Why is it that no one who attended the Chicago screening of The Master has made any attempt to really explore the Scientology parallels, or lack thereof? It’s as if the people who’ve posted reactions have never even heard of Scientology or even toyed with the idea that The Master might be at least an oblique commentary about it. Weird.

I’m aware, of course, that Phillip Seymour Hoffman and others have contended that the film is “not about Scientology”, but I’ve yet to read a piece that explains clearly and precisely how ‘the Cause’ differs from Scientology or goes further and asks “where did anyone get the idea that this might be about Scientology? Because it’s so not that!” Or something along those lines. Have I missed something?

Put another way, did an early decision by director-writer Paul Thomas Anderson to avoid specific allusions to Scientology result in the austere spareness of the film?

“Explanations are pared away; background for ‘The Cause’ that Master (Hoffman) represents is implied, hardly ever explained. Motivations of secondary characters are elided. There’s hardly a force onscreen beyond Master and Freddy (Joaquin Pheonix). Amy Adams, as Master’s wife, has three scenes that show her to be yet another sort of master in the emotional equations.” — MCN columnist Ray Pride, posting on 8.17.12 following Chicago Music Box screening.

My God, does this film sound dense and spare and mesmerizing and all but impenetrable!

“Though it’s not me, it’s cinema that’s all fixated on pants and hair and the Citreon DS.” — Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.

A person who saw The Master last night at the Museum of Moving Image in Queens responds: “Oh, I wouldn’t call it ‘impenetrable.’ While you’re watching it, it’s extremely direct and emotional. The alcoholism of the characters is portrayed very bracingly. It’s when the thing’s over and you’re piecing the various stuff together that it actually gets more mysterious. While you’re in it, it’s incredibly direct and uncomfortable and all the narrative eliding that Pride talks about doesn’t register so much. I’ll be interested in how you like it. if you’re open to it, I suspect it’ll affect you an awful lot.”

“God, that Vishnevetsky guy seems like a smirky little prick!

“As for the Scientology angle or lack thereof, well, yes, of course, the stuff that Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd is doing bears quite a resemblance to L. Ron Hubbard‘s scheme, in both the particulars of the beliefs and the building of the ‘church.’ But not always in the way you expect, and it’s certainly not the movie’s mission to make a commentary on Scientology. The belief system kind of stands in for all belief systems, in a way. You’ll get it when you see it. The movie’s theme is far more primal and elemental than that of a mere sociological/cultural phenomenon.”