Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master is the film Scientology maybe doesn't want you to see. But while it makes deliberate allusions to L. Ron Hubbard's sci-fi pseudo-religion, that's not what it's actually about. For the first 30 minutes, we're alone with Joaquin Phoenix's Freddie Quell. In that time, he mimes intercourse with a female-shaped sand sculpture, then masturbates into the ocean; undergoes a Rorschach test in which he reports seeing only genitalia; and attempts to choke a customer at his postwar job as a mall photographer. Stowing away on a boat, Quell eventually encounters Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a pink-hued huckster selling salvation through "the Cause," a self-help movement based on a variation of repressed-memory therapy. It's here that Anderson drops in bits of Hubbard's biography. But as Quell and Dodd become increasingly intertwined, the Scientology allegories fade into the background. Abetted by grandiose 65 mm cinematography and a crazy-making score from Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, The Master is an ambitious enigma that never figures itself out, and that's precisely what made it one of 2012's best films.

  • Showing at: Academy, Laurelhurst.
  • Best paired with: Ninkasi Oatis Oatmeal Stout.
  • Also showing: Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse. (Cinema 21).