Michael Cieply has tapped out a 4.18 N.Y. Times article (which will appear in Sunday’s print edition) about Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master (Weinstein Co., 10.12). The piece is titled “Filmmaker’s Newest Work Is About…Something” and is subtitled “Paul Thomas Anderson Film May Be About Scientology.” The basic “tell” is that PTA’s film is partly about a figure who could be L. Ron Hubbard (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and is largely about the beginnings of Scientology, at least in broad historical spitball terms.
So the article, no offense, doesn’t exactly advance the narrative since people have been batting around the Scientology connection angle for quite some time.
Anderson wouldn’t talk to Cieply but Cieply spoke to a Scientology spokesperson, and he quotes from a short piece I wrote last September when I spoke to Hoffman at a party for The Ides of March. Plus the article has some cool black-and-white location photos of actors hired to perform in a period scene from the film.
Key passage #1: “Anderson has declined to speak publicly about the movie…but the details suggest a story inspired by the founding of Scientology, and that has provoked industry whispers. With that church’s complicated Hollywood ties and high-profile adherents like Tom Cruise, a film even loosely based on it will guarantee discussion upon its release.”
Key passage #2: “With The Master Mr. Anderson will tell a dual tale. The first is that of a boozy Navy veteran, played by Joacquin Phoenix, who shares what Mr. Anderson’s associates say are accidental similarities with the filmmaker’s father, who died in 1997. The elder Anderson was a Navy vet who served in the Pacific during World War II, and, like [Pheonix’s character], was born about 90 years ago.
“The second story is that of Lancaster Dodd, who is eerily referred to in a screenplay Mr. Anderson initially wrote for Universal Pictures only as ‘The Master’ or ‘Master of Ceremonies.’ Played by Mr. Hoffman, he is the red-haired, round-faced, charismatic founder of that most Californian of phenomena, a psychologically sophisticated, and manipulative, cult.
“Dodd was inspired by — though not entirely modeled on — Scientology’s L. Ron Hubbard,” Cieply writes.
Here’s what I wrote about my chat with Hoffman last September:
“At last night’s Ides of March party Phillip Seymour Hoffman — a.k.a. ‘Philly’ — insisted that Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, which he just finished filming, is ‘not a Scientology film.’ But I’ve read an early draft and it seems to be about a Scientology-like cult, I said to him. And I’ve read about the parallels. “I don’t know what you’ve heard and what script you’ve read,” Hoffman replied. “Trust me, it’s not about Scientology.”
“Maybe not specifically or literally, but there are just too many proofs and indications that The Master (or whatever it’s eventually going to be called) is at least about a cult with a charismatic L. Ron Hubbard-type leader that could be seen as a metaphor for Scientology. At least that.”