P.T. Anderson's 2012 masterpiece and my favorite film of the year, The Master, has many plots. These are just a few.
An alcoholic who cannot find grounding in reality. Joaquin Phoenix, as Freddie Quell, is a sociopath with no sense of social "decency." He acts a child, bullied by a hypocritical, mean world that alternately uses and rejects him. He once loved a girl but couldn't find the means to support a life together; haunted by this failure, he runs from all possible reminders of a real, grounded life.
A sex-addict who cannot find love. Freddie brilliantly masturbates himself through the film, from the gorgeous opening beach sequences to being jailed next to his mentor. In a hilarious sequence, he is questioned by the military psychologist, identifying every picture presented to him as some form of "pussy." The film unsurprisingly ends with Freddie trying to climax with a female stranger.
A war vet who cannot find his place. Freddie goes from job to job, without being able to hold onto anyone in particular. He has a knack for creating strong and original alcoholic drinks, which draws the attention of Lancaster Dodd, who he soon learns is an author and cult figure. Anderson's beginning exploration of a man lost in the United States landscape is hauntingly beautiful and strongly captures a sense of lost hope and emotional aimlessness.
A cult leader frustrated by mediocrity. Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Lancaster Dodd, is a smart, perceptive and persuasive man who seeks to lead the world around him yet runs into outside criticism and an upper class only thirsty for a thrill but no real change. In Freddie, he sees a violent, sad, yet original man who confounds the usual mediocrity of his life.
A cult leader seeking to find his own self worth in "saving" a lost man. If Dodd can save Freddie, he can prove that his formulations on life work and that he is more than a fraud. He can save an utterly lost man who has no place in the world. He can supply him, through reaching the depths of Freddie's soul, with the purpose that in turn will give him his own sense of worth.
Two overly sensitive, misunderstood men who find exception, love, purpose, and self-worth in their mutual relationship. This is a beautiful, mysterious, rapturing and perfectly acted relationship between two of the most interesting characters in film.
This is the best film of the year because it is utterly visually arresting, paced to perfection, acted with the fullest, most ecstatic energy, and tells multiple stories, all revealing fundamental truths about life, love, loneliness, religiosity, and freedom.