Paul Thomas Anderson, WTF is The Master?

The Master is a beautifully acted Paul Thomas Anderson Movie about a charismatic cult leader, and some of us hate it.

This week on You Love To See It (Fanbyte’s movie rewatch podcast!), we closed out Join Us June with a viewing of The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s beautifully acted 2012 drama about a charismatic cult leader. With incredible performances by dearly departed Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, and gorgeous cinematography, there’s no question that it’s a beautifully crafted film. I personally hate it (for reasons you can see below), but respect the craft, and my wonderful co-hosts Fernanda Prates and guest star Alexander K. Lee had more nuanced feelings.

As always, you can listen to the show in the embed, or find it on your podcatcher of choice here. I’m including our show notes here, which contain some creative capitalization and spoilers, but should give a good sense of our research and thoughts moving into recording day. You can also read the full transcription below our show notes, if you prefer your podcast in this format!

Our Synopsis:

The Master is a modern Paul Thomas Anderson movie, which is to say it’s about poison and pretty cinematography and extremely talented actors playing deeply fucked up people. This one is about the “master” of a strange, Scientology-esque cult (played by dearly departed Philip Seymour Hoffman), a troubled drifter (Joaquin Phoenix), and a whole host of time-traveling, pseudoscience-loving cultists.

Now, our must-discuss items:

Fernanda’s must-discuss items:

  • Not gonna lie: if Phillip Seymour Hoffman were to stare deeply into my eyes and try to teach me the ways of the universe, I’d be open to listening.
  • Same goes for Laura Dern.
  • Not for Joaquin Phoenix, though. He freaks me out. 
  • Seriously, though… I am in absolute awe of Phoenix and Hoffman in this. I watched a video in which PTA (we’re close like that, he calls me FPF) discusses his approach to the script and instructions to the actors, and he talks about how he leaves things very open-ended and just kind of lets them roll with it. I imagine that’s not a method that works for everyone, but it sure as hell worked for Phoenix. Even his stance — the slouched thing, with his shoulders forward — was apparently a choice that Phoenix made himself, and PTA talked about how “the way you stand in the world reflects who you are” or some shit like that. Anyway, it worked, as it really did lend this weird-ass character another layer of off-putting animal-like quality. The scene in which he is being audit… I mean, processed by Lancaster Dodd and can’t blink is just such a shining moment. As for Hoffman, in the same video I mentioned he discussed not looking to portray Dodd as a the leader of a cult or a religion, but rather as someone who was on the early days of a movement, before things got bad, and I think that really comes through. Knowing what we know about Hubbard, it’s hard not to have some feelings on the man, but Seymour’s portrayal of Dodd makes him a lot more nuanced and sort of mysterious. And then, of course, there’s the relationship between the two — which I’ve seen described as kind of a love story by PTA himself, and also as kind of two sides of the same person (which makes sense if you consider that Hubbard was himself in the navy — where he had the distinct honor of mistakenly unloading an ungodly amount of ammunition on a magnetic deposit and also attacked some Mexican islands for no reason). The way these two play off each other is, if you ask me, what carries the movie. the master philip seymour hoffman and joaquin
  • The prison scene, with the adjacent cells! So, so good! (This is my very informed, expert analysis: “So, so good!”)
  • PTA in an interview with The Guardian, talking about the connections to Scientology:
    • “The last thing I want to do is insult someone and their belief system. That’s not my bag at all. And the impression people seemed to have is that if you do something about Scientology then it must obviously be an attack, when something like South Park can do that way better than I ever could.” He shrugs. “But yeah, I knew we were trafficking in elements that were very delicate. Phil’s worked with Tom and so have I. And the screening was a way of reaching out and saying: ‘I have nothing to hide and no axe to grind.’ It was done out of respect more than fear.” Cruise, it was reported, objected to various aspects of the film, although Anderson insists that they parted as friends. But look, he adds wearily, The Master really isn’t about the current state of Scientology at all. Instead, it takes its lead from the ideas expressed in Hubbard’s 1950 book Dianetics. “And the ideas in Dianetics are fucking beautiful. The idea of recalling past lives is so hopeful, so optimistic, and it’s something I would love to go along with.” I’m sensing a “but” coming up. “No, of course there’s a but, there’s a huge but. I don’t even want to get into the buts. It’s more the basic idea that appealed to me, because it concerns memories and other lives, particularly after the second world war, and that’s what got me excited. Getting into it from that angle felt like fertile ground. You listen to the songs from that period and everyone’s singing about seeing you in my dreams, or finding you in another day. All the lyrics are ghost stories, coming out of the war. Or science-fiction stories about travelling in time. You come back from the war and the love of your life is married with kids and you’re not the same person who went away. That kind of stuff is so heartbreaking to me.”
  • PTA is kind of right in that there really isn’t a lot of outright, blatant criticism here, is it? There are obvious moments when he takes jabs at the Dodd figure — like when Laura Dern confronts him about his change of words, or when his son tells Freddie his dad is just “making it up as a he goes along,” or when he gets confronted by a heckler at the party. But these are, when you think about it, not necessarily attacks, or even necessarily reflections of where the people making the movie lean. These are simply things that probably happened — and would probably happen to any writer turned emotional healer who purports to know all these grandiose truths about the universe — and were portrayed somewhat neutrally on screen. There is the obvious sense that something is amiss, and we know enough about scientology to know things only escalate from there, but it’s more less on the nose than I thought it would be. When I suggested this movie, I was fully expecting to go on this dive on the cult experience, with a much more sinister tone and a much more critical portrayal of Dodd. That’s really not what I got. I felt the movie, despite the obvious Master-to-follower dynamic, much more about the weird bond between these two weird men than necessarily the psychic influence one of the men had on the other. Which is a testament to how masterfully these characters were portrayed, honestly. It would be much easier to cast this moral net and play these people within the expected good vs. evil context, but instead we get all this delicious nuance — and, as we had with other movies we discussed this month, a much more compelling glimpse into how cult dynamics aren’t as obvious as they seem on the outside. 
  • Having said all that… I don’t really love the movie. I can consciously and rationally understand all the ways in which it’s *good*, but, like Danielle, I failed to be captured by it. Once more, I found myself more compelled by what I read/saw/listened to afterward than by the actual experience of watching it. I think there’s a personal level to it, as I don’t tend to respond too well to things that are trying very hard to look smart, but I was battling sleep halfway through it. It’s OK, though. Not everything has to be for me.
  • On this note, I found this read riveting. It’s impossible to get into all of it because it’s long, but I love the exploration of meaning and what even goes into the search of meaning in movies.
    • P.S: This bit by PTA on “water imagery”: “Ha, ha! Those water shots are just nice. Sometimes you do things that you think are a good idea. Other times, you just hope that some feeling hits you when you’re putting the film together. You have to follow that. […] I’m not trying to be arty or elusive or anything. Where we come from in the editing room can sometimes be intellectual, but more often it’s pretty instinctual. More often, if you looked under the hood, you’d see how amazingly disorganized and confused we all were.”
  • Interestingly enough, this one has a double cult tie-in: Phoenix’s family was notoriously in the Children of God cult. They apparently left when he was only 3, after the family (thankfully) became disillusioned with the (absolutely disgusting) cult. the master joaquin phoenix
  • And yes, the Doris thing… It’s gross. Sorry. I would imagine that it’s supposed to symbolize a sort of “purity” that contrasts with the other interactions that Freddie has had with women in his life — like his own aunt or that woman made of literal sand — but it’s… Yeah, I can’t let it go. She’s 16. The actress looks ridiculously young. That’s gonna be a hard no for me.

Danielle’s must-discuss items:

  • ok, so, I immediately recalled the dress movie about the dude with the barfing and shitting himself kink (Phantom thread), and I’ll be honest, I had similar feelings here. This is beautifully produced, beautifully acted, beautifully shot… bullshit!
  • PTA loves poison, doesn’t he?
  • The acting is unimpeachable. Clearly, these core performances are nuanced, and lovely, and well done – and very much the reason to watch the film. For me, I’m just so uninterested in the characters and the tone that PTA goes for at a deep level that even performances this good couldn’t fully sway me. I want to be clear that I am in awe of the talent and the hard work here, but the movie itself doesn’t land for me.
  • I don’t think this film is bad or badly made, to be clear, it’s just not my cup of tea. It’s pretty! I do love good cinematography! I’d just rather see that level of talent in service of another approach!the master joaquin phoenix photographer
  • Part of this for me is like — I feel as if I’m *supposed* to appreciate this as high art, but I have nothing but difficulty attempting to appreciate it on anything other than a piecemeal level (great acting, great cinematography, etc). Part of it might be that no woman character has any interiority whatsoever? I’m now trying to analyze why and how I feel basically allergic this movie, lol
  • I will say, I felt some sympathy for Freddy, and I do like his wrestling moves. Lol since this is a podcast with some MMA watchers… how would Freddie do in a pro fight? Maybe an amateur smoker?

Alexander’s Must-Discuss Items:

  • How do we feel about the romance with Doris? Obviously, it’s a pretty easy “lost innocence” thread to create to give us some idea of Freddie’s emotions/how he came to be who he is, but if you want to feel kind of grody about it there’s actually a huge age gap between the actors and the woman who plays Doris, Madison Beaty, was MAD YOUNG when this was filmed. This age gap was also kind of an issue with Anderson’s most recent film, Licorice Pizza, so I don’t know what this means… it’s something.
  • Amy Adams has the most thankless character, doesn’t she? Peggy kind of has to operate on the periphery (except for one memorable, er, hands on moment) and they don’t really explore her motivations. Of course, she’s frigging Amy Adams so she knocks everything out of the park including two of the best lines of the movie, “I’d like you to place something in the future for yourself” and “You can’t take this life straight, can you?” Anderson even had her on set when she wasn’t scheduled to be active in a scene just so her presence could be felt. Was she utilized properly in this movie?the master lunch table
  • I have some cinematography notes too, regarding Mihai Malaimare, Jr stepping in for PTA regular Robert Elswit
  • Also the editing! Leslie Jones worked on this with Peter McNulty. Jones also edited Punch-Drunk Love and  Inherent Vice, which are meandering in their own way, so I don’t know if she helped to manage Anderson’s indulgences and flourishes or encourage them. I feel like there’s something to be said about male auteur directors needing the guiding hand of female editors (Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker, Tarantino and Sally Menke).
  • Let’s figure out the ending and whatever the hell this movie is actually about together!

Our Full Transcript:

Danielle: Oh, hi there. And welcome to You Love to See It, Fanbyte’s movie review podcast. Every month we pick a theme, and every week we watch a movie, and then we decide where its VHS tape belongs in our delightful neighborhood video store. We’ll judge if it’s “masterful” enough to vault onto our distinguished staff pick shelf, if it’s got just enough hours on tape to grab a spot in our cozy middle aisle, or if it’s nothing but a shitty false prophet and therefore earns a spot in our smelly, unsanitary dumpster, where every drink has paint thinner in it and everyone is forced to participate in singalongs all the time.

Working the corner today, we have yours truly, Danielle “ain’t my master” Riendeau and my fellow time traveler, Fernanda “Laura Dern’s reassuring presence” Prates. How are you today, Fernanda?

Fernanda: Doing good. Just wanted to pay homage to arguably one of the highlights of the movie.

Danielle: [sighs] Oh, almost certainly. Almost certainly.

Fernanda: Ms. Laura Dern.

Danielle: Yeah. The highlight of most things she’s in, for sure.

Fernanda: Exactly. We love you, Laura, in case you’re listening. [laughs] In case you’re out there.

Danielle: Laura, Laura, we love you.

Fernanda: Just know we love you.

Danielle: Come on the show. [both laugh]

Fernanda: Or don’t, just keep being you.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: ‘Cause admiring you is all we need.

Danielle: Just keep being you, Laura. We have an incredible special guest today. We have a guest who picked one of the best nicknames ever, I think, on this show. And that is Alexander “skeptical pig fuck” Lee. Alexander.

Alexander: Hey, guys.

Danielle: Welcome. Welcome to the show. Good job already.

Alexander: I also wanted to pay homage to one of the highlights of the movie. [laughter] So that was, I thought, a great scene. Listen, I’ve actually just been, if you guys don’t know, I’ve been hanging around the YLTSI you know, video store.

Danielle: YLTSI! [Fernanda laughs]

Alexander: I’ve been behind the, you know, in the back of the store, behind the beads, you know, where the videos are behind the beads.

Danielle: Yes!

Alexander: So remind me, before I go, to check out these Faces of Death videos I picked up behind there.

Fernanda: Oh no. [Danielle laughs]

Alexander: And something called, uh, I think it’s like No Holds Barred.

Fernanda: No! Don’t go there.

Danielle: No Holds Barred!

Alexander: UFC one, two, and three. I just wanna check this out. This sounds crazy. This is like sumo versus boxing versus tae kwan– like, this sounds insane, so. [Danielle laughs]

Fernanda: We don’t go into that aisle, Alex. [Danielle laughs]

Alexander: Remind me before I go.

Fernanda: If you go in, you’re never coming out. We must warn you.

Danielle: You’ll never come back! [laughs]

Alexander: Okay. I love the store.

Fernanda: That’s why we keep it out in the back. We see you lurking around. You’re one of our… [Danielle and Fernanda laugh] One of our best, uh, customers, even when we’re like, “Alex, we need to close. You need to leave.” [Danielle and Alexander laugh]

Danielle: Alex, it’s time to go, my friend.

Fernanda: Sorry. Like, it’s way past closing time. [Alexander laughs] And you’re there like, renting Babe for the second time.

Danielle: [laughs] Pig in the City.

Fernanda: Pig in the City.

Danielle: Babe 2.

Fernanda: Babe 2.

Danielle: George Miller’s, famously George Miller’s Babe 2. [laughter] Well, I’m very glad to have you here, Alex. I’m very excited for this episode. I’m gonna go further into our beautiful setup here, and then we’ll be really getting into it, and we have a lot to get into.

[Piano music playing in background]

So, we’re doing Join Us June, and that means for the next four weeks or for this four weeks, we kindly request that you relinquish your current belief systems on behalf of our fresher, superior ideology; give up your individuality and basic human needs for the sake of fulfilling our higher level collective vision; cut off the negative influences that are not yet enlightened enough to understand the power of our teachings; and follow us, your kind generous leaders, in a month we’ve been divinely inspired to call Join Us June. In other words, let’s talk about cults, baby.

Fernanda: Woo.

Danielle: I did the song last time. I won’t do it again. I don’t wanna, you know, my work.

[music shifts]

Fernanda: [to the tune of Salt-n-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex”] Let’s talk about cults, baby!

Danielle: Yes!

Fernanda: [singing] Let’s talk about you and me!

Alexander: There we go.

Danielle: Doo doo doo doo dooo doo.

Fernanda: It had to be done. Had to be done.

Danielle: Yes. You did it, and it was beautiful.

Fernanda: [laughs] It was shy. I’ll give a more enthusiastic rendition later, maybe. I don’t know. I need to get into it.

Danielle: Okay. We can always do like You Love to Sing It, like the other YLTSI.

Fernanda: Oh, wow.

Danielle: Like the other YLTSI that we have going on. [laughter]

Fernanda: And Alex, as our listeners might want to know before we move into the specifics of the movie, uh, he’s a prolific karaoker. And I know that firsthand from experience.

Alexander: Oh.

Danielle: Oh my goodness.

Fernanda: For we have been karaoking together in Toronto. I can attest.

Alexander: Toronto nights, Fernanda. Toronto nights.

Fernanda: Toronto nights. What happens in Toronto…doesn’t stay in Toronto, ’cause there’s really nothing illegal or anything, so we can talk about it on the show. [Danielle laughs]

Alexander: [clears throat before singing] Tell me something, girl. [Danielle and Fernanda laugh] Oh, no, we can’t do that right now. There’s no time. There’s no time.

Fernanda: This is in our OnlyFans.

Alexander: Yeah, uh huh.

Fernanda: Where we just sing “Shallow” several times.

Danielle: Right, this is the bonus content for subscribers.

Fernanda: Bonus content. Sign up to our Patreon that doesn’t exist. It’s just gonna be me and Alex singing “Shallow”.

Danielle: Honestly? I love that. We can make a show out of that. [Fernanda laughs] But I guess from Toronto to…well, the bay area and also New York and Philadelphia. And I guess somewhere in England, they don’t really say where. [Fernanda laughs] But that’s where we’re going for today, as this week, we’re delving into post-war America and Paul Thomas Anderson’s psyche with 2012’s The Master.

[Trailer plays]

Danielle: So we’re about to fly right into our first segment, which is Setting the Scene, where we introduce, of course, the movie at hand and have a little spoiler free chat about our history with it. But first, I’m just gonna give you a little recap about this movie. This is just some material that I’ve provided here. [clears throat]

The Master is a modern Paul Thomas Anderson movie, which is to say it’s about poison and pretty cinematography and extremely talented actors playing deeply fucked up people. This one is about the master—and he goes by Master, in fact—of a strange, uh, Scientology-esque. It’s not Scientology, but it’s playing in some of that territory.

Fernanda: Adjacent? Yeah.

Danielle: Adjacent, yes. [Fernanda laughs] Scientology-esque cult. And he is played, of course, by the dearly departed Philip Seymour Hoffman. RIP to a real one. And a troubled drifter who is played by Joaquin Phoenix, and a whole host of time traveling, pseudoscience-loving cultists. But we will get to that in due time.

First, we are going to go on with Setting the Scene and ask about our respective histories with the movie. I’m gonna ask our guest first. Alex, have you seen this before? Are you a PTA fan? You know, how’d you come into this movie?

Alexander: Yeah, yes to all of that.

Danielle: Okay.

Alexander: I’m a big Paul Thomas Anderson guy. I wanna say I’ve seen all his films, but I know I haven’t seen his first one.

Danielle: Okay.

Alexander: I’m a phony. I haven’t seen Hard Eight or Sydney, whatever the real hardcore Paul Thomason fans call it.

Danielle: The true PTA fans. [laughs]

Alexander: Other than that, I’ve seen all his films. I think he’s one of the best American directors alive today. I think he’s brilliant. So, I have seen this movie multiple– well, [sighs] in its entirety, at least probably like two or three times before you guys.

Fernanda: That’s intense.

Alexander: Yeah, before the opportunity came to talk about this show. And then bits and pieces of it here and there. You know, it’s a brisk movie. You just, there’s certain scenes, you’re sitting down to have lunch. [others laugh]

Danielle: Very chill.

Alexander: Yeah, some fun loving.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: Eh, let’s watch 10 minutes of The Master. [others laugh] It’s really going well with this McDonald’s burger, you know. [Danielle laughs]

Fernanda: Exactly. Just like, nothing like just paint thinner being like distilled through like bread.

Danielle: Delish. Delish!

Alexander: Oh, just licking my lips.

Fernanda: [laughs] To open one’s appetite.

Alexander: But yes, I did see it in theaters. I believe I went to see it with my brother, if I’m not mistaken. He’s also a Paul Thomas Anderson fan. So I went to see it in theaters. And I’m sure we’ll talk about our impressions of it more at first, but I do remember being probably about as mystified as most people are on their first viewing. I could be wrong, but I definitely did not walk out feeling like I had a strong grasp of what exactly I had seen.

Danielle: Sure, sure. That sounds really good. Well, thank you. Fernanda, how about you? What is your history with The Master? This Master in question right here, and perhaps a little PTA himself.

Fernanda: Yeah, so, PTA is the director I always mock [Danielle laughs] when I wanna mock guys who like movies, because…

Alexander: Oh boy.

Danielle: We’re gonna have fun today!

Fernanda: [laughs] ‘Cause he really is a patron saint of Dudes Who Watch Movies™. [Danielle laughs] Which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a funny…it’s a funny go-to, that’s all. It’s just my lack of creativity. And I had, so, the thing with The Master, which I’m sure Danielle and I will have to have a conversation about later, [Fernanda and Danielle laugh] judging by Danielle’s notes. But I had seen like half of it once, on the recommendation of a pretentious ex, [Danielle groans] who was also the one who made me watch the weird lobster movie also with Joaquin Phoenix.

Danielle: Oh, right.

Fernanda: Yeah. Which, they exist in the same universe in my head, [laughter] because I watched them at the same time, but. So I thought it was super boring. I wasn’t paying attention to it, like, I was doing other things. And I was like, you know what? This is not the mindset to watch The Master. Like, this is not the moment. And then I stopped. And then when we started talking about this month, I was– like, every list everywhere about movies involving cults, like, The Master was there.

And then my husband, who is also a PTA guy…uh, he’s making the hand gesture that’s kind of like, “ish, ish,” [Danielle laughs] maybe because all the mockery of PTA got to him. [laughs] But he was, uh, and he just looked at me and said, “You can’t possibly, in this day and age, do a month about cults and not talk about The Master.” So. [laughs] I was suggesting it all month, and then I was like, I was very…I was forceful in this suggestion, because I really thought it would be a nice closing to the month, because I felt like it was gonna touch on a lot of the things we discussed. I was surprised.

Danielle: Mm-hmm.

Fernanda: It wasn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t really remember any of it from the first watch. And I suspect we’re gonna be, uh, in different places with this one in this discussion.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: I’m curious.

Alexander: I cannot tell where this is going. I can’t tell from your tone. [Danielle and Fernanda laugh] When I heard we were watching this movie, I was like, Fernanda is going to effing hate this movie. [Danielle and Fernanda laugh] But now I’m not sure. Now I’m like optimistic that we can have a conversation here.

Fernanda: You know me too well.

Alexander: Oh dear.

Fernanda: Well, see, no. I…there’s two. I’m still unpacking my relationship with The Master. [laughs]

Alexander: That’s good!

Fernanda: Yeah. Yeah!

Alexander: That’s art.

Fernanda: I feel like Danielle has stronger feelings than I do.

Danielle: I might. I might. I love that…I truly feel like we’re making a beautiful arc here, actually. [laughs] Uh, briefly, I am not the biggest PTA fan. Although, I…for me, he is someone who I appreciate his artistry.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: But he makes things that are not for me.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: And that’s a difficult thing sometimes to contend with.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: To feel like I can really…I can really appreciate the ingredients, but I do not think it’s a delicious stew for me.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Danielle: Just sort of generally. And I have not seen all his movies, so I will also gladly cop to that. I suppose the most recent film of his that I saw before this was Phantom Thread, so there’s some of that just still percolating in there, for sure. [Fernanda laughs] But I had never seen this before. I watched part of it with my girlfriend, who insisted she saw part of this on an airplane but didn’t remember anything that happened in the movie, which was funny to me. [laughs] Not really a great airplane movie, by any means.

Fernanda: Not really. [laughs]

Danielle: Like, maybe one of the worst airplane movies ever? Like, I feel bad, you know? [laughs]

Fernanda: It is. Like, if you’re gonna watch something on an airplane, like it has to like feature the Rock.

Danielle: Right! Like…

Fernanda: You know, or Tom Cruise, or I don’t know. Or like Katherine Heigel, like there’s… [laughs]

Danielle: Yeah. It’s just gotta be kinda a little bit splashy. This is not the splashiest movie, by far.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: Yeah.

Danielle: But that’s not really…well, I mean, you could go into the water theme. There’s some splashing, you know, some splashing happening– sorry. I’m very sorry that I even said that. [Fernanda and Danielle laugh] I apologize to everyone.

Fernanda: There’s certainly some splashing going on on Freddie’s mind. Uh, but we’ll get into it.

Alexander: Okay.

Danielle: That’s for sure. [Danielle and Fernanda laugh]

Alexander: No, this is all good stuff, guys. We’re already digging into the visual–

Danielle: We’re really going in!

Alexander: The visual motifs of this film. This is already…

Danielle: Ha!

Alexander: This is the good stuff already. You giving it away too early, if anything.

Danielle: I know, right? If they’ve been listening, maybe they’re in for the ride. I hope so. I sure hope so.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: I guess we’re ready now. Now that we’ve talked about our histories with this beautiful film, we are going right into the spoiler-filled, in depth, Stripping It Down section.

Stripping It Down

Danielle: We will spoil things. We will get all the way in. We will go all over the place. Uh, we are all gonna talk about our sort of must discuss items here. And one thing I did wanna kind of start up our discussion with is definitely something we all agreed on. Now, we don’t agree on much, which is fine, but I think everyone who watched this movie here and probably everywhere agrees that the acting itself is really, really something special. And that’s something that I think maybe is the reason for most people to watch this movie? Or to, you know, remember this movie or think about this movie. But yeah, both folks here, it sounds like you’re very, very in awe of just the acting talent on display here.

Alexander: Yeah. First I’ll say like…you know, like I have to warn people about spoiling. You know, we’re entering the spoiler filled. Can you really spoil a movie…

Fernanda: No.

Alexander: That like has no…

Fernanda: [laughs] Nothing to spoil? No.

Alexander: I don’t wanna say no plot. I think that’s unfair to the film.

Fernanda: Minimal. It’s a minimalistic.

Alexander: It has no clear narrative, so there’s no…

Danielle: [laughs] Sure.

Alexander: What could you spoil?

Danielle: Sure.

Fernanda: Right.

Alexander: Like, honestly, I’m trying to think, like, what could you spoil in this film? Like, nothing. It’s not…it wouldn’t make sense. Like, if you tried to explain something that happened like an hour into the movie.

Fernanda: Yeah. You’re right.

Alexander: It wouldn’t mean anything to the person by the time they saw it. So, there you go.

Fernanda: Sure.

Alexander: Unspoilable film.

Fernanda: Sure. But yeah, the acting is…that’s really, I think the appeal of like almost any Paul Thomas Anderson film is you’re gonna be getting like career best performances out of like two, three people, anyone that’s featured in the movie. They’re just, the acting in it is just phenomenal. And this one is really important to me, because I hated the movie Joker.

Danielle: Sure. Sure.

Fernanda: Yes.

Alexander: I cannot stand that movie.

Fernanda: Correct. [Danielle laughs]

Alexander: Beautiful looking movie. Joaquin Phoenix, of course, is a genius. I hate that movie. I had a snarky tweet, when he was like, [Danielle laughs] you know, that Oscars were coming up where he eventually won. I was like, “Oh, I can’t wait to see him rewarded for his, you know, playing a nuanced, you know, subtle, disturbing character dealing with sort of mental trauma.” And then like, haha, of course I’m talking about The Master, you know? [others laugh] So that was a deep cut.

Danielle: Yeah, that was good!

Alexander: It got like two likes and I’m like, you know what? Good.

Fernanda: That’s good.

Alexander: That’s the right level for that tweet. [others laugh] So yeah, it’s just, there’s such a big difference. And I get it, you know, when you watch any movie where a character, yeah, is playing someone with like, suffering from mental trauma or PTSD.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Alexander: You know, there’s exaggerated ways to do it. There’s realistic ways to do it. And I feel like he really hit like the right balance here.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: Between like quote, unquote, movie, you know, being movie imbalanced, and also like, holy crap, like, you know, you can sort of see like there’s something very real and scary about his performance here.

Danielle: Yeah.

Alexander: There’s showy onscreen moments, for sure.

Danielle: Yeah.

Alexander: But also like, there’s just moments where you’re just looking at his face and like a twitch in his eyes. You’re like, holy cow, like there’s a lot going on there. And I found it so believable and so engaging. And, uh, people, don’t watch Joker. It’s terrible. [others laugh] If you have not…you somehow still haven’t watched Joker or The Master, and you’re at this point in this podcast, just watch The Master. Don’t watch Joker.

Fernanda: If you must watch Joaquin Phoenix unravel in front of your very eyes. Well, just watch him anytime, because that’s kind of his thing. [laughs]

Alexander: Yeah.

Fernanda: But mostly just stick with The Master. I was actually reading– I have consumed way too much The Master content in the past two days, so it’s all like a soup in my head at this point. But there are so many theories about what The Master is actually about. And one of them was kind of talking about how it’s about…it’s about how it’s about the craft of acting itself.

Danielle: Mm.

Fernanda: And that that contrast is really displayed by the approaches between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix and et cetera. And it does make sense, ’cause I feel like they play these characters who are very different and very alike with like completely sort of different approaches. Like, Joaquin Phoenix seems to be like the more animalistic, more intense, more physical, while Philip Seymour Hoffman has that kind of power in his acting that he can be very understated. So like, not gonna lie, if Philip Seymour Hoffman– again, rest in peace. That was a real one.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: When he– if he looked at me deep in my eyes and was like, “You know what? I have the secrets of the universe.” I’d be like, “Sure. Tell me. I’m interested. I’m listening. I’d follow you to the depths of hell, Philip Seymour Hoffman.” [Danielle laughs] But I digress. He…and I just, that’s the thing. And we’ll get into the specifics and our feelings about the movie itself, but like, I was just very transported by the relationship between the two.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: And I think that’s more the credit of the acting than it is of the writing of the characters, in my opinion.

Danielle: Mm.

Fernanda: And I was watching a video in which PTA, ’cause that’s how– he calls me FPF. We’re besties. [Danielle laughs] As he was talking about his approach, and he talked about how he was, he’s not very specific in his scripts, that he kind of like doesn’t wanna describe emotions. He wants to like describe sort of the scene, the motivations, we’re going from A to B, and let the actors kind of go with it.

Like, Joaquin Phoenix is the one who made the choice to have like this sort of slouch, to have that kind of weird posture that really adds to the construction of this like very sort of unhinged character. And, you know, like, and that makes sense to me, ’cause it does seem– and I think that’s a strength, ’cause you get a lot of intensity. And at the same time, I kind of feel like, oh, I kind of wish these characters were more well constructed.

Danielle: Hmm.

Fernanda: Like, I feel them, but I don’t really understand them. And I don’t know if that’s on me for wanting to understand art too much, instead of just letting myself experience it. We’ve had this conversation on this show before.

Danielle: Hmm.

Fernanda: But yeah, they’re just really, really freaking spectacular. I was very surprised they didn’t win Oscars. I looked it up. They were both nominated, as well as Amy Adams, which is a miracle given the part that this poor– [laughs] Alex had some notes about it.

Danielle: Yeah. She has about 12 lines, yeah. [Danielle and Fernanda laugh] Right.

Fernanda: It’s still Amy Adams. She’s gonna nail them, but.

Danielle: Yeah. Yeah.

Fernanda: But yeah, I think the winners that year were Daniel Day Lewis for Lincoln, and, um…

Danielle: Mm.

Fernanda: I forgot the other one. But yeah, so.

Alexander: Yeah. Christoff Waltz, Django Unchained.

Danielle: You’re right.

Fernanda: Oh, right!

Alexander: Who was great, who was great, but I would’ve given Phillip Seymour Hoffman the Oscar over him, just ‘cause Christoff Waltz had just won for Inglourious Basterds.

Fernanda: Right.

Alexander: Playing kind of a similar role.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Alexander: And again, amazing. We all love Christoff Waltz, but I’m like–

Danielle: Yeah.

Alexander: I was really surprised when he won the Oscar. I was like, he just kind of played this character, this like a good version of that character, I guess? So.

Danielle: Right. It’s like the nice guy version, sort of. [laughs]

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: Right, right?

Danielle: Of the same thing, yeah.

Alexander: And Anne Hathaway won for Les Miserables, in a movie which…

Fernanda: Ugh. I have a goal in my life, and that is to never watch Les Miserables.

Alexander: Oh, you said it’s…it’s funny. [Danielle laughs] It’s the funniest version of Les Miserables you’ll see. That sounds so rude, but it is–

Fernanda: Isn’t it about starvation and people being very poor?

Alexander: It’s called Les Miserables! [others laugh] But some of the, just some of the choices in it are hilarious.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: Okay.

Alexander: So, mileage may vary. Some of it is very beautiful as well.

Fernanda: Okay.

Alexander: But I don’t think it’s a very good movie.

Fernanda: Okay, yeah.

Alexander: And it is very unintentionally funny in multiple– anyway, and she’s in the movie for only the first half and a bit, and she’s great in it. But again, I think Amy Adams should have deserved some consideration there, and finally could have broken that– you know, she’s like on an Oscar winless streak.

Fernanda: That is wild to me.

Alexander: Like seven, over seven, I think.

Danielle: Yeah. Yeah. That is upsetting. I agree. And she is great. I just think she’s wasted here.

Alexander: Yeah. Well, the point that–

Danielle: But that’s my main criticism of this movie.

Alexander: Oh, big time.

Fernanda: Yeah, yeah.

Alexander: But the point she makes about the feeling thing is so true with the Amy Adams character, with Peggy, Peggy Dodd, because she’s there. She’s there. She’s supposed to be important. And she only like gets to directly act upon things and definitely has almost no characterization. We get kind of no strong sense for her motivations, how she ended up in this situation, why she’s sticking around, why she’s so dedicated to both these men in some way.

Danielle: Yeah.

Alexander: Yeah. So I think Fernanda’s comment is like perfect, as far as the writing really did a disservice her.

Danielle: Yes. Yeah. And in that video, I think Fernanda, PTA, our buddy.

Fernanda: Our buddy. [laughs] Friend of the show.

Danielle: Actually says something about preferring to underwrite, but that’s still his most important job of directing is writing.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: And it’s like, then what do you do, bro? [others laugh] Like, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. So, part of this for me is that I have a lot of difficulty with when a modern movie…I’m not talking about an older movie, because there is just a certain allowance I guess I just give [Fernanda: “Mm-hmm”] to a lot of older movies that have terrible women characters, right? Like, they’re just…there’s just nothing for me in that! So I just have to kind of put myself in, you know, a male character’s shoes just to even appreciate something on a personal level, right? That’s just something that I do for older movies that I guess I’ve just developed over the course of my life.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: But when a movie that comes out after, I don’t know, 1980? [Danielle and Ferndanda laugh] I’m picking a really arbitrary time here. But like, basically, something modern has like no women characters that have like any real interiority, I just have a hard time. I just have a hard time with it, in terms of like calling it the greatest thing. Now, it is absolutely still something I can appreciate on every other level, on every aesthetic level, to say that the cinematography is beautiful, to say that the acting is beautiful. Again, all these component parts are very well done and very well made, but there’s just kind of nothing for me to kind of jump into, personally.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: On like that personal gut level, on the emotional level. And this is an emotional movie.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: This is not a movie where, you know, we’re chasing explosions down, where, you know, character growth isn’t necessarily the most important thing. This is all character growth.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: That’s what’s happening here. This is all about a relationship between two people, and it’s very, very intense relationship. And there are some people on the periphery, absolutely. But really, there’s kind of two people here who we have any sort of sense of their interior lives, interior motivations, interior, you know, feelings. And I had some sympathy, for sure, for Freddie. Like, Freddie clearly was very fucked up by the war. Like, that’s a real thing. That is a real thing that is sort of shown in the text.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: Like, the way he kind of goes through the war, the way he kind of just exists in war time, the way he like clearly has some sort of sexual issues going on, for sure. But like, hey, he has trauma, right? All right, I get it.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: But for the Master, I actually didn’t get a sense of him as a person at all. He’s still, despite how good this performance was—and I do genuinely think it’s a fantastic performance—there’s just nothing in the script about how he came to be and how he feels the way he feels and does the things that he does. He’s just like a Wizard of Oz singsong man who has a lot of feelings.

Fernanda: [laughs] Just a lot of feelings!

Danielle: But it doesn’t like…but it doesn’t connect with anything, so I had a really, really hard time sort of coming to grasp with like this person as a person. Whereas Freddie at least comes across as a person.

Fernanda: Yeah. I think when you think about the Hoffman character, Dodd, as a version of Hubbard, [Danielle: “Sure”] it makes a little more sense, because Hubbard Lawrence, uh, Lawrence…Lafayette, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard was his actual name.

Danielle: Yes.

Fernanda: He was mysterious, right? And like, a lot of the conversations about how Scientology came to be and everything else, like, there is a sort of ambivalence, and people don’t really know what to make of– like, ’cause he had said that religion was– like, there are several instances of him saying that religion was a good way of making money.

Danielle: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Fernanda: So like, there are a lot of people who take the more skeptical approach of like, not knowing if he was like a person who actually believed in the stuff that he was saying and like was really like a preacher preaching this weird-ass freaking gospel, or if he was just a scammer, a successful one at that.

Danielle: Right.

Fernanda: Who just like created this fiction and got everybody to believe in it. And I guess some people can believe that it’s both, right? That at some point you start sort of believing, you get so into your own bullshit that you start believing it yourself.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: But in that sense, I kind of…I understand, having that parallel with reality, right? Like, I understand the character more, because that’s when I feel that it’s a very competent performance, that this is a mysterious and engaging character that doesn’t come across as a villain.

Danielle: Sure.

Fernanda: I was expecting, I guess, more of a villain-esque vibe, honestly.

Danielle: Sure.

Fernanda: Just knowing what the movie was about and what I’d read about it. And then like, I was pleasantly surprised, because I guess part of it is just Philip Seymour Hoffman being likable. Like, even when he’s playing flat out villains, like you kind of wanna hug him. He seems like just a cool dude.

Danielle: [laughs] Sure.

Fernanda: [laughs] But, uh, part of it was I sort of, I think the way that he played it was sort of purposefully enigmatic so that you don’t know…you don’t really know. You don’t really see him, as you said, Danielle, as a person.

Danielle: Mm-hmm.

Fernanda: You see him as this like really weird figure. And I go back and forth on whether I like this or not. [laughs]

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: I’ve been sort of debating this within myself. Like, is this kind of a lazy way to go about it or is this a very rich way of letting us project our thoughts into it? So it’s a very interesting…I don’t know, like.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: His character does give more avenues, I think.

Alexander: He’s fun in this movie. Like, he’s fun. Like you said, you kind of went in like thinking, oh, is he gonna be a little more of a sinister [Fernanda: “Yeah”] like cult leader. He’s like really fun. He’s like, he does all these hammy speeches. Like, he’s that guy at the party who’s like, he’s just funny enough that, you know, people at the party are kind like, “Okay, I like listening to this guy.”

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: But not like so funny that, you know, us watching are like, “Oh, this character’s hilarious. I wanna see them talk more.”

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: You’re kinda like, okay, that’s enough. [Fernanda laughs] But like, he’s the life of the party.

Fernanda: He is. You’re right.

Alexander: He likes to drink. He is not this cult leader that is like, oh, I’m above earthly…

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: You know, earthly, uh, pursuits.

Fernanda: Right.

Alexander: Like, oh no, he likes to drink. He’s playing piano. Or singing, I’m sorry. He asked them to play piano, the band, and dancing around and just being rowdy, much to the annoyance of Amy Adams’s character.

Danielle: [laughs] Right.

Alexander: So, yeah, it is funny. I could see how it would not be what you would expect or what anyone would expect. But that’s kind of the gift of, as you said, of Philip Sumer Hoffman, to take, again, a role that we don’t know how clearly defined it was for him [Fernanda: “Mm-hmm”] and really just make something so like visually fun to watch out of it.

Danielle: Yeah. And he has a lot of like really iconic moments here, right? Like, it is memorable! It is a memorable performance. It is a memorable like collection of scenes that we see him in. I actually find him fairly sinister, personally, [Fernanda: “Mm-hmm”] but maybe that’s because of… [sighs] Maybe it’s because of the framing, really, and the lighting and like a lot of kind of what’s going on visually, in terms of like [Fernanda: “Mm-hmm”] uncomfortable shots. That scene with him and Laura Dern, it’s a very, very short scene.

Fernanda: Yeah. Yeah.

Danielle: Where she is basically like, you just changed everything. Like, you changed the entire frame. The entire framework of their sort of pursuit, I guess, is that human beings have memories from past lives. And it goes back trillions of years, even though, yes, the universe isn’t trillions of years old. But like, that’s not…again, I don’t even wanna get that caught up in too much of like, oh, what’s silly and what isn’t when it comes to religion. People believe all kinds of things.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: It helps them go to bed at night. You know, “Whatever, God bless,” kinda thing, right? [laughs]

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: But like, the whole framework is that people have past lives, and they’re not imagining something, they’re actually reliving memories or understanding memories or, you know, having these memories. And in his second book, he changes it to imagining things.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: And she very rightfully is like, you know, she’s kinda smiling and she’s kinda like, [timidly] “You’re changing everything,” and he has that outburst at her where he just screams out of nowhere.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: He just snaps.

Danielle: He snaps, and it’s like the mask falls for a second.

Fernanda: Yep.

Danielle: And maybe it’s not even a mask. Again, it’s more complicated than that, and I do appreciate that about the performance, how nuanced it is that oh, okay, he probably believes at least some level of this.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: Like, it’s not all being a fake. You know, it’s not all being a scammer. Some of it, I think, is, you know, portrayed in a way that like, he does believe some level of this, but he’s now making his own plot more marketable.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: Like, that’s kind of what he’s doing here. And then he screams at someone for pointing that out.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: In a very polite way, in a very subservient way too.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: Like, she’s not like challenging him like, “Yo, what the fuck, dude?” [Fernanda laughs]

Alexander: Yeah.

Danielle: It’s more like, [softly] “Oh, you know, is this…that changes things.” You know, she’s so gentle about it, and he’s just like, “BAAAA!” He just like screams. [laughs] Which is scary!

Alexander: She challenges him in a very Laura Derny way.

Fernanda: I was gonna say!

Danielle: [laughs] Sure! Yeah.

Alexander: Laura Dern is the mistress or master, whatever you wanna say, of like the loaded smile. She’s like…

Fernanda: Exactly!

Danielle: Oh!

Alexander: So many movies she’s in, she’s got this smile. I was watching like Marriage Story. In Marriage Story, she’s this cutthroat divorce lawyer.

Danielle: [laughs] Sure.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: But she approached it with a smile. She’s like, “Oh, I’m your friend, and I’m gonna make sure this goes down as painlessly as possible for both of you.” And then, of course, it, you know, devolves into, you know, what a divorce proceeding would.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: Sure. [laughs]

Alexander: So, yeah, she tries this with a smile. And she loses that smile when he snaps at her.

Fernanda: Yes.

Danielle: Yes.

Alexander: And that’s when you’ve crossed a line, Lancaster Dodd.

Fernanda: Exactly.

Danielle: Ohh.

Alexander: When you take the smile off Laura Dern’s face, [Fernanda laughs] you have crossed a fucking line. [smacks table] Okay? I’m just gonna say it.

Danielle: Honestly, yes.

Fernanda: Laura Dern is exactly that kind of person that if she turns to you and says that she’s not mad, just disappointed–

Alexander: [pained] Ohh.

Danielle: Oh!

Fernanda: Like, you feel like absolute crap. That is her. Absolutely. [Alexander laughs] You’re right. That’s why this scene sticks out so much.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: It’s one of the…and it’s one of the few instances in which he’s challenged.

Danielle: Yes.

Fernanda: In the entire movie, right? There’s the heckler at the party. There’s this. And there’s his son, played by Jesse Plemons who looks a lot like freaking Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Danielle: It’s true! [laughs] Yeah, yes.

Fernanda: That is A+ casting, my dude PTA.

Danielle: Yes.

Fernanda: Uh, well, probably not PTA. He probably has a casting person, but I dunno. [Danielle laughs] I think he has a…

Danielle: Right.

Fernanda: [laughs] I think he has a hands on approach, because he did say he was trying to get Joaquin Phoenix to be in one of his movies for ages, and he always said no. [laughs] It was like…

Danielle: Yeah. I mean, I also could see that. [laughs] I really do. Like, I see like Joaquin leaving him on read. [Fernanda laughs] Just like, he’s at a party or something. He’s just like, “This fucking guy.”

Fernanda: You said he like–

Danielle: “This PTA guy, I don’t know.”

Fernanda: You said he’s like engaged to Roonie Mara or married?

Alexander: He is.

Fernanda: They’re such an aloof couple. They’re a couple I would never approach.

Alexander: Oh, no. [Danielle laughs]

Fernanda: Like, they just…

Alexander: Oh, no.

Danielle: Sure!

Fernanda: They just seem too good for the rest– like, they’re just exist–

Alexander: I’m not hanging out with them.

Danielle: Nope.

Fernanda: I’m not hanging out with those two.

Alexander: Or they’re not hanging out with us, I guess is more accurate.

Danielle: Yeah, yeah, exactly. [laughs]

Fernanda: Like, they’re not interested. They’re having conversations that are just like way above our earthly understandings.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: But one thing, just a curiosity, our tie in with cults is obviously Scientology, which it’s not just like a read. Like, Paul Thomas Anderson has explicitly said that he kind of took inspiration from Hubbard and the early days that was Dianetics. Hubbard published Dianetics was the book that kind of, he was like this pulp fiction author.

Danielle: Mm.

Fernanda: Incredibly prolific. Watch any video about freaking Hubbard, and they’ll say that he was a prolific writer. Like, it’s one of those identifying expressions. But yeah, he wrote a bunch, and then he wrote Dianetics, and it was kind of this breakout hit because it was this kind of like psychological, you know, exploration. And the time was very like conducive to these ideas of like, you know, psychological, emotional wellness being accepted, and it was a hit. And then that’s where Paul Thomas Anderson says he got the inspiration from, and it makes sense.

Danielle: Mm.

Fernanda: Like, Phillip Seymour Hoffman himself said that he didn’t wanna play Dodd as a cult leader or as a religious leader, whatever you consider Scientology to be, but that he was, um…you know, like a person who was a head of a movement in sort of its early days before it took a turn either way, like before it took a turn for the bad.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: And I think that’s also where he excels, ’cause that’s where I feel like we see the nuance. And like you said, Danielle, we see this guy who’s—like Alex said—the life of the party, like gregarious, interesting, a drinker. And then we see the cracks on his facade. That very aggressive handjob is also a scene that I think kind of like speaks to… [laughs]

Danielle: We need to talk about it. I feel like we need to talk about this.

Alexander: That was my second choice for a nickname.

Fernanda: Aggressive handjob? [Danielle laughs]

Alexander: Yeah. That was my second choice.

Danielle: Nice. Nice.

Fernanda: One of the reviews I read of the movie, somebody said like, “What I hope will be the most hostile handjob on screen in 2012.” [laughs]

Danielle: Truly.

Fernanda: Pretty sure it’s the most hostile hand job on screen ever. [laughs]

Alexander: Well, this is…I don’t know. This is well before another movie you loved, Fernanda, The Green Knight.

Fernanda: Ugh!

Danielle: Oh, God! It’s true!

Fernanda: You’re right. You’re right.

Alexander: I immediately thought of The Green Knight when I was watching this movie again. I’m like, oh yeah, right, right.

Fernanda: Oh, maybe that’s…

Alexander: That scene.

Fernanda: That’s the mark. [laughs] Aggressive hand jobs. But real quick, I was gonna say there’s another sort of cult tie in, although albeit a brief one, because Joaquin Phoenix was actually born into a cult. I think a lot of people know that, but. Him and his brother also, rest in peace River Phoenix [Danielle: “Yes”] were born into the [emphatically] disgusting Children of God cult.

Danielle: Oof.

Fernanda: As Danielle was saying like, I don’t like to judge either. Like, everybody has some weird shit that they believe in.

Danielle: Right.

Fernanda: Or they’re skeptical pig fucks like ??? and believe in Van Damme too much. [Danielle laughs] So ridiculous, but.

Danielle: Listen, we all have our gods, okay? And they’re okay. [laughs]

Fernanda: But Children of God was absolutely objectively a fucking gross [Danielle: “Yeah”] cult of, uh, content warning, pedophile assholes.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: But as many other cults, it started in a benevolent way. And I saw an interview. He talked briefly about it, I think to Vogue, that his parents were missionaries. Like, they were religious people, wanted to spread the word. I think he was born in Venezuela or something. That’s why his name is Joaquin.

Danielle: Ah.

Fernanda: And they traveled and tried to like do good. And once they kind of like found out the shit that was happening with the cult, they peaced out, and he was only three. And then they moved the last name of the family, ’cause it was Bottoms—Bottom or Bottoms—and then they became Phoenix. So yes, that’s another little cult tie in, in our final pick of the month.

Danielle: Yeah. I mean, which, it does make sense, and it is a whole-ass thing, and it is… [sighs] really hard to kind of wrap one’s head around. Obviously, we did talk about this and like the ways in which cults really hurt people [Fernanda: “Mm-hmm”] and prey upon people and that any of us is susceptible. We actually talked about this a lot in our episode on Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, of course, of like, you know, the Manson cult that really preyed upon young women especially, [Fernanda: “Mm-hmm”] but also that any of us in the right conditions…like, the ways cult leaders, you know, indoctrinate people, they’re just kind of using hacks of the brain that would work on anybody. We’ve all got the same computer kind of thing. [laughs]

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: And like any of, you know, the glitches will work. But here, especially, I do wanna kind of talk about that concept as well with Freddie and like what is going on with Freddie that he is really into this.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: That he becomes part of this and then kind of drifts off from it. Like that’s, at least that’s sort of my read. And I know, Alex, you wanted to talk about the ending as well. [laughs] And I think it’s fine for us to talk about the ending even before we’re at our end, which we’re not. But that’s my interpretation, that this is a man who has trauma from his past, that he’s fucked up from the war, which a lot of people were. And again, one thing that did get me for this is how many traumatized human beings there were at a world war scale. Like, that’s how many people are running around with PTSD, and it’s really horrifying and really sad and really something to consider. And I do appreciate that about the movie.

But again, Freddie himself clearly has some really fucked up stuff kind of going on for him, and he falls in with this. He’s a drifter who just kind of falls in with this, and then he protects it with his life, it seems like. He really clearly has a sense of honor about what’s going on here, given how many fucking fights he gets into with other people. [Danielle and Alexander laugh] Whenever they call anything into question, he gets into a fight with someone.

And then kind of drifts away from it too. Like, it’s not…even this is not something he can kind of stick with. That’s sort of the idea I came to. And if y’all have different interpretations, that’s also totally cool. But yeah, how do y’all feel about Freddie himself getting into the cult and staying with them at least for part of the time? And then maybe into the ending. [laughs]

Alexander: Yeah, I think there’s something to be said about him finding like a kindred spirit or, you know, in Lancaster Dodd and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character.

Danielle: Yeah.

Alexander: There is that connection, and I think as you guys were talking about earlier, they might be coming at this philosophy from different angles, but there’s something about it that appeals to both of them, that there is this invisible connection between people. Again, Dodd might have a greater understanding of it than Freddie does, [Fernanda: “Mm”] but Freddie is clearly looking for some sort of a connection in life. Again, he’s…yeah, animal is, you know, clearly the best way to describe him. He’s called an animal by Dodd, I think probably more than once.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: And there’s something about…and the cause and the processing, which is used to sort of bring him in at first, it’s almost like the perfect method. It’s kind of brute forcey. It’s repeating questions. It’s having you repeat phrases over and over again.

Danielle: Mm-hmm.

Alexander: It’s hypnotizing. One of the– the skeptic at that party calls it hypnosis. And for someone who’s kind of simple minded like Freddie, it really, really works. He finds, you know, family on the most basic level [Danielle: “Mm”] by being taken in by Dodd and by being taken in by, on some level, by Amy Adams’s character, though she’s certainly very reluctant about it. And also a whole bunch of new women that he can pursue, as he does throughout the movie.

Danielle: [laughs] Yeah.

Alexander: Just very casually. He writes a very crude note to some woman that he doesn’t even know, [Danielle, laughing: “Yeah”] asking not so politely if she would like to have relations with him.

Danielle: [laughs] Yep.

Alexander: I’m sugar coating the language here.

Fernanda: Thank you.

Alexander: Yes.

Fernanda: This is a family show. We appreciate it. [Danielle laughs]

Alexander: It is a family show. I know I already…I know where I cussed earlier, but that was for Laura. That was Laura Dern related, so I should be excused. [Fernanda laughs]

Danielle: Exactly, exactly.

Alexander: Yes. So yeah, it is kinda interesting the journey he goes on. And you do wonder, though, is there…kind of what you were saying, Danielle. Is there anything that he would stick to? ‘Cause I’m not even sure what the inciting incident is in this one that makes him– like we see, you know, he…what’s happened. Like he, oh, you know, obviously he’s done with the military. He’s done with the war. He just loses it at a department store job. He gets chased out of another job, a farming job, because they think he poisoned someone. So there’s kind of reasons like, okay, why those didn’t stick.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: I can’t remember what exactly it is about this that finally made him literally ride off into the sunset and just like turn his back, and then kind of come back to it and then leave again. It’s hard to say. This is kind of what we were talking about before, with this movie not having a super clear narrative [Danielle: “Yeah”] and also motivations for its characters.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: Yeah, I read a…I always start my thing, “I read a…” [laughs] But–

Danielle: It’s good! Yeah.

Fernanda: It’s a thing. Like, I didn’t love the experience of watching the movie. Right?

Danielle: Sure.

Fernanda: Like, it wasn’t satisfying to me. As Danielle would say, I feel like there are certain things that are just not made for me, and that’s fine.

Danielle: Sure.

Fernanda: Most things should be, of course. I’m great. [others laugh] Consider catering to my wants and needs, uh, universe. But that’s fine. But I did…I was a lot more interested in reading about it and kind of diving into the theories about it.

Danielle: Sure.

Fernanda: And like I said, there are several. Several. And I ran into this piece on, Scanners. It’s gonna be in the notes in our post that we do after this, but, “The Master: What does it all mean?” And it’s kind of like an interesting little dive into not just what the movie itself means but what meaning even means. Sounds too complicated, but it isn’t. It’s kind of like discussing a lot of reviews, ’cause people were all over the place when the movie came out, and this sort of lack of a narrative arc was something that a lot of people discussed.

Like, one very common opinion apparently was like, “Oh, this is not a movie you just watch once.” And a lot of the critics were even like, “I don’t– I feel like I just, it’s me. I didn’t understand it. I need to watch it again to kind of like unpack it.” [others laugh] And that’s in itself a bit of a weird position to write like a… [laughs]

Alexander: This movie gaslit people. It gaslit critics. [Fernanda laughs]

Danielle: Right? Yeah. [laughs]

Fernanda: Exactly. Like, you’re just not smart enough for this. Like I said with The Green Knight with the emperor’s clothes. Like, I don’t know if this is like also one of those, like the emperor has no clothes on situation. I think this is a much richer movie, but. One of the things that was, discussed was exactly this ending, because we’re so used to seeing sort of the characters go through an arc and have all these inciting events, right? that make all these definitive changes in path. And we don’t get any of this here.

We do get glimpses, I guess. Like, what I kind of feel is that Freddie kind of realized it was kind of bullshit, walked away, then came back. And a lot of the experience of people under like charismatic leaders is that, right? Like, you leave, you come back. You leave, you come back. And then there was that sort of like final scene between the two that was the closest thing to like a blowout that could happen. And then, Dodd sings, I guess, I suppose.

Danielle: Yep. Yeah, he sure does. [Fernanda laughs]

Alexander: Yep.

Danielle: He sure fucking does.

Fernanda: If somebody just starts singing to me like that, I would not wanna see them again either. [Danielle laughs] And then in the end, you kind of see him having what seems like normal sex kinda, with a woman.

Danielle: Yeah!

Fernanda: So I was like, okay.

Danielle: Listen, that is the most normal sex in this movie. Well, no, he does have like…I’ll take it back a little bit. He does have semi-normal sex with the girl in the dark room in the sort of beginning. Like, that’s fairly…

Alexander: Mm-hmm.

Fernanda: He did give her paint thinner or something.

Danielle: He’s like touching her breasts and like– well, yeah, and…

Fernanda: [laughs] But you’re right.

Danielle: The paint thinner aspect, I’m really, really, very dicey on in this movie. I’m not gonna lie. That really threw me off. But like, he does seem to have…

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: So, one part of this, and I’m sorry to make it gay, ’cause I always do. But one part of this is that…and I think our buddy PTA even said that this is one way of interpreting this is like a love affair between the two.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: And they have the most intense relationship by far and away, obviously.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: And like this is 1950. This is a horrific, horrific time to be gay in American culture. It’s just not accepted on any level. And it’s much less that either of these men is gay and more that they’re bisexual and have like an attraction to one another and a love affair with one another. It is not sexual, but like, he’s basically singing him a fucking love song at the end, right? Like, that’s kind of…I don’t know.

I mean, listen, I’m not a heterosexual man. You know, I’m just not. But like, if you sing to your bros like that, [Fernanda laughs] I feel like that’s some love right there. That’s cool. Like, I’m down with that. That’s cool. But it really does feel like… [sighs] Freddie is just fucking horny a lot of the time. [Fernanda laughs]

Alexander: Yes.

Danielle: Like, my guy just wants to get laid, and also that’s fine? Like, I don’t– the movie goes to these great pains to make sex look really kind of fucked up and like not great. And like, we have him fucking the sand mermaid. Maybe he’s not actually fucking the sand mermaid. It’s not explicit, so I don’t know. There’s definitely a hole there.

Alexander: He definitely fingers. He definitely fingers it.

Danielle: There’s a hole there!

Fernanda: There are holes, yeah.

Alexander: He definitely fingers it. That’s explicit.

Danielle: And it shows him, you know, masturbating and like all of these things, where it’s just like, in the way it’s framed, is meant to be like very far away and very clinical and making it feel like very weird, right? I mean, this is my problem with Phantom Thread too, and I won’t go too far into that. That’s a movie about kink from people who don’t know what kink is. [Fernanda laughs] It’s just upsetting to me on every level. But like.

Fernanda: That’s a whole genre, right? Like, it happens a whole lot.

Danielle: This was the next fucking movie he made.

Fernanda: Oh.

Danielle: So I’m just gonna say he made some movies basically about kink and consent and sex and poison, without…I mean, I guess these are characters who are trying to figure out what they want, and, you know, the charitable read is that people just didn’t have the language for this, you know, 70, 80 years ago. They just didn’t know, and they’re fumbling through life trying to figure it out. That’s the charitable read. The uncharitable read is that PTA just thinks these things are cool and they’re great window dressing on a movie [Fernanda: “Yeah”] to make things, uh, have intense acting. But anyway.

Alexander: Just to, um…

Danielle: Yeah, please, please.

Fernanda: It’s possible.

Alexander: No, I mean, I don’t think like it’s at all off…like, it is such an easy, I think, read into this to say that there is like homosexual overtones.

Fernanda: Sure.

Alexander: I mean, after the processing, they both smoke a–

Danielle: [laughs] Right.

Alexander: They took a big– they break out the Kools. They love their Kools.

Danielle: Yep! [laughs]

Alexander: And they took a big, just a big puff, big puff and a sigh.

Danielle: That’s a big puff. Yeah. [laughs]

Alexander: I mean, if you even wanna just do like a surface reading of the film, [Danielle: “Yeah”] I think it’s pretty evident. And then I saw, I was reading something saying that the handjob that Amy Adams’s character Peggy gives is like, you know, as she’s giving him the speech about, you know, kind of telling him to chill out and not fall under the influence, like kind of almost the seductive influence of Freddie.

Danielle: Yeah!

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Alexander: It’s clearly related. There’s clearly a…not just in her words, but her actions, her choice of expression in that scene.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: Yeah, absolutely.

Alexander: She is trying to regain, you know, sort of sexual, uh, priority.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Alexander: You know, for lack of a better word. So, yeah, I don’t…and like you said, Paul Thomas Anderson himself is very aware that it could very much be read as there’s an attraction between them that’s beyond just, you know, platonic, beyond just friendship. It’s right there.

Alexander: Yeah. Yeah.

Fernanda: Why would you be attracted to Freddie, though? He’s straight up gross. [laughs] I’m sorry.

Alexander: What?

Fernanda: I’m trying to be a…

Alexander: No!

Fernanda: Joaquin Phoenix is a handsome man.

Alexander: You’re right.

Danielle: He is. Yes.

Fernanda: Joaquin Phoenix is a handsome man, like objectively. I mean the character.

Alexander: Even Freddie has a raw sort of, [Fernanda: “Ugh”] you know, masculinity about him, which at the time, I think was very, you know.

Fernanda: Maybe in my early twenties. [laughs] Now…

Danielle: [laughing] Maybe in my early twenties!

Fernanda: Then I can see it. Now? Now I feel like it all reads like a giant red flag. [laughs]

Alexander: There’s…listen, while we’re on the topic of romance.

Danielle: Yeah. Please, yeah.

Alexander: And I do wanna tie this to also the idea that his character, like, what did he, you know, what did he learn? There’s one glimpse in this movie that he almost kind of learned something, that he might have grown up. When he goes back to visit his lost, the home of his lost love Doris.

Fernanda: [emphatically, disgusted] A teenager!

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: A teen!

Alexander: Yeah, I’ll get to that. It’s problematic.

Danielle: Ah!

Alexander: He’s kind of like, the mom is there, and the mom tells him, well, Doris has moved away. She’s been married with this guy for three years. Like, you know, that ship has sailed, buddy. And he kind of like takes it well.

Danielle: Yeah.

Alexander: It’s like the one moment of the film. He kind of takes it calmly, and you wonder, did he learn anything from his experiences with the Cause and with Dodd. Like, kind of. It’s this moment of maturity before he goes back to being, I don’t know, being Freddie. [Fernanda chuckles] But yeah, the Doris stuff is, um…so, the actress, at the time the movie was made, [Danielle sighs] was 17 years old.

Danielle: Oh, god.

Alexander: The actress named Madisen Beaty. She was in a movie you guys saw recently, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

Danielle: Yes!

Alexander: She was one of the cult’s…I believe one of the cult’s girls, yes.

Danielle: Yes! Yeah, that’s awesome.

Fernanda: Oh, I didn’t even remember. Okay.

Alexander: Yes. She did that after, obviously. Uh, she was 17 when this movie was made, and Joaquin Phoenix is 20 years older than her.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: I assume his character, obviously, is meant to be a little bit closer in age.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Alexander: But it’s a little skeevy.

Fernanda: It’s a creepy visual.

Danielle: I was genuinely curious about that. I did not know. I will just say for the record, no idea how old he’s supposed to be at any point during this movie.

Alexander: Mm-hmm.

Fernanda: You’re right. You’re right.

Danielle: But like, yeah.

Alexander: I would imagine he’s like sort of like college guy age when they’re [Fernanda: “Yeah”] in the flashback scenes, [Danielle: “Okay, okay”] or like no more than seven years older than her, supposedly? I would think, in the film.

Fernanda: Okay.

Alexander: But I mean, the fact that the actress in real life was pretty young and the character obviously is very young. There is a clear age gap. It’s a little skeevy. It’s a little skeevy.

Fernanda: It is.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: It is. I was like, when she said, and he’s like talking, oh, about high school or something. I don’t remember exactly the dialogue. And then she’s like, it’s like “Oh, so how old would that make you?” And she’s like, “16,” I went, [cringes] I’m uncomfortable. This is uncomfortable.

Danielle: And he calls her a kid sister is the other thing that’s a little fucked up.

Fernanda: Yeah. Exactly.

Danielle: He refers to her, when he’s talking about the letter, “Oh, there’s just this kid sister, my friend.” And it’s like, I know he’s…he knows on some level. He must, if he’s calling her a kid sister in one [Fernanda: “Yeah”] and it’s like the love of his life in another kind of context. Now… [sighs] Yeah.

Fernanda: I think that’s kind of supposed to contrast. Like, so we were talking about his like sexual proclivities.

Danielle: Mm-hmm.

Fernanda: And…which is strange, right? Like, ’cause he makes out with the store lady [Alexander: “Mm-hmm”] in the room, [Danielle: “Right”] and then when he actually gets to go on a date with her, he passes out.

Alexander: Yes.

Fernanda: So he’s not really interested in her, it seems, right?

Alexander: No.

Fernanda: It’s more of an animalistic instinct. And then when they’re doing the, um…what do they call it in the movie? The processing.

Alexander: Yes.

Danielle: Ah.

Fernanda: Not auditing. It’s not Scientology. It’s processing. [Danielle laughs] When they’re doing the processing, he talks about “having sex,” right, ‘cause that’s the terms that they use, with his aunt.

Alexander: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: Yes.

Fernanda: So we know he has like a weird background in that sense. We don’t know how old that aunt was, right, or how old he was.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: So, incest aside, there could be– which let’s just, I think we can unequivocally say: pretty fucking bad, but like, could be even more sinister [Danielle: “Sure, sure. Yeah”] than what we see there.

Danielle: Sure.

Fernanda: And so like, I feel like maybe it’s kind of there to contrast, right? Like he has this sort of like dirty thing that he carries with him that kind of like represents his animalistic side or a side of trauma. It’s not really that clear. And then we have this sort of like very innocent looking girl. I think that’s kind of why it’s there, to kind of show like this other, this purity side of him. And that chase of Doris kind of feels to me like it was him sort of trying to chase that part of himself, you know, [Danielle: “Mm”] a more pure and innocent side. And in the end, when he’s having sex with an age appropriate [Danielle: “Right”] nice looking lady, when like, it does…

Danielle: [laughs] Yeah.

Fernanda: It could be read as sort of him like maybe getting some sort of balance between those things. Like, I don’t know. That, to me, can be one read of it, but yeah. When you put this in the notes, I was like, thank you. Thank God you brought it up, because I was disturbed by this scene.

Danielle: Yeah. [laughs]

Alexander: What was your guys’ reading of him, you know, doing the processing at the end of the movie? Him initiating the processing with this English lady that he meets in the end?

Fernanda: Oh, I have no idea.

Danielle: I mean…like, this is one of the most normal scenes in this whole movie.

Fernanda: Right.

Danielle: Which is saying something. Not normal, again. Also like, it’s cool. I’m very good with a lot of abnormal things happening in a movie. [laughs] It’s not like I have some sort of issue with that. And it’s cool also for a movie to tackle kink and to tackle some strange sexual things. Totally good things to put on film, just for the record. But this is him kind of carrying over something that was good in his previous life into something that’s good right now.

And she’s down! Like, she’s like, “This is a little weird, but all right. I’ll say my name a few times. [Fernanda laughs] You know, I’ll take, you know, he said I was brave and he seemed to enjoy it.” Like, it was kinda like, this is a way of him like [Fernanda: “Yep”] putting some of that healing into action, I guess?

Fernanda: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Danielle: Maybe. Or how he interpreted healing to be this processing.

Fernanda: It could be.

Danielle: And he is like talking to a woman who’s his age that he’s having sex with, in a way that’s not like, “Hey, wanna fuck?” It’s more like, “Hey, I’m getting to know you [Fernanda: “Yeah”] on some level.” That was kinda like, all right, I could see it. You know, I could see that being how he’s like, “Hey, this is me putting my lives together a little bit. Let’s try this. Hey, I learned this thing. Maybe I– let me try this with this girl. She’s pretty cool.” You know.

Alexander: I had such an opposite reading.

Fernanda: Really? [Danielle laughs]

Alexander: It’s such a grim ending to me.

Danielle: Okay.

Fernanda: Yeah? Tell us.

Danielle: Yeah, please.

Alexander: I saw this as that the processing meant nothing to him, that it became like pillow talk.

Danielle: Mm.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Alexander: And that he just reverted sort of to his pre- meeting Dodd, and that everything to him just comes back to sex, that he never actually made a connection with Dodd or with the Cause or with any of the people in Dodd’s, you know, entourage. And that it was, again, it is this being unable to escape this cycle that he’s in, you know? So it’s just a, for him, it’s just a new bit of dialogue he can break out with the next, you know, young lady he decides to have sex with, which is kind of what happened here. So, yeah, I don’t know. The first time I saw the movie and even watching it again, I had…I wasn’t saddened by the ending.

Fernanda: Yeah?

Alexander: I found it interesting, but I did think that he had not learned, that it was the opposite. And it just, yeah, it showed how meaningless that whole experience was to him.

Fernanda: I’ll give it a third reading [Alexander: “Okay”] that I think is more in line with Danielle’s, [Danielle: “Okay!”] more optimistic.

Alexander: Mm-hmm.

Fernanda: ‘Cause Danielle’s was optimistic. Yours was pretty, uh, pessimistic. I feel like it could be his idea of intimacy, [Danielle: “Hmm”] because he hadn’t– he’s been kind of invisible, right? Like, we don’t know a lot about his childhood, but in war he was a soldier, obviously even weirder than the rest. Like, they go to pains in those early scenes to paint him as sort of like apart from it. He really looks like somebody who doesn’t really fit in, who, you know, in the mall he was taking pictures of others. That’s a very one sided relationship, right? He was like sort of seeing them and portraying them [Danielle: “Hmm”] with them not perceiving him back.

And when he gets to the Cause, he’s seen, the first time he’s actually seen for a long time. And the moment where he’s being processed by Dodd is a very intimate scene, right? Like, he has to look him straight in the eye. He can’t blink. You know, it’s a bond, and it’s somebody really looking at him for the first time. So maybe that becomes sort of his idea of intimacy. And him doing that, you know, in bed with a person might be the way he has of expressing that kind of, of forming that kind of like deeper bond. Hopefully.

Danielle: I like that. I like that.

Alexander: I like that too. I know.

Danielle: Yeah.

Alexander: I like that. I hope that, yeah.

Fernanda: [laughs] Let’s just stick…

Danielle: Hey, that’s hope for Freddie’s. You know, that’s some hope for Freddie. [laughs]

Fernanda: Let’s just hope things are looking up for our boy there.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: ‘Cause honestly, his liver wasn’t gonna take much of whatever was happening for a long time.

Danielle: Oh my god. [Alexander laughs]

Fernanda: That guy, I was like, what? How are you still alive, my dude? That is commendable. Like, if I drink one of those concoctions, I’m not waking up for three days. [Danielle laughs]

Alexander: Yeah. Early in the movie, apparently he’s extracting ethanol [Fernanda: “Mm-hmm”] from the torpedoes on the boat or something.

Danielle: Oh, that’s what he’s doing.

Fernanda: Yep.

Alexander: That’s what he’s– yeah, there’s a scene where he’s going down to where the torpedoes are, and he opens it up, and it’s like, fuel? Like, I don’t know what goes in a torpedo. And then I just read later, like, oh, this is a real thing that someone that Paul Thomas Anderson knew actually did back in the war. They got the ethanol from the torpedo and mixed it in their drinks.

Danielle: I believe it.

Alexander: That can’t be good for you.

Danielle: I wasn’t sure if it was water.

Fernanda: That cannot.

Danielle: It’s not. I will say, as an EMT, not good. Don’t drink it. [laughs]

Alexander: Don’t do– okay.

Fernanda: [laughs] Kids.

Danielle: Don’t drink it!

Fernanda: We like to teach lessons on this show. Listen to Aunt Danielle [Danielle laughs] telling you not to drink fuel out of…

Danielle: Don’t drink jet fuel! [Fernanda laughs] Fucking. Well, all right, I’m sorry. Excuse me, torpedo fuel.

Alexander: I mean, it was probably watered down with paint thinner though. It was probably watered down with paint thinner, so think about that. I’m in.

Danielle: Water it down with a lil paint thinner, you know.

Alexander: Chase it. Chase it with a little thinner.

Fernanda: Yeah, just a…

Danielle: Yeah, he was doing it smart. [Fernanda laughs] And he talks about it. “Not if you do it smart.” Blah.

Fernanda: One other read, real quick, that I wanted to bring up that I also thought was interesting [Danielle: “Yeah”] is that the two characters are actually two sides of Hubbard.

Danielle: Mm.

Alexander: Hmm.

Fernanda: And they find support in that theory in the fact that Hubbard was also– sorry I keep bringing up Hubbard. I’ve been–

Danielle: No, it’s good.

Alexander: You have to.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: I was watching Scientology, [Alexander: “Mm-hmm”] the Gibney documentary yesterday. I’m on that vibe. But he was, um, Hubbard was in the Navy. He was a seaman. I always laugh when I hear that word. I’m sorry. [Danielle laughs]

Alexander: Keep it together, Prates. Keep it together.

Fernanda: I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.

Danielle: An able-bodied seaman, thank you.

Fernanda: [laughs] And he was actually terrible at it. But he did lie about being good at it for a long time. [Fernanda and Danielle laugh] He told all these stories about how he won all these medals and like bombed these like enemy vessels. And it turns out the thing he actually bombed was, A, a magnetic deposit on the bottom of the ocean, which he unloaded an ungodly amount of ammunition in, for like two straight days, until they found out it was not an enemy vessel. And then he also bombed Mexico a little bit, a cluster of islands.

Danielle: God.

Fernanda: Yeah. And he was judged like incapable of– ’cause he was actually like in charge of a…I don’t, I don’t know the lingo, guys. He was in charge of a thing in the ocean. Like, he was a person in charge of things, and they were like, no, he cannot be in charge of things. And he told all these stories about like his war wounds. And apparently he had, he like left the army with like mild arthritis somewhere and, uh, conjunctivitis.

Danielle: Right.

Fernanda: Which people would know as a pink eye. Danielle as an EMT can explain. [Fernanda and Alexander laugh]

Danielle: Yeah. Like, that’s a fairly mild ailment. Listen, it’s painful.

Fernanda: It’s annoying.

Danielle: I’m not gonna– it’s not fun, but…but war wound?

Fernanda: [laughs] Yeah. Highly contagious too, to my knowledge.

Danielle: It is very contagious. Extremely, yes.

Fernanda: Yeah. So people kind of say that there is a sort of interpretation, too, that this was like a side of him. We can’t like even go deep, ’cause Hubbard’s life story in itself is a complete trip.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: It’s just outrageous and interesting and infuriating and all of it at the same time. We don’t really have time for it, but that’s also an interesting little read. And another interesting read is that a lot of it was just random shit that Paul Thomas Anderson put on the screen, which can be validated. [laughs]

Danielle: Sure.

Fernanda: Because apparently a reporter asked him about his water imagery in the movie, ’cause it comes up a lot, right? The boat and everything. And then his reply was, and I quote, “Haha, those water shots are just nice. Sometimes you do things that you think are a good idea. Other times you just hope that some feeling hits you when you’re putting the film together. You have to follow that. I’m not trying to be arty or elusive or anything. Where we come from in the editing room can sometimes be intellectual, but more often it’s pretty instinctual. More often, if you looked under the hood, you’d see how amazingly disorganized and confused we all were.” So yeah, it could be that we’re here debating the intricacies… [laughs]

Alexander: I like that. But that’s why…that’s why this is my guy. Paul Thomas Anderson is my guy. [others laugh] I know he makes some movies that are difficult to parse at times. And you mentioned Phantom Thread, which is not like a, you know, it’s not a laugh a minute. It’s not a brisk watch. [Fernanda laughs]

Danielle: Yeah.

Alexander: Again, another movie I enjoy.

Danielle: Sure, sure. That’s fair.

Alexander: Sometimes that’s he will just do stuff ’cause he thinks it looks cool. And not like as deliberate as like a Tarantino. Like Tarantino, I feel like when he puts something in a movie that’s cool, there’s like…he’s always trying to say something, [Fernanda: “Mm-hmm”] or like, I want you to really recognize this homage that I’m making, and that’s fine.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Alexander: I love Tarantino too. I think Paul Thomas Anderson wears his influences very proudly but doesn’t care if you get it or not. Or like you said, or will throw something in like those beautiful shots. That water is almost glowing in the movie. It’s beautiful.

Danielle: Oh, it’s beautiful!

Alexander: The water looks beautiful. Beautiful shot of the water.

Danielle: Yeah.

Alexander: And he probably felt the same way. He’s probably like, “Man, we got some really great shots of this water. It would be a shame not to use them. Let’s kind of use them to sort of break up a scene here, break up a scene there. And if it kind of plays off, you know, what we’re going, this greater theme of the film, fantastic. If it doesn’t, look at the pretty water.” And I believe him when he says that, and that’s kind of what I– one of the reasons I like is I do think, like any director of his caliber, there’s artistic aspirations, but also just like, look, I got into film to put cool stuff on screen, and I’m gonna do that in movies now. And then Magnolia has a ton of that, so.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: Sure.

Alexander: And Magnolia’s another movie that some people love it, some people hate it.

Danielle: Sure.

Alexander: But adds a lot of that in that movie.

Danielle: Yeah, I…

Fernanda: I feel like artists go through this a lot, right? [laughs softly]

Danielle: Yeah, yeah.

Fernanda: They do a thing, and then everybody’s like reading stuff into them. They’re like, “I didn’t think of this at all, but you do you.”

Danielle: Which is really fun. I mean, we talked about this in a very goofy context last week, right? Where it was what the acting choice to do a maniacal laugh at the end of In the Mouth of Madness, right?

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: Where it’s a lot of things are, oh, this felt like the right thing to do here. This felt like the right thing to put into the movie here. And a lot of things are sort of invisible influence, like oh, this just felt right. And it feels right because you’ve lived, you know, however old you are in the world, watching movies, being influenced by everything that is around you and thinking that, yes, this is what I do in this situation. I do a maniacal laugh. [laughs] Or I put water in the movie, because this is really beautiful and it kind of fits with a theme and it kind of fits with all this stuff. A lot of things aren’t may not even be conscious choices, but they are choices.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: Every single thing that’s obviously on the screen is some kind of choice or some kind of accumulation of choices of every creative person who worked on it, right? This is what the prop designer thought was the best choice. This is what the set designer thought was the best choice. This is what the editor thought was the best, you know, cut for the rhythm, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Right? So all these are choices, whether or not they are the most conscious choice or not. And like, I actually really appreciate that.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: As much as I did not like this movie—and I did not, I’ll be clear—I do appreciate a lot of the choices that were made.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: And I do appreciate a lot of the sort of talent on display in every department. Alex, you had notes about the cinematography and the editing.

Alexander: Yeah.

Danielle: I wanted to like let you let loose on those, because that’s my favorite part of this.

Alexander: Oh, gosh.

Danielle: I appreciate the acting, of course, like I had said, but I also…like, it’s beautiful. It is absolutely beautiful to look at. And sometimes it’s beautiful to look at in a way that’s very uncomfortable. Many shots in this movie. Like, I had to almost look away with how creeped out I was by the like department store photos. There’s just something about that aesthetic that makes me, like…

Alexander: Oh, I love that.

Fernanda: [gasps] It’s so creepy!

Alexander: I love that.

Danielle: I hate it! So, you know what I mean? Like, I like watching things like that because I get such a reaction. I’m just like, [alarmed] “Oh, what’s happening? Are they all gonna die?” [others laugh] Like, it’s just like a horror movie for me, right? And that’s such a specific aesthetic. So I wanna let you let loose on the technical filmmaking aspects here, ‘cause I know you had that in your notes.

Alexander: Well, I have like two university film credits to my name, [Danielle: “Hell yeah!”] so I am by no means an expert on cinematography.

Danielle: Fuck yes!

Alexander: But I will– and also, mentioning the portrait thing, I love, Fernanda, what you said earlier that the portrait shooting is…if you watch that scene, you know, it’s like when you take a portrait, they’re all looking off at an angle.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Alexander: Like you said, they’re not looking at him. And that was something I actually hadn’t noticed, but you’re right. There’s such a lack of intimacy there for the photographer themselves, because they’re not– they’re focused solely on their subject, and it’s not returned, so. I actually had not noticed that, so that was actually really cool. Yeah, just a couple of notes about the cinematography and also the editing. So, and as all Paul Thomas Anderson fans know, of course, he normally works with– [others laugh]

Fernanda: The Tommies.

Danielle: [laughs] The Tommies!

Alexander: The Tommies. Yeah, ‘cause you don’t wanna get confused with the Paul Anderson, the Mortal Kombat guy, right? So…

Danielle: The other Paul Anderson. The Paulies and the Tommies.

Alexander: Yeah.

Danielle: Yeah.

Alexander: Another auteur, of course, but. [Fernanda laughs]

Danielle: Yes! [laughs]

Alexander: So he normally does, uh, most of his films were done with the brilliant, brilliant Robert Elswit, who’s just, you know, like mastered cinematography. He did There Will be Blood, with Paul Thomas Anderson, which is my second favorite film [Danielle: “Sure”] of the last, like, of the century. And he’d also done a movie you guys had done on the show, Nightcrawler.

Danielle: Oh, excellent. Yes.

Fernanda: Oh.

Alexander: Beautiful movie. And a couple of Mission Impossibles as well. So, great cinematographer. This was the only movie—first and only movie, I think—that Paul Thomas Richardson did with a Romanian cinematographer named Mihai Malaimare.

Fernanda: Okay.

Alexander: And it’s a little bit different than some of his other movies. It’s…so, some of things I pointed out is the darks in the movie are a little muddier.

Danielle: Mm, sure.

Alexander: If you watch some of, um, like Magnolia, like there’s a little bit of blurriness to it, which you don’t see in some of the movies. With a lot of his movies, he’s very clear with, um, some of the scenes. Like, even scenes where there’s groups, you know, big group crowd scenes, things like that.

Fernanda: Mm.

Alexander: When he’s working with Robert Elswit, there’s a clarity of where your eye should go and things like that. And there’s some of that here, but there’s also, there’s a murkiness, which I assume, you know, kind of fits with the theme of being part of a cult and kind of [Danielle: “Mm-hmm”] that uncertainty. I assume that’s part of it. And the movie’s also got a bit of, it’s hard to say, like a dust, like a grit to it. There’s a grit to the–

Fernanda: Yes, absolutely.

Alexander: Specifically to the surfaces, like to the surfaces of [Fernanda: “Mm”] people’s clothing and like literal, the literal surfaces of the movie, just where people walk and the walls and everything. There’s a muskiness that like you don’t see in a lot of his other movies and I think that’s, again, the change in cinematographer. And I think it’s great. Like, I think it fits this movie so well. It’s also lacking something that, again, Elswit-helmed PTA films have, which is sort of like signature long shots. Paul Thomas really loved those long takes.

Danielle: Mm-hmm.

Alexander: He’s had some beautiful long takes in some of his previous movies. There’s the sort of the ode to the Goodfellas Copacabana shot at the beginning of Boogie Nights. There’s a lot, uh, There Will Be Blood is full of them.

Fernanda: Mm. Yeah.

Alexander: There Will Be Blood has like three or four standout, just these long incredible takes. There’s some of that here, but they’re very static. They’re not very showy. They’re lacking kind of the usual bombast that these kind of takes have in a Paul Thomas Anderson film. And again, I think that’s the case, again, having a different cinematographer, a different technique, a different kind of method of collaboration.

So yeah, it works differently, and it makes it distinct, I think, from all of his other movies. It might be why he says this is sort of, Paul Thomas Anderson, why he says it’s like his favorite of his own movies. It is distinct. It is not like [Fernanda: “Mm-hmm”] any other movie he’s done.

Fernanda: Kind of gives it a dreamlike sort of quality [Alexander: “Yes, definitely”] that also wraps into the narrative. ‘Cause there are some scenes where we find that Freddie was dreaming that we didn’t know. Right? Like when he gets the phone call in the middle of the movie and you’re like, [Alexander: “Mm-hmm”] how’s this person getting a telephone handed to him in the middle of a movie? [laughter]

Danielle: Right?

Alexander: Well, that was a real thing back then. That was a real thing, once upon a time, Fernanda. Before our day.

Fernanda: [laughs] How did they him in that theater? [Alexander: “Well, yes, that is–”] From England? Find that number?

Alexander: You know what’s amazing about that scene is, and I only found, I only realized this after, thank God, watching this movie again for whatever third or fourth time for this show. There was a line early in the movie where the military psychologist is interrogating– is uh, you know, kind of just giving him an examination.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: And he asks him about a vision he had, and Joaquin Phoenix says, “Oh, it was a dream, not a vision.”

Fernanda: Mm.

Alexander: And this is way earlier. This is like the first five minutes of the movie. Right away is like a hint right there to what happens at the end, because he cannot distinguish between a dream and a vision.

Danielle: Mm-hmm.

Fernanda: Yes.

Alexander: And only– this is the first time when I, and I saw the ending, and I’m like, oh. ‘Cause there’s the question of, is it a dream? Is it a vision? What’s real? And to him, [Danielle: “Mm-hmm”] it doesn’t matter. And I guess to us, it’s also not supposed to matter.

Fernanda: Ah.

Alexander: The call that– yeah, that blew my mind when I watched it again.

Fernanda: That is true. There was a thing, yeah, like one of the interpretations, and that’s when you accept that he’s a very unreliable narrator…I usually like to source these things, but I read so– I don’t remember, but somebody was talking about this, like, how once you accept he’s a very unreliable narrator, you can read so much as just his imagination. Even the aggressive handjob scene [Danielle and Fernanda laugh] can be perceived as his imagination or even Peggy’s imagination. One interpretation I read was that—and that makes Peggy’s character more interesting—is that that scene where everybody gets naked and like Dodd is clothed dancing with the…

Danielle: Oh, only the, uh…

Alexander: All the men are clothed, yeah.

Danielle: All the men have clothes. [laughs]

Fernanda: You’re right. And the women are nakey nakey.

Danielle: Nakey.

Fernanda: [laughs] Nakey nakey. In stages of undress. That it’s also Peggy’s– and he’s staring intently at Peggy, right? who is naked, but you can’t really see anything ’cause she’s in a chair. And she’s staring at him. But that could also be Peggy’s imagination.

Danielle: Mm.

Fernanda: So, yeah. That can be interesting but also kind of lazy, right? ‘Cause once you’re like, “Oh, who knows what’s real and what’s not?” like, it can give you a lot of room for a lot of shit. [Danielle laughs] So who knows.

Alexander: But we know we are– that we are to see certain things through his lens.

Fernanda: Yes.

Alexander: Again, everyone being naked. And also later he changes her eye color. She’s kind of testing him [Fernanda: “Yeah”] and saying, “Change my eye color,” and it actually does change on screen, so we see what he sees.

Danielle: Mm.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: I mean, that’s definitely true. We are told there are certain things you are seeing [Danielle: “Yeah”] through Freddie’s eyes. So just be wary of that, you know.

Fernanda: You’re right.

Danielle: It’s weird. It’s sort of something…I’m struggling with how to [thoughtful noise] fully lay this out. But I recently saw a movie that is very sort of like experimental horror animation. I just saw Mad God, just for whatever it’s worth, which is like on Shudder, and it’s basically a silent film. Not actually silent, just no dialogue really. And everything about it is sort of poetic and [Fernanda: “Mm-hmm”] up to interpretation and so on and so forth. And I like loved that. I was all about it. I was like, give me more! Put it in my veins! But then something like The Master, maybe it has to do with expectations, and maybe it has to do with, oh, I’m looking at a prestige period piece [Fernanda: “Mm-hmm”] and it’s giving me things that are not necessarily that.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: It’s giving me things that I generally like but maybe just not in this context, potentially.

Fernanda: Okay. That’s fair.

Danielle: But I like, I’m always struggling with myself when I don’t like something that I think a lot of smart people like. [Danielle and Fernanda laugh] And I don’t know, like, is this a common thing?

Fernanda: It is.

Danielle: I really don’t like to be against things just for the sake of it. Like, I really don’t. I really prefer to enjoy everything in the world.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: I think life is too fucking short. Like, I don’t wanna be a contrarian. Like, I want to like things. [laughs]

Fernanda: People that listen to this show know this, Danielle.

Danielle: [laughs] They know!

Fernanda: Danielle is a generous person.

Danielle: I really am! But I’m like, I don’t like disliking things. [Fernanda laughs] It makes me kind of angry, especially when I can kind of see, you know, what certain things, what they were going for. Even if it maybe doesn’t measure up for me [Fernanda: “Mm-hmm”] or if something falls short for me. But I guess I do want to like be incredibly clear that I think the craft of this film is incredible and that there is something to be said for being able to enjoy the craft even if you don’t enjoy the movie.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: I actually feel this way about The Godfather, and I know I’ll be canceled a thousand times over. Beautifully crafted, absolutely masterful in every way. Doesn’t do that much for me personally, as a human being.

Fernanda: I’ve never watched it, so. Cancel us, world! I dare you!

Alexander: One of my favorite movies, guys. One of my favorite movies.

Danielle: Oh, I’m sorry, Alex. I’m sorry.

Alexander: Mm.

Fernanda: Oh, you and Rodrigo have the same taste. We saw the–

Danielle: That’s what it is!

Alexander: I think we do.

Fernanda: You have the same taste in movies. It’s absurd.

Alexander: I think we do. I know.

Fernanda: You do.

Danielle: Honestly, I want the dark side version of our podcast, [Fernanda laughs] that’s like Rodrigo and Alex talking about a movie that we hated but y’all like love. That would be the best. [laughs]

Alexander: Rodrigo, I’ll DM you. I’ll DM you, buddy. [Danielle laughs] I’ll DM you. I got you. I’ll DM you.

Danielle: It’s like You Love to See It: dark side. Like, I dunno.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: [laughs] We have to like…not dark side. That makes it sound like sinister, but like alternative, you know, like the alternative side, the B side. I don’t know, something fun. Yeah.

Alexander: I don’t think you’re wrong about your expectations for this movie, because it is the kind of movie that it strikes you as like, why can’t this movie have a narrative? [Fernanda laughs] And that’s not to say all movies should– and that’s not to say all movies should.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: You know, not all movies should, and this one doesn’t, and that’s fine. That’s a deliberate choice. That’s a deliberate choice.

Danielle: Right, right.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: But you’re right. When you read the…you know, you see the trailer, you read the plot on paper, you’re like, this could have a logical arc. This should build to a conflict [Fernanda: “Yeah”] between the main, the protagonist and the Master. And it never really does. It never really– like, what is– here’s my question, is what is the climax of this movie?

Danielle: I think it’s the song.

Fernanda: The handjob. Nope.

Danielle: I think it’s the song. Oh, the handjob. [laughter] Fernanda!

Alexander: Fernanda, that’s a different kind of climax, uh…it’s a little too early in the film, I feel.

Fernanda: Sorry, other climax, okay. It’s the song, yeah. Danielle is correct.

Alexander: Sure.

Fernanda: Though the prison scene, I think, is a climax too.

Alexander: Right.

Danielle: Maybe, yeah.

Alexander: But it’s not– I feel like it’s not clear. I feel like it’s not clear.

Danielle: Sure, sure.

Alexander: And again, that’s probably on purpose, probably intentional. But it’s, I think, one reason why so many people might be frustrated with this movie and some of Paul Thomas Anderson’s more like obtuse works. Because he’s made movies with pretty clear– like Boogie Nights obviously is early on, [Danielle: “Sure”, Fernanda: “Yeah”] so I imagine he wanted to make something a little more crowd pleasing. Punch Drunk Love. I think even Phantom Thread has a pretty clear narrative.

Danielle: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Alexander: You do have to read into the characters a little bit, but the narrative is pretty, there’s a point A, point B, point C, point D to Phantom Thread.

Danielle: I think it’s actually a fairly straight narrative.

Alexander: Yeah.

Danielle: It’s just the, you know, presentation of it is a little more dreamy [Alexander: “Yes”] or, you know, however you want, surreal, et cetera.

Alexander: Yeah.

Danielle: Yeah.

Alexander: But The Master doesn’t have that. And I think there is a question of why couldn’t he tighten the story up a little bit.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: Again, would it have made it a better movie? I don’t know.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: More accessible? Yeah, definitely, right?

Fernanda: That’s one of the texts that I mentioned on I highly recommend it. Like, it’s longer, but because it’s exactly sort of this that we’re debating. And I think it’s interesting to read all these reviews from different points of view, because these are all smart people who know what they’re talking about, and A, they have completely different takes on the movie.

Danielle: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Fernanda: And they have different takes on this, too. And what Danielle was saying about the expectations, it is real, and it is real with the directors as well. I feel like if Paul Thomas Anderson did this movie at a different stage of his career, people maybe wouldn’t be as generous as they were with it.

Danielle: Sure.

Alexander: Mm-hmm.

Fernanda: Because they– right? Like, when you’re watching a movie by some rando, and you don’t, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense, you’re like, “Oh, this rando doesn’t know how to make things make sense.”

Danielle: [laughs] Sure.

Fernanda: And we know that Paul Thomas Anderson knows how to make a movie. So we’re like, so this has to have been on purpose, like this isn’t just some schmuck doing shit that we don’t… [Danielle laughs] just doing whatever. Like, so if I don’t understand it– and then like what you said, Danielle, it’s very real. I get that a lot. And that’s why sometimes I go to the other end, like, “Oh, these people are pretending they like it to sound smart. Nobody likes this!”

Danielle: [laughs] Yeah.

Fernanda: But with this, I think there is a lot of that, right? And then you hear the conversation about it, and then you’re like, oh, I must be missing something, so this is not a one watch movie. Like, it’s good. It’s objectively good. So if you don’t think it’s good, then maybe you just didn’t pay enough attention. Right?

Danielle: Right.

Fernanda: So like, I feel like there are all…this is exactly the kind of a movie that lends itself to all these kinds of interpretations. And I, myself, am like…like Alex just said, like, yeah, maybe he could have given this a better, a tighter feel or given these characters a little more meat or something like that or more direction. And you kind of like, is this kind of lazy to just let things so open ended that you can just like pick up on any threat and go with it and it’s all up to kind of the spectator to make the experience of the movie? Isn’t the director supposed to guide us through this movie?

Or is it actually the genius of it that we all can have these conversations in all these different aspects and, you know, that’s actually quite masterful to leave it that open? Or maybe it’s both. So it’s kind of like, that’s interesting. I’m kind of tempted to think that there is a place and time for everything and that like, [Danielle: “Sure”] you know, whatever floats your boat. But…yeah, it’s very…

Danielle: Yeah.

Alexander: Can I…

Danielle: Please, yeah.

Alexander: Can I just say, ‘cause I feel like this is a safe place.

Danielle: It is.

Alexander: ‘Cause I feel this is a place of healing.

Fernanda: It is.

Alexander: And it kind of connects to this movie, because Johnny Greenwood, the amazing Johnny Greenwood did the soundtrack for this film.

Danielle: Gotcha.

Alexander: Uh, I don’t understand Radiohead, guys. [Fernanda laughs] All right, I’m just gonna say it. I feel like we’re– I don’t get it. I don’t get anything post OK Computer. I’m a “Creep”, just “Fake Plastic Trees” guy, you know? [others laugh] I don’t understand the newer stuff. So this, like, as you guys were both kind of talking about this movie, like, I couldn’t…the obligation to kind of enjoy something that is so critically acclaimed.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: Sure.

Alexander: And like just, all my friends, like all your friends are like, “Oh, you gotta see this or listen to this. This is the greatest thing ever.”

Danielle: Yep.

Alexander: And then how kind of alone you feel when you don’t get it.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: It sucks, yeah!

Alexander: And like, alone and inferior, or angry in Fernanda’s case, rebellious, rebelling against it. [others laugh] And I don’t go that far. Like, I would never– I don’t think Radiohead sucks. I wouldn’t say that, [Fernanda: “Sure, sure”] but I feel like so sad when I listen to it and I know I’m not…

Fernanda: [laughs] You don’t get it.

Alexander: Like, I don’t under– like, I’m not getting the same fulfillment that 90% of apparently intelligent people do, so. I’m sorry. I don’t want to go off on a tangent. That’s a whole other show.

Danielle: No, it’s good though. Yeah.

Alexander: That’s for You Love to Sing It at some point. [Fernanda laughs]

Danielle: That’s You Love to Sing It, baby!

Alexander: Yes, and…

Fernanda: You Love to Sing It.

Alexander: But this is, I needed this. I needed to let that out into the world.

Danielle: Yeah.

Alexander: I needed people to know, ’cause I just feel– I’ve been living with this secret for so long. [Fernanda laughs] I don’t understand. I don’t understand Radiohead. I’m ashamed.

Danielle: Absolutely! Absolutely. There can be an appreciation of craft without personally enjoying something.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Danielle: And like, sometimes movies hit us that way, and that’s what it is, and that’s okay too. Honestly, I’m…I did not like this movie, but I love talking about it with y’all.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: Like, I’ve had such a good time like breaking these things down and actually sort of coming at it from different angles and understanding where y’all are coming from and trying to understand where I’m coming from, ’cause I don’t even know where I’m coming from half the time, right? I think that’s also probably normal, [laughs] ’cause sometimes we don’t know why we don’t like things, and that’s cool too. But yeah, I’m glad we did this, because I have a better appreciation of several things now than I used to, even if it’s not The Master itself. [Danielle and Fernanda laugh] Like, I still have a better appreciation of a lot of things that went into it, which makes me feel good.

Fernanda: Danielle, you just have to watch it twice, okay?

Danielle: [pained] I…I’m not. [Fernanda laughs] It took me like three or four sittings. I’m not gonna lie.

Alexander: Did it really?

Danielle: Yeah…

Fernanda: I didn’t know.

Alexander: Wow.

Danielle: Just wasn’t for me, y’all, but it’s okay.

Alexander: Well, I–

Fernanda: I get it.

Danielle: You know what? I don’t like to eat meat. I’m a vegetarian.

Fernanda: I’m a vegetarian too.

Danielle: Not because I like, you know, I do love animals and that’s fine, but that’s not why. It’s ‘cause I don’t like it.

Alexander: Huh.

Danielle: It’s easy for me. Like, there’s whole categories of things out there that just aren’t for me, and it’s okay.

Alexander: This is a safe space.

Danielle: It’s a safe space, man.

Alexander: Fernanda, you wanna throw something out there? Uh… [Danielle laughs]

Fernanda: I already throw it all out there. I’m an embarrassing person. [others laugh] I feel like every episode I discuss like my horrible tastes and just like [Danielle laughs] all the ways in which I’m just not good at being like human.

Danielle: No!

Fernanda: There’s no specific–

Danielle: You’re a great human, okay? [laughs]

Alexander: Stop it.

Fernanda: [laughs] Thank you, Danielle.

Alexander: We love you.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: But I’m like you, Alex. Like, I like the more popular Radioheads.

Alexander: [laughing quietly] Radioheads.

Fernanda: And I have a husband who is an– Radioheads, yeah. [Danielle laughs] He’s an intellectual of these things.

Danielle: Sure, sure.

Fernanda: And I accuse him of being pretentious, and he’s like, “No, but I like popular things too. Like, I listen to Dua Lipa with you.”

Alexander: Mm-hmm.

Fernanda: I’m like, okay, yeah, well…those things don’t cancel each other out.

Danielle: Aw, that’s so cute!

Fernanda: He gets very offended when I say he’s like snobby, but he likes smart person things, and I’m like, I don’t…I don’t get it a lot of the time. [laughs]

Alexander: I don’t wanna take the reins of the show, but I know we’ve been going for a while, guys. But we have to talk about the fighting.

Fernanda: The fighting.

Danielle: Oh my God, yes! I’m so sorry.

Alexander: I would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the fighting. I don’t know how much time we have.

Fernanda: Yes. Yeah.

Alexander: But whatever time we have, please, can we talk about the fighting in this movie?

Danielle: Yeah, we can do this very briefly. It was something I noticed, because our guy wrestles everybody.

Fernanda: Yeah. [Alexander laughs]

Danielle: He’s a wrestler!

Alexander: Yeah.

Danielle: He’s going for double legs on everyone.

Alexander: He likes to get in there.

Danielle: On everyone! On the cops when they’re arresting, you know, like everyone. He’s clearly a wrestler. There’s beach wrestling in this movie. That was like my favorite scene. I was really excited to see beach wrestling, ‘cause it’s my favorite thing to do on a beach. I know I’m a really weird person. Anyway, because I have two MMA, you know, knowledgeable people, I kind of wanted to just ask: where do you see, like, where would this guy land in a fight? Like, is he just like going to amateur smokers and maybe doing okay? Or like, could he actually kinda fight? I don’t know. I kinda think he could fight, to be honest.

Fernanda: I think he could be—I’m gonna throw out a name—a Jason Knight type of fighter.

Danielle: Oh, okay! Okay.

Alexander: Okay. Hick Diaz. Hick Diaz. [others laugh]

Danielle: Aah, Hick Diaz!

Fernanda: That’s kind of my read on it. Like scrappy whirlwind fights, does not have the discipline to become a champion, will probably be kicked out of several gyms for going too hard on his training partners.

Danielle: Mm.

Fernanda: Will go on binges and disappear for days, and everybody will be like, “Ah, if only he applied himself, [laughs] so much raw talent, so much power on that right hand. So much grit. Refuses to quit! No quit in that guy. But won’t try hard enough.”

Alexander: See, my worry is that he would actually be embraced by the– he would actually fit like a glove in the jiu-jitsu world [Fernanda: “Oh, you’re right”, Danielle: “Ah”] and like fall right down that QAnon [Fernanda: “Oh, God”] conspiracy theory guy. I think he’d bite into that.

Fernanda: Oh, maybe.

Alexander: But only for a little bit, before abandoning it as he does everything else.

Danielle: Sure.

Alexander: So, you know, it wouldn’t stick. He hits a nice head and arm throw, kind of, [Danielle: “Sure”] in the fight with the, uh, the third fight in the movie, I think, where one of the guys is– oh, questioning the whole book, the guy who had edited one of Dodd’s previous books.

Danielle: Right, right, right, right.

Alexander: “Yeah, this book is trash.” He hits a nice head and arm throw there, get some ground and pound in, so that was nice. But Danielle, I actually wanted to ask you, ‘cause I know you do, uh, you practice jiu-jitsu regularly, right?

Danielle: Yes. Yes. I sure do.

Alexander: And you do gi jiu-jitsu, right?

Danielle: I do both.

Alexander: Do both.

Danielle: I’m much more of a no gi girl, [Alexander: “Okay”] but I make myself train a in a gi every week. [laughs]

Alexander: You have to. You have to, right?

Fernanda: That’s very important.

Danielle: I make myself, ‘cause I like to compete in both, but yeah.

Alexander: Did you think he had potential? You know, the first fight when he fights the guy who he’s putting the heat on and taking his portrait, he goes right for the suit.

Danielle: He does!

Alexander: You know, he’s grabbing at the suit. I’m like, is there some…? So I immediately thought: I gotta ask Danielle.

Danielle: Yeah, absolutely!

Alexander: Is there some gi jiu-jitsu potential there? He kind of gives up on it too quickly, but I do like his instincts.

Danielle: Exactly, he’s going right for the lapels!

Alexander: He tried to choke him with the tie!

Danielle: I know! I was really impressed, actually. That was what made me think of asking this question. [Alexander laughs] I mean, first there was the beach wrestling with like just the boys on the beach. I was like, oh, that’s fun.

Alexander: Mm.

Danielle: But then that was like, oh my God. Yeah, he’s going for the real life jiu-jitsu kind of shit, you know? [laughs] Like where it’s like, oh, street jiu-jitsu kind of shit is going on here, which is exciting and fun to watch and talk about. [laughs]

Alexander: And then he just starts throwing glass at the guy, so it kind of breaks down. [Fernanda laughs]

Danielle: Yeah.

Alexander: His technique breaks down pretty quickly.

Fernanda: Yeah, well.

Danielle: Yeah. That’s that discipline. That’s that lack of discipline right there, you know?

Alexander: Maybe, but–

Fernanda: He’s going to his darkest instincts, like…it would need to…

Alexander: Yeah.

Fernanda: It would need to be reined in a bit, and I don’t know if it could.

Alexander: Maybe.

Fernanda: But I think he could have maybe some future in kind of like the underground circuit. Like, in a movie about MMA in which they always have those underground like tournaments, [Danielle: “Oh, yeah”] he’d be the guy that the good guy beats at the end, I think.

Alexander: Oh yeah.

Danielle: Yes.

Fernanda: He has that kind of…

Danielle: Yes.

Fernanda: It’d be like the Bonecrusher or something. There is an actual Bonecrusher. Who is it? I’m sorry. Diakiese, is he the Bonecrusher?

Alexander: Yeah, Marc Diakiese, yeah.

Fernanda: Yeah, so I’m sorry about stealing your nickname. But he would have some vague thing like this. Like the Clavicle Buster, is that better? And…

Alexander: Yeah.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: Van Damme [rock music in background] would sing to him at the end to like throw him off. [others laugh] He’d sing a song, and it would just like, oh, put him in a trance. And then, Van Damme would just start breaking up the high kicks on his ass.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: That’s how he would beat him in the end.

Danielle: That’s exactly it. Oh my God.

Fernanda: I feel like we’ve, it’s a pretty established narrative.

Danielle: That’s The Master…that’s like the Sensei instead of The Master, like that’s the alternate movie. [laughs]

Alexander: Straight to video. But, coincidentally enough, would be directed by Paul Anderson, the other one.

Danielle: Yeah, exactly.

Fernanda: [laughs] The other one. Alternative Paul Anderson.

Alexander: Yeah.

Danielle: Alternative Paul Anderson, alternative movie. The professor, but it’s like jiu-jitsu professor. I said Sensei so that other people understand, but like, you know, it’s professor in my…

Fernanda: As Paul said, we’d order enough stock for the store of this gym.

Danielle: Yeah, for real. For real, for real. All right, I know we’re running a bit late, I’m sorry. This was a rich text.

Fernanda: Yeah. Rich text.

Danielle: We had a truly rich text this week.

Fernanda: Mm-hmm.

Danielle: And we are moving into now our final section of our podcast. This is where, uh, we call it Shelf Life.

Shelf Life

Danielle: And this is where we decide where the movie belongs in our video store. If it’s a bona fide staff pick, it’s displayed proudly; if it’s a middle aisle placement; or if this deuce needs the dumpster out back. Alex, you’re our guest of honor. I want you to go first, my friend. [amused] I think I know what you’re gonna say, but I want you to go first.

Alexander: No. [Fernanda laughs] I actually, even though I’ve kind of like I guess defended the movie at points in this show, [Danielle: “Sure”] I don’t love this movie.

Fernanda: Okay.

Danielle: Oh.

Alexander: I actually do not love this movie.

Danielle: Okay.

Alexander: I think it’s straight up middle aisle, [Danielle: “Okay”, Fernanda: “Mm”] especially compared to his other movies, which I may enjoy more.

Danielle: Sure.

Alexander: And I have a feeling this is probably not an unpopular opinion amongst other Paul Thomas Andersonians.

Fernanda: Yeah. [Danielle laughs]

Alexander: You know, I think…

Danielle: Yeah.

Alexander: I guess depending on which side of his aesthetic you enjoy the most, right? Like, listen, I love Boogie Nights. I love There Will Be Blood. Movies I think, you know, are a little more clear as to where they’re going. People might disagree on There Will Be Blood, but I think it’s pretty clear.

Danielle: Sure, sure.

Fernanda: Oh, Rodrigo loves it. It’s his favorite.

Alexander: Yeah. I love that movie. Licorice Pizza I really enjoyed recently as well, his most recent film, so.

Fernanda: Sure.

Danielle: I have not seen that yet, so.

Fernanda: Yeah.

Alexander: It’s pretty good. More skeevy age stuff, but you know, whatever.

Danielle: Sure. [laughs]

Alexander: This guy got a thing, that’s fine.

Danielle: Sure. [laughs]

Alexander: So yeah, I think middle aisle is the perfect spot for it. I would not, it would not be a staff pick. My staff pick would be one of the other Paul Thomas Anderson films probably, right?

Danielle: Gotcha, gotcha.

Alexander: But yeah. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed watching it again. I probably will watch it again sometime in the future. I think it’s really fascinating and engaging to watch but not something I would necessarily tell our, the YLTSI customers, “Hey bro, you gotta check this out.” [others laugh] I’d say like, yeah, if you’ve got nothing better to do or you’re going down a deep Paul Thomas Anderson hole? Definitely pick it up, add it to the collection. But I don’t think it’s like a must see film. Or I should say it’s not a must enjoy film.

Danielle: Gotcha, gotcha. Yes.

Fernanda: That’s a good assessment. Not a must enjoy.

Danielle: [laughs] Yeah, Fernanda.

Fernanda: Well, first, I will go on a slight digression ’cause I thought of an embarrassing weird thing about me.

Danielle: Please.

Fernanda: Two things. I don’t like concerts. Hate concerts, don’t like going to concerts.

Danielle: Okay. Yeah.

Fernanda: And I don’t like soup. Hate soup.

Danielle: Okay.

Fernanda: All kinds of soup. I don’t…soup is…it’s an intellectual food that I hate. [Danielle laughs] And I will also read Paul’s: The Witcher 3 sucks. I said it. [Danielle laughs] I don’t know what that means, but Paul Tamayo, our wonderful producer, would like to get it off his chest. So we all got things.

Alexander: It’s a safe space, guys.

Danielle: There it is.

Alexander: We’re healing. We’re all healing together.

Danielle: I did see it, but you know what? Here it is.

Fernanda: We’re healing.

Alexander: We’re all healing together.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: We’re healing. God is working on all of us, as Paul would say. [Danielle laughs] Or what is the alien that they believe in, um, Scientology? Well, that alien is working on all of us.

Alexander: Right.

Danielle: Is it…it’s not Elron. It’s, uh…hmm. What is its name?

Fernanda: Alien name Scientology.

Danielle: Enu? It’s something.

Fernanda: Xenu.

Danielle: Xenu! There we go. We got there.

Alexander: There we go.

Fernanda: Xenu. Exactly.

Danielle: We got there. Yes.

Fernanda: Yeah. But Xenu is evil. I don’t know, uh, other podcast. [Fernanda and Danielle laugh] We need a part two for all of this.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: But I will say I’m with…I’m absolutely with Alex. Like, even though we are– I feel like Alex and I are in different spectrums of the middle aisle here [Danielle: “Mm-hmm, mm-hmm”] of enjoyment, but I also…I wouldn’t put it as a staff pick, obviously, because we go by feeling on this show.

Danielle: Yes.

Fernanda: And yeah, not feeling it, but I also wouldn’t call it a dumpster pick, I feel like.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: Whether I admire it intellectually because I feel pressured by society or whether I actually… [Fernanda and Danielle laugh] It’s the thing I will still, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to unpack.

Danielle: Yeah.

Fernanda: But yes, to me, it’s a very clear respectable middle aisle that we should recommend only under…we will recommend under special circumstances.

Danielle: Sure, sure, sure. I’m good with that. I’m good with the middle aisle. Again, it’s not my favorite. I didn’t love it, but I can appreciate the craft of it, and I think that is worth something. And also these performances alone, like even if the movie was the most dogshit movie of all time, when some element of it is clearly, clearly like beautiful and to be celebrated, that’s elevating it above the dumpster.

Like, let’s be clear. We’re not big on the dumpster here. [laughs] And this is a very well crafted piece of work. All right, so middle aisle. I think that’s fair. I feel good about that. I appreciate y’all and what we’ve done here today. I’m gonna read our cool outro. And actually, before I do that, Alex, would you like to plug your work?

Alexander: Oh, yes.

Danielle: Would you like to plug some things? Please, let’s plug.

Alexander: Okay. [Danielle laughs quietly] Thank you guys. That was so much fun. Yeah, listen, if people want to know more about me, I write for

Fernanda: Yes.

Alexander: We do all kinds of YouTube shows and podcasts, and you’ll see and hear me on those every now and then. You can follow me on Twitter at @alexanderklee, and that’s about it. It’s pretty simple, you know? Uh, I did wanna know, guys, do I– these UFC DVDs, uh, VHSs that I have here.

Danielle: Yeah. Oh, yeah! Yeah. [Fernanda laughs]

Alexander: Is there a deal? Is it rent two, get one free? Do I get to keep them for more than a week?

Fernanda: No.

Alexander: ‘Cause this looks like pretty compelling stuff.

Danielle: It’s really good shit!

Alexander: I really wanna get into this. Yeah. I really wanna get into this.

Fernanda: We don’t let you have it, [Alexander: “What?”] because once you have it, you’re not getting out.

Danielle: It’s true.

Fernanda: It’s like the– [laughs]

Danielle: You can’t unwatch what has been watched. [laughs]

Fernanda: It’s like with Hubbard. He says that one of the books he wrote—and this hearkens back to In the Mouth of Madness, our last movie—he says that the book he wrote was so amazing that people who read it went insane and yeah, sometimes committed suicide because what they read [Danielle: “Oh no!”] was too spectacular, too mind blowing. They weren’t ready for it.

Danielle: Oh my god!

Fernanda: So yes, we’re not letting people watch the UFC tapes. They’re not ready.

Alexander: All right. Is it cool if I hang– uh, my mom’s gonna pick me up in like half an hour. Is it cool if I hang around the store? [others laugh]

Danielle: Yeah, here, have some popcorn.

Alexander: Okay.

Danielle: Have some popcorn.

Alexander: Okay.

Danielle: Yeah, we got some– you know, it’s about to expire next week. Here, you go ahead.

Alexander: Okay.

Danielle: You have this popcorn, you go watch something you want. You know, it’s cool. It’s chill. We’re a pretty chill store. So yeah. [laughs] Yeah, you can hang out. Thank you so much, Alex. I really appreciated having you on the show.

Alexander: Thank you guys.

Danielle: It was so much fun. We’ll have you back. Don’t worry. You’re not through with us yet! [laughs] All right, dear friends. That is what we have for you this week. Thank you so, so much for listening, and thank you so much to my co-host for joining me. Thank you at home for listening, and thank you to our producer, Paul “afterlife frienemy” Tamayo—great name, Paul, always with the great names—for all the help in making this show not only not suck, but you know, kind of rule. That’s what I think.

We would love to hear from you. If you’d like to get in touch with us, please send us an email to That’s Y L T S I Send us your reviews, recommendations, questions, any general feedback, and maybe we’ll even read it on the show. And we would super appreciate it, so please do send us a note.

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