After two teaser trailers introducing us separately to its two principal players—first we got a look at Joaquin Phoenix as the unstable World War II veteran Freddie Quell, and then we saw Philip Seymour Hoffman as the L. Ron Hubbard-like Lancaster Dodd—we finally have the full trailer that brings the two stars of the much-anticipated The Master together.
Except, if you’re looking for a full sense of what writer-director P.T. Anderson has in store, you might feel like you’re still grasping for that here. Instead of the usual narrative handholding, the trailer opens on a striking overhead shot of Joaquin Phoenix sprawled precariously on a ship’s mast, as fellow sailors throw bananas at him. Then we’re shown a camera, pointing at us, before the trailer reveals that the subjects are an unknown set of children.
These are just a few of the disorienting shots that open the trailer, and if Anderson’s aim with these first peeks wasn’t clear before, it is now: Rather than simply being coy, or dancing around the film's dangerous subject matter, Anderson wants us to feel confused. He wants us to feel like Phoenix’s Quell does, lost in hazes of alcoholism, apparent post-traumatic stress disorder, and the influence of a Scientology-like cult. Mimetic fallacy aside, the gambit helps us empathize with his troubled wanderer, and begin to imagine what it might feel like to be lost and vulnerable to a cult. Meanwhile, the images are so dazzling that they might just make you woozy enough to not feel any frustration. In just a little over two minutes, the trailer gives us a more intriguing rush of stunning compositions than most movies give us over their entire runtime.
Of course, the trailer isn’t without its revelations. Perhaps the most notable is the presence of a man suggesting that Hoffman’s Dodd is “making all this up as he goes along,” a line that—according to an unnamed source who spoke to the New York Daily News—upset prominent Scientologist and sometime P.T. Anderson collaborator Tom Cruise. But, having wandered into this trailer, you might, if only for a second, feel unsure who that man is, and whether you should trust him. That’s the truly scary part.
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