Heyo, I’m back. Computer is fixed and I’ve quite a few things to review (The Last Station and some classics I caught over the past week+). I’ve also gotten into the habit of reading scripts and fortunately for me, I have connections and was able to read the Untitled Scientology script by Paul Thomas Anderson. One of the few in the world, I believe, so I’m quite content with myself.
SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD: It isn’t the type of film you can really spoil, but because I have to ‘prove’ myself now it divulges into the plot and themes far more.
PLOT SYNOPSIS: Freddie, a young man in his mid-20s, has his appendix burst. Not a man too concerned for family, he abandoned his routes after a falling out with his 16 year old girlfriend (he was an adult at the time) and found his calling with the Navy. However because of this medical problem, he can no longer handle the rigorous tasks the Navy calls upon their men. Isolated and looking for a new reason to continue living, Freddie becomes an alcoholic at the snap of finger; so much so that he brews his own ale — an ale so strong that, when in southern US, a poor immigrant worker drinks ‘an unbalanced quantity’, goes into convulsions and is assumed to have died while Freddie scampers away from the site.
Afraid of being caught, Freddie hops aboard the first vessel he spots. Half drunk out of his mind, half worried for his life and half looking for work, this type of calculation indicates the mess that is Freddie. Aboard the ship, a man that goes by Master (the role Philip Seymour Hoffman is set to portray and who is an allegorical L. Ron Hubbard) begins to guide Freddie. He asks him odd questions in an attempt to rid him of his dependencies. This is where they begin to bond which snowballs into a far more friendly affair.
Master has a family — a wife and four children (three daughters, one about to get married, and a son) — and a group of followers that adhere to everything he says. He’s also skeptical of strangers, which allows for this generally composed character to have moments of frantic uncertainty. It will be vastly interesting to see what Philip Seymour Hoffman does with the role because it’s undeniably his most diverse to date.
WHAT PTA DRIVES AT: Well, the film is about finding your identity (as stated… it’s really that vague or reads that way) with Master trying to cohort dowdy people to formulate some truth they can all abide by. They’re all misfits in a way. There’s a contrast when Master’s daughter gets married that shows a perhaps more ‘competent’ way of life; rejecting his new belief.
It also shows how much one will strive to achieve a true reflection of self. Freddie gets tattoos after he’s gone through his trials to show anybody willing to peel away a single layer (of fabric) from him who he is and what he’s all about. He gets a tattoo “Too Tough To Die” to commemorate falling off a balcony at a cinema (while drunk), which takes an ironic turn when he lands next to a woman he seduced with his impertinence, heavily discussing Scientology at the time. She tells him she saved his life with that knowledge — she in turn stayed by his side at the hospital until he awoke.
As I love in cinema (and others do as well, I’m sure) there is a unique contrast of characters. Freddie has long been hindered by giving up on the love of his life because he thought he could find himself at sea, while Master has a loving family and appears to have himself figured out. Freddie is erratic, Master is wise — but the tables tend to turn with Master being a tad more flimsy with logic and Freddie being more assertive. Master’s son is also appalled by Master’s work within the ‘church’. This adds an additional element in that you may believe that Master is trying to replace the son he doesn’t care for with Freddie. This would explain why he tries so hard to mold the young man who is on the verge of killing himself with his homemade drink. Master’s song and dance at the end to Freddie evokes how much Master adores him. It borders homosexual, but I sense it’s more of a way to bond with him… like a son. This conflicts with Freddie’s interpretation of the world which leads to the final scene…
Freddie laying in bed with a new woman (named Winn). He continually asks her what he name is (reiterating ‘who are we?). At the end he says “Maybe this isn’t our only life”. This left me with the impression that Freddie’s heart still resides within the Master’s group, as he tells him his spirit has traveled for thousands of years and inhabited other bodies. And even though he is drunk while he says this — something the Master wanted him to give up completely — it implies that the conflict in finding yourself will never be resolved.
So it isn’t straightforward in any way and is thematic on a broad spectrum. It also has tidbits about how entrancing sex is — Master yelping out “Master” while his wife jerks him off in a scene; Freddie’s continual incestuous relations with his Aunt because “it felt good”; the sins of flesh assumed in the final scene. There’s a segment here where Master’s daughter attempts to seduce Freddie, but he declines her advances. Be it because he felt apart of the family or believed that a stable mind need not sex to live (which is juxtaposed to the scene where Master gets a reach around, where you start to heavily question Master)
OVERALL IMPRESSION: The script was mashed together rather haphazardly (like this review, ha… ha…) which led to some jumbled moments with Anderson’s abrasive use of caps lock and underlining. Apparently he believes half of his script is extremely important. I’m sure that all of this will find resolve when he directs the film. Same goes for the few instances where PTA places “Insert Dialogue Later” during parties or get togethers. Menial stuff and not anything that derails the cadence of the story.
I was asked if there were any memorable set pieces in the film like the derrick in There Will Be Blood or the frogs in Magnolia. There aren’t any, although a motorcycle is fairly prominent when characters wish to throw off the shackles of life and be free. I’d imagine the cinematography may treat the vehicle with an abundance of glamor if Anderson feels it important to highlight the importance of freedom. If he does this, it undoubtedly clash with the dejected theme he aims for and question why the all the character’s just don’t go out and buy motorcycles to cure their woes. Eh.
For the lead role of Freddie, I imagined a Paul Dano type. Perhaps a little bit bulkier as one would imagine a slightly bloated gut to accompany alcoholism and a burst appendix. Someone mostly scrawny and who can play off drunkenness well will do favorably in this part. Hoffman as Master is a wicked choice — expect a second Oscar win for what he puts himself through. The rest of the cast is rather plain… it’s like a The Last King of Scotland in that sense: two major characters and everyone else just, well, there.
It reads at 124 pages. If you go the traditional minute per page, you get just over two hours. Of course, I think that’s too simply a strategy, so I go by what I feel it is. The first 10-15 pages are heavily descriptive, so I imagined them slightly longer. I figure this will be about 135 minutes long without credits. So perhaps 140 minutes overall.
FINAL WORD: Poorly written, but excellently constructed, Untitled Scientology is one of the better scripts I’ve ever read (not too big a feat, but…). In addition, it has an ending that will keep you thinking — I know it has for me, and I read it two days ago. PTA’s assembling of themes is, as always, individual. With the ability to exploit Scientology (or all religion, if he’d wished), Anderson instead deflects any parody to that of a personal variety. Rather than demean a group, he quizzes each of us. It isn’t what you’d expect a film to be about when “the origins of Scientology” are in the cards, so I applaud Anderson for making this grander than the cinematic cheap shot one would anticipate.
It’s more Punch Drunk Love than anything else as he utilizes a distinct mood to drive an age old theme. There are also smaller things mentioned throughout the course of the film like communism and how Master is afraid that people (some communists, some not) are trying to get him. Trademark Anderson: a lot of ruminating to be done when the curtain comes down. Of course, it boils down to how he plans on directing this film that will make it or break it. If he goes a more refined route (a la Boogie Nights or There Will Be Blood) as opposed to his diverse ways (Punch Drunk Love) during production, I’ll like it more. If he doesn’t, I’m sure it’ll still be a good feature — just not as for me.
Oh and a reply to The Playlist people because when I click “Post a Comment” it gives me ‘Bad Request’.
If you happened to read the opening of my review, I insinuate that this is my first ever script review (one that hasn’t been leaked at that, so I’ll obscure the plot more as to not offend). I don’t like giving too much away about a film, however if people would rather have the majority of the film explained to them then fine, I’ll comply. I’ve revised it: it certainly did need the adjustment. You’re right there. Just take my reviews as the antithesis of yours: caring to preserve story and explain thought.
And what? ‘Your source’ is skeptical of me? And you also believe that I may have read a script not written by Anderson himself… and you won’t believe me until you read said script? Alright, well I’m not about to leak the thing. How about a page to quash your pessimism?
UPDATE: It’s three, almost four years later, and I fucking nailed it! In your face, Playlist bitches. <3 Tyler