September 22, 2012 7 Comments
P.T. Anderson’s The Master is great, primarily as an artistic presentation of a very dark subject: the manipulation of mind control. Not mind control in the mass psyche which this blog focuses on generally, but in the localized cult setting. Loosely based on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, The Master is an in-depth display of the tactics and techniques of manipulation, brainwashing and mind control, as the Hubbard-esque Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) plays the puppet strings with the fledgling cult. Dodd’s focus in the story is the base vagrant Freddie Quell, who stumbles upon a yacht rented by Dodd and finds temporary work. Interestingly, Hubbard himself possessed a similar yacht for a time, particularly during the heyday of his mountebank activities.
While most people have a vague idea of Scientology, most are unaware of Hubbard’s occult activities prior to creating Scientology. Hubbard was involved in Crowleyanism for several years and “graduated” from his period of occult tutelage. In effect, this meant that Hubbard had mastered the tools of manipulation and human psychology. Hoffman plays Dodd brilliantly as a charismatic con-man (essential for any cult leader). In this regard, what is lucidly portrayed are actual mind control techniques used by cults.
Principally, Dodd uses repetition of vague phrases, reaching into Quell’s subconscious to find the weaknesses in his psyche, as well as traumatic incidents involving war experiences, an absent father and sexual sins. After bringing up these traumatic incidents, Dodd quickly elicits warm-fuzzies by appealing to Quell’s most pleasurable memories surrounding a youthful flame. As the manipulation progresses, Quell is subject to a back and forth process of acceptance and rejection, where the individual is given a proxy family (the cult), and then fears exclusion and exile. A pattern emerges, and the individual’s will is subject to mandated meaningless, repetitious actions (often under sensory deprivation), with the goal of disorienting the psyche, and attaching it to the welcoming father and mother archetypes (Dodd and his wife, played by Amy Adams). Quell’s conditioning, termed in the film “processing,” is eerily reminiscent of trauma-based mind control. In fact, the film is really about Dodd learning to become a charismatic, slimy master of human manipulation. Read more of this post