what is so exhilarating about P.T.Anderson’s films is that they are as far removed from the “Oscar Bait” label as can be and yet they get nominated on, what I’d like to think as, pure merit alone. So far it’s the actors of his films which have reaped the rewards, whether in statues or critical praise (Tom Cruise, Adam Sandler, Burt Reynolds, Daniel Day Lewis..) and no doubt Phoenix and Hoffman will continue that trend. But here’s hoping that the man behind the words and the camera finally gets some much needed rewards.

    Next to the true Oscar-baiting flicks, Lincoln, Les Miz, Hyde Park, et al. it will be tough.

  • Brian Birmingham

    “The controversial new movie, “The Master,” is described as a forbidden look into the life of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology. Author Steve Hassan, of “Freedom of Mind,” spoke to the “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-hosts about the movie and why it’s got Scientologists up in arms.”:;lst;1

    The Freedom of Mind information page on the Church of Scientology can be found here!

    Info on Steve’s new book, Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs, can be found here:

  • capesider

    Something else you could do with a ten dollar bill other than to buy a ticket to see “The Master” — Run it through a paper shredder and then take the resulting confetti and burn it and then dump the ashes in a toilet bowl and flush it. This is in no way meant to be taken as judgmental…..just one of many possible alternatives.

  • Chris138

    Saw it last night in 70mm, which looked great. I liked it a lot and I’ve been thinking about it ever since the credits started rolling, but I still don’t think it’s PTA’s best (I hold that placement for Magnolia and There Will Be Blood). Joaquin Phoenix is frighteningly good, but Philip Seymour Hoffman was the real standout for me. I’m sure Hoffman will end up being put in supporting while Phoenix is the lead, but honestly their performances are so strong that I think both could fit into the Best Actor field.

  • Boom shots

    Saw 2 booms in two different shots. Unforgivable. Shoot in 70mm and leave 2 shots with booms clearly visible? No no no no…. Oscar for art direction and acting. Nothing else, please. Raspberry.

  • Ryan Adams

    sorry, we don’t accept unsolicited auditions for Awards Daily court jester

  • JohnnyO

    “This isn’t a film that has the answers; It’s a film about people who think they do.”

    Such a perceptive line! Completely agree.

  • Alfredo

    I don’t know what’s wrong with me…I hated this film. I wish I loved it as much as all the critics want me to.

  • rufussondheim

    I don’t want to spend too much time processing my thoughts for a thread that’s more dead than alive.

    A film with a realistic tone needs realistic characters. Should a character not come off as real, it kinda destroys the whole film. I loved PSHoffman in this role. Dodd comes off as an intellectually curious man who seems less interested in being a cult-leader and more interested in discovering the mysteries of the human psyche. That he’s deeply flawed in his reincarnation beliefs doesn’t seem to affect that the perception that he’s sincere in his pursuits.

    He’s surrounded by easy followers who do not interest him. His followers seam either dimwitted or along for the ride. HIs wife, played by the subtle and superb Amy Adams, is the exception here. I couldn’t place what her intentions were but she seems to be the intellectual force behind Dodd. The dynamic between the two of them is the most interesting in the film and with subsequent viewings (should they occur) this will be in the most interesting aspect to concentrate on.

    It is the different take each has with Frank that provides the film with what little dramatic tension the film has. Dodd seems interested in Frank because he’s not easy to understand. He is a challenge. He wants to cure him, but because he’s so outside of normal human expectation, he doesn’t know how. He keeps him around just to stay interested.

    Adams’ character, on the other hand sees him as a threat and wants him gone. This is her territory and she doesn’t want to lose it. How she attempts to do this throughout the film, as a woman in 1950 keeps this film from merely becoming a highbrow buddy picture.

    And that’s the problem with the film. The main character is so poorly drawn, so poorly conceived, so poorly executed that you can’t take much in this film seriously. Frank is such an unstable person, it’s hard to imagine he got this far in life already. There is nothing interesting about Frank. He’s such a caricature that there’s no way to emotionally identify with him. It really is a terrible over the top performance. There is no nuance here, only obvious scenery-chewing.

    Which doesn’t mean that the film is unworthy of admiration. There is a lot to admire here. I think this could have been a great film if Phoenix toned it down just a little bit. But as it stands now, I just can’t accept much of it.

  • Nik Grape

    Shame you didn’t like it rufus. Phoenix’ character is called Freddie, not Frank, and after I saw it I definitely felt for him in many scenes even though his demented state left me scratching my head a few times. I find Freddie to be a fascinating portrait of a man, the quintessential WWII vet: bruised both mentally and physically.

    After a few more views, if you get around to them, hopefully you’ll notice the nuances too. It’s not all screaming and shouting and breaking.

  • steve50

    This STILL hasn’t made it to my area, yet, and I can’t get away to civilization until November (darn tourists). If it’s not still playing then, I’ll turn into Freddie.

  • rufussondheim

    Oh I can see some excellent work in there, Nic. Phoenix is remarkably consistent. You can see it was a choice he and the director made together. He’s not flying by the seat of his pants.

    But, to bring some specificity, if you look at the opening sequence on the beach at the end of the war we get some insight into the character and how the world reacts to him.

    In the shot with the sandcastle girl he suddenly lurches onto the sand girl and starts thrusting. All the other soldiers laugh and enjoy it. After all, it is kind of absurdly funny. So, we the audience, are like “Wow, what a funny guy” but then he doesn’t relent and soon the soldiers stop laughing and the audience changes their perception to “Wow, this guy is whack.”

    And then cut to a new scene and soon we see Freddie masturbating (presumably away from the crowd, but I can’t recall) right there on the beach. It’s clear to us that he has no control over his behavior in a social environment.

    Now I’m as fond of soldiers masturbating on a beach as much as anyone I know, but that’s only in the abstract. It’s not something I would probably enjoy if it were to actually happen. (At least not as presented here) If this were consistent behavior from Freddie, he would be an outcast and probably kicked out of the military.

    And it’s like Anderson expected us to forget about when he lurched onto the sand girl and all of the soldiers (and us) were laughing. If this were a real situation, the soldiers would have been offended the second Freddie ruined their sandcastle creation. They would have yelled at Freddie to “Get the Fuck off, you freak” rather than laugh it him. They would be instantaneously bored with his antics.

    So I’m trying to figure out what Anderson wants us to take from this scene. Is he a genial jokester or a crazed sexual pervert? Is he an outcast or just a cool guy who takes a joke too far? (It’s clear later what the answers are.) This was all just a start to what became a confusing mess of a character as the movie went along.

    And then I got annoyed at his constant drinking of household chemicals such as paint thinner and the liquid that was in the bomb (when he was still in the navy) and whatever he was drinking after the cabbage-cutting activitiy. I mean this should kill him.

    Even when he wasn’t acting irrationally, he was still overcome with behavioral oddities. Now perhaps people gave him a pass because he was a vet, but I don’t see how a fancy department store would hire this guy to begin with. He’s clearly not stable when you look at him. (And given that a job interview is stressful it would presumably affect his behavior negatively.) I just can’t see this guy navigating life for five years after the war up until he stows away on that ship.

    I hape you can see where I am going with this. Freddie is just too extreme. I think Anderson and Phoenix chose this path for audience effectrather than any semblance of reality. Now I can respect that choice if the movie weren’t so otherwise grounded in reality. But in the end it just seemed like a gimmick rather than a sincere choice. It’s the only real flaw I saw in the film. But it’s such an overwhelmingly huge flaw I just couldn’t get past it. And it’s a shame, I really wanted to.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    “Saw 2 booms in two different shots. Unforgivable. Shoot in 70mm and leave 2 shots with booms clearly visible?”

    Sounds like the projectionist didn’t know how to frame it in your theater. I bet you don’t see those boom mics on Blu-ray.

  • Clyde Varland

    Excellent blog here! Also your site loads up fast! What host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my site loaded up as fast as yours lol|

  • I did not see “The Master,” but absolutely love Joaquin, he definitely deserved to win best actor for Walk the Line. However, Daniel Day Lewis is somewhat freakish in his ability to pull off every roll and become the absolute essence of the character he is portraying, whether playing a gay, invalid, prissy englishman, adopted white, turned indian, innocent yet condemned irishman, brutal gold miner and now Abe Lincoln, he is superior to all current day actors. now just stop it, Daniel, you are the absolute best actor of the 20th/21st century.
    Next up: my idea, remake of Moby Dick: cast: Ahab: Daniel Day Lewis, Starbuck: either Tom Hardy or Christian Bale, Ishmael: Andrew Garfield and who would play Quegeeg? Jamie Foxx?

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