The feedback from last night’s Chicago screening of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master says four things: (1) it’s a serious and formidable 70mm banquet of a movie, (2) it’s definitely a head-scratcher, (3) you probably need to see it twice in order to figure it out, and (4) it’s probably not worth flying to another West Coast city (i.e., an option that I learned about yesterday) to catch The Master before the Toronto Film Festival. I’m very much looking forward to it, but I can wait.

It would appear (emphasis on that word) at this juncture that The Master‘s Oscar potential is more in the realm of Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Supporting Actor (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a.k.a. “Philly”), Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams) and Best Cinematography (Mihai Malaimare Jr.) rather than Best Picture or Best Director.

I’m sorry but it sounds (emphasis on that word) like your typical 62 year-old white-guy Academy member is going to go “huh?” or, at best, “Hmmm.”

To go by tweets from last night’s Chicago screening of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master, everyone was deeply impressed by the 70mm cinematography but almost no one could explain what it means or amounts to. Tweeter after tweeter wrote (and I’m paraphrasing) “I think I have to sleep on it” or “Uhhm, I need to see it again” or “this is precisely the kind of movie that defies instant analysis” and so on.

A tweeter named B.G. Loony, a.k.a. “TheMentalDefect,” wrote, “If you need me, I’ll be at sea mulling over The Master for the rest of the year.”

It’s obviously significant that Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, a major critic, tweeted a joke instead of an attempted summary of some kind. He called The Master “the greatest pants movie of our time,” adding that “you really need 70mm to appreciate all the trouser textures and high waists.” In film critic-ese, a comment like that translates as “what the fuck was that about?” He added that “it was definitely a movie” — another comment that says “I can’t make heads or tails out of this thing.”

Tim Horsburgh wrote that “if you know what is going on the head of any of the characters in The Master, then you are a better Thetan than I.”

A guy called DrNeptune declared that The Master is “one awesome, crazy mess of a movie.”

Screen Daily‘s Patrick McGavin attended and has written a mini-review for Movieline. What does it say that McGavin’s first three graphs are neutrally descriptive and that the first enthusiastic opinion he shares is about the cinematography?

“Running 137 minutes (without final credits), The Master traffics in the director’s trademark themes. The first third of the story appears highly indebted to Orson Welles‘s great and potent 1946 noir The Lady From Shanghai. It’s another of Anderson’s brittle and audacious portraits of wounded masculinity and sexual panic.

“Set in 1950, the story details the complicated emotional interaction of Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), a hollow-eyed World War II veteran who casually insinuates himself into the inner-workings of Lancaster (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a huckster proselytizing for a new self-help religion that has been likened to Scientology.

“Like Mark Wahlberg‘s debased porn actor in Anderson’s Boogie Nights, Freddie constructs an elaborate alternative family from Lancaster’s entourage that results in much unintended conflict when some members of the insular and tight-knit group –especially Amy Adams, who plays Lancaster’s wife — consider him too willful, naive and insufficiently faithful to be a worthy apostle.

“Visually, the movie is a marvel of precise and lyrical imagery. One sustained single-take tracking shot follows a young woman as she models a fur jacket. In another vivid, sexually hallucinatory moment, Freddie imagines all the women surrounding Lancaster during a musical number naked. The 70mm image, with its saturated colors and solidity, casts its own spell. In the first of several tense encounters between the two men that functions as Lancaster’s inquisition of the tremulous Freddie, Anderson unflinchingly keeps the camera tight on their faces. The scene plays out in one long, unbroken take, and the effect is hypnotic.

“As with There Will Be Blood, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood provides a percussive score that’s even more astringent.

“The second half is less audacious and more problematic. The crowd’s reaction was excited though also muted, possibly as a result of fatigue since the closing credits didn’t roll until just before 1 a.m.. Given its complex — and dark — subject matter, The Master is likely to be championed by critics and specialized audiences and largely ignored by the larger public. But last night in Chicago, it ruled.”