Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was undoubtedly one of the most profoundly affecting films of 2012. Although it was partly based on the formation of the Church of Scientology by L Ron Hubbard, its focus ranged from the consequences of war on the mental health of soldiers, alcoholism and depression, and perhaps most poignantly, the intense and inexpressible love shared between the two principle figures. The acting was simply sublime, subsumed with gravitas but also exquisitely poised and nuanced. An initial interview scene between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix resonates in the mind long after the end of the film due to the impactful nature of the actors’ performances that present real and tangible emotions for the viewer in a way that very few other films were able to do in 2012.
Therefore, it is perhaps surprising when one realises that The Master has done relatively poorly in the Oscar nominations. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams are nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Actress respectively, and Joaquin Phoenix is nominated for Best Actor, but no credit was given to Paul Thomas Anderson for his directing or script, both of which were phenomenal, and the film failed to appear in the Best Film nominations list. Also, unforgivably, Jonny Greenwood’s haunting yet mesmerising sound track was denied its rightful nomination in the Music, Original Score category. This is perhaps more shocking when considering the fact that Anderson’s previous film, There Will Be Blood, which The Master stands beside resolutely and proudly, was nominated for 8 awards, and for all of the most sought after categories.
In a year of excellent films The Master still manages to hold its head above the water and more frequently than not push others beneath the surface. It seems obvious, therefore, that it is the film’s ‘sensitive’ subject matter that has caused it to suffer in the eyes of the Academy. It is perhaps inevitable that a film that openly discusses or reveals the more unusual or cruel practices of a Church, or more accurately of an organisation that bears resemblance to a Church, so well routed within Hollywood society, is going to be side-lined in favour of less politically volatile films. No doubt the Academy or Hollywood in general would wish to avoid incurring the wrath of an organisation that houses so many of its successful stars, but this does not detract away from the fact that The Master has been cheated of its nominations. It is evident that Anderson’s film has been hampered since its inception because of its subject matter. Harvey Weinstein, the manager of the studio that produced the film, said in a BBC article how he and Anderson were repeatedly told to abandon the project by colleagues and how a certain religious organisation was putting pressure on the studio to stop production.
The Church of Scientology, of course, denies all these claims, and the very fact than the film was still made is indicative of the waning influence of the Church in Hollywood. However, it is not unreasonable to presume that a film that has such a subject matter, even if it is still only loosely based on actual events, is going to be denied the publicity it deserves through nominations in the Oscars. Of course, the Oscars have never really been truly representative of the best films of the year, often opting for big names rather than better films, but it does seem curious that a film that has both big names and critical worth has been left by the wayside. When looking at the current Best Picture nominations, The Master contends with the best of them, and there really does seem to be no other reason for its scarcity other than the zealousness of certain individuals in Hollywood. The film is undeniably excellent if slightly hard-going and despite its relative absence from the award ceremonies is essential viewing.