Fall Preview | Five things you should know about The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film remains shrouded in secrecy.

Photograph: Phil BrayTHE MASTER unfolds the journey of a Naval veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) who arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future - until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Earlier this month, the Music Box Theatre hosted a sorta-secret, 70mm screening of The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie about the relationship between a spiritual leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) in 1950s America. If you weren’t able to snag a ticket to the special event, here are five tidbits to hold you over until the film opens locally September 21.

1 The movie is about Scientology…more or less. Anderson and his cast have remained mum on the subject, but who’s fooling whom? Parallels between Hoffman’s religious figure and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard are too numerous to count. (One big example: They both have wives named Mary Sue.)

2 Joaquin Phoenix delivers the performance of his career. As disturbed Navy veteran Freddie Sutton, the 37-year-old actor taps hidden reservoirs of rage and confusion. It’s an even wilder turn than the one he offered in the phony documentary I’m Still Here.

3 This is Anderson’s strangest movie, by a long shot. And no, we’re not forgetting There Will Be Blood, with its milkshake taunts, or Magnolia, with its raining frogs. Critics and audiences agree: One viewing is not enough to make sense of this bizarre character study.

4 The movie features new music from Jonny Greenwood. The Radiohead guitarist composed the score—his second for Anderson, after There Will Be Blood. It’s as atonal and oddly beautiful as anything off Kid A.

5The Masteris the first fiction feature shot in 70mm since 1996’s Hamlet. But will more Chicagoans get to see it in the wide-gauge format? The Music Box, the only local commercial venue with 70mm, is working on scoring a print sometime this winter. Until then, though, the Weinstein Company has “made other arrangements” and will be showing the movie elsewhere, presumably in a lower-quality version. Somewhere, Tom Cruise is laughing maniacally.

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