In the months leading up to its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, “The Master,” remained hidden behind a well-guarded curtain, with only a few details making their way out to the public. The first description of “The Master” and the one that the media continue to latch onto claimed that this would be Anderson’s “Scientology movie.”
While most people associated with the movie, including Anderson himself, have tried to distance “The Master” from the Scientology connection since the promotional tour started at the Venice press conference (via The Washington Post), the writer-director clarified where the inspiration for his film stands in relation to L. Ron Hubbard and the controversial religion.
For the most part, Anderson repeated what he’s already stated in the handful of interviews he’s given for “The Master,” that the film isn’t so much about the religion; it just uses a similar organization to frame the story. “I really don’t know a whole hell of a lot about Scientology, particularly now,” he said. “But I do know a lot about the beginning of the movement and it inspired me to use it as a backdrop for these characters.”
Further downplaying the connection, Anderson said that Hubbard being the basis for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd “is not an elephant in the room.”
“The Master” tells the story of two men, Hoffman’s Dodd, a leader of a Scientology-like organization, and Freddie Quell, a wayward sailor played by Joaquin Phoenix, who finds himself spiritually lost after World War II. Anderson emphasized that the story focuses primarily on these two men and the bond they form.
Also addressed at the press conference was Anderson’s relationship with perhaps the most famous Scientologist, Tom Cruise, whom he directed in “Magnolia.” Anderson screened the film for Cruise, but wouldn’t comment further on the actor’s reaction to “The Master.” “We are still friends,” Anderson said. “I showed him the film and the rest is between us.”
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