The Master Gets Its Scientology On in 2nd Trailer


The second trailer to Paul Thomas Anderson’s upcoming film The Master was just released, and this time we get a look at Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams along with Joaquin Phoenix.

We gave PTA credit for being wily with his first trailer — for years, we’ve all been waiting to see how much The Master parallels the life of L. Ron Hubbard in the early years of Scientology, but Anderson managed to dodge that question with our first glimpse of the film, which featured Phoenix’s character before meeting up with Hoffman’s Hubbard.

Now, in this second trailer, there’s really no doubt who Hoffman is portraying.

“What do you do?” asks Phoenix’s character, and Hoffman responds in full Hubbard mode:

“I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher, but above all I am a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you.”

Well, this is going to be fun. Hubbard, of course, loved to tell people (especially in the early days — he started things off with the book Dianetics in 1950) that he was a physician and nuclear physicist. Neither was true, of course. In 1932, Hubbard did take one of the early classes in “atomic physics” at George Washington University, but he flunked it, and left the school without a degree. (Here’s his transcript.)

Amy Adams is looking like a dead ringer for Mary Sue Hubbard — LRH’s third wife — and she’s even called “Mary Sue” in the picture.

We also see Hoffman/Hubbard putting Phoenix’s character through a sort of “sec check” at the end of the clip, interrogating him in a style that maybe is a bit more rapid-fire than we’ve been led to believe happens in Scientology.

The film is scheduled to open here in October — film sites are saying that it might also play the Venice film festival in August.

With this second trailer, I think we can conclude two things. First, there is no question that L. Ron Hubbard and the early days of Dianetics/Scientology is the raw material that Anderson is drawing from. But I think it’s also pretty plain that this is not intended to be a history of Hubbard and his invention.

The filmmaker is riffing on LRH for a fictional film, not creating a biopic. My guess is that Anderson wants to explore the idea of a charismatic leader and his new-religion invention, and how that leader attracts and holds onto followers like Phoenix’s troubled ex-Navy man. In Scientology’s early years, Anderson found rich material for that project, but that doesn’t mean that this will be an attempt to explain how Scientology was born and grew. (Or even that it will dwell on Scientology’s many controversies.)

Still, it should send curiosity of Hubbard and his invention sky high, and we’re looking forward to that.

As one of our readers noted, the first question that Hoffman’s “Lancaster Dodd” asks Phoenix’s “Freddie Quell” in his rapid interrogation is “Do you linger at bus stations for pleasure?”

That sure sounds like the third question in the vaunted “Oxford Capacity Analysis,” the lofty name Hubbard gave to Scientology’s “personality test” that it asks people to take as their initial come-on to the church:

“Do you browse through railway timetables, directories or dictionaries just for pleasure?”

It’s another dead giveaway that Anderson is mining Scientology for the film, but it’s also out of place here — we get enough context from the clip to see that Dodd is asking Quell these questions not when he’s first meeting the man, but at a moment of crisis (Quell appears to be in jail).

A member having some kind of breakdown in jail is not when he’d be quizzed from the personality test, which again fits our thesis that Anderson is taking random bits from Hubbard’s actual invention for his fictional film. Like I said, this is going to be a lot of fun picking out these elements.

UPDATE: OK, I’ve gone back through that overlapping voiceover that takes over the last third of the trailer to pick out individual questions and statements. Here’s what I think I hear — and there are other statements that I couldn’t quite catch. Also, one of the voices seems to be neither Phoenix or Hoffman…

Do you linger at bus stations for pleasure?

Do you get muscle spasms for no reason?

Do your past failures bother you?

You are an everlasting spirit, Frank.

I don’t believe you.

Do you like to be told what to do?

Is your behavior erratic?

Do you find interest in…

Your life has never stopped.

You’ve always been unusually truthful to others.

You’re unpredictable.

Then, we get Phoenix’s great line in the jail cell:

I know you’re trying to calm me down, but just say something that’s true!

As one of our readers pointed out, this overlapping voiceover isn’t necessarily happening in the same jail cell scene, and the questions that sound like the Personality Test may in fact be from an earlier scene when Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd first introduces Phoenix’s Freddie to his version of Scientology.

That second question, about muscle spasms, does sound very much like the OCA’s sixth question, “Do you get occasional twitches of your muscles, when there is no logical reason for it?”

And the following one, about past failures, is nearly exactly a copy of question 21: “Do your past failures still worry you?”

I’m getting chills.

So the upshot: we have Hoffman, as Lancaster Dodd, saying very Hubbard-like things about being a doctor and a nuclear physicist. Also, he seems to be called out as a liar by Phoenix’s character. We also have a pretty extensive use of the Oxford Capacity Analysis — the personality test — that Scientology uses to get beginners curious and into the process of taking classes and auditing, during which they learn that we are all immortal beings who have lived countless times before.

Can’t wait for more.

Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.

New readers might want to check out our primer, “What is Scientology?” Another good overview is our series from last summer, “Top 25 People Crippling Scientology.” At the top of every story, you’ll see the “Scientology” category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.

As for hot subjects we’ve covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and was sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology’s “Mecca,” whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.

Other stories have looked at Scientology’s policy of “disconnection” that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We’ve also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there’s plenty more coming.