Why 'The Master' is a Crucial Film for Joaquin Phoenix

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Why 'The Master' is a Crucial Film for Joaquin Phoenix
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Joaquin Phoenix

"The Master" (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson) is creating quite a stir in Hollywood. The film, which some allege is loosely based on Scientology, is set in the 50s and follows a captivating leader named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his right-hand man, Freddie Quell. For Joaquin Phoenix (who plays Freddie) this film marks a pivotal point in the actor's career, despite his incredibly long roster of films. Why is "The Master" such a big deal for Phoenix? Several theories abound…

Joaquin Phoenix is "Still Here"…

The kitsch of Casey Affleck's mockumentary (and Phoenix's last film) "I'm Still Here" was lost on many audiences. There are several people who still believe that the awkward, disheveled character seen on David Letterman was in fact the real Joaquin, headed for a downward spiral. Indeed, some of the persona was probably derived from the "U-Turn" actor's twisted psyche. But it took seeing him perform seriously in "The Master" for people to realize that he was mentally intact.

He had become disillusioned with the acting process.

"I'd see child actors and I'd get so jealous, because they're just completely wide open. If you could convince them that something frightening was going to happen, they would actually feel terror."

Joaquin used this explanation to describe how some of the passion for acting had been lost in his quest for being the best, most-serious actor. Retreating into a character that confused people (in Affleck's mockumentary, "I'm Still Here") is perhaps something that he relished. In fact, he believes that being able to completely let go during filming the odd project is what refueled his ardor for the craft.

Who remembers "Two Lovers?"

Despite the fact Gwyneth Paltrow and Joaquin headlined this intense 2009 romantic drama, the film remained largely unnoticed. At that time, we believed that "Two Lovers" (which received a limited U.S. release) was actually his last film. Critics loved the poignant story. Nonetheless, it seemed like an anti-climactic way for him to exit the Hollywood scene. We had no idea of the cinematic uproar that would eventually come.

The Obvious Draw? Scientology

Ever since the scandal of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' divorce broke, Scientology has (again) come under fire---becoming a huge focal point in the entertainment world. Although no one has specifically claimed that "The Master" is a direct representation of Scientology, parallels have been drawn. Phoenix's turn in the film seems to be serving him well; he's already garnering awards for the role. As such, his performance is likely to create yet another outpouring of interest in the strange philosophies of the religion. Hollywood loves controversy, and what better name to place at the center of it, than an actor who thrives on living outside the box?

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