Can creepy be high quality?

My question of the day, after seeing the film The Master, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is this:  Can a film that felt really creepy to sit through also be a masterpiece? Not saying that The Master is a masterpiece, but it has some excellent qualities and has received some four-star reviews.  There were several fine acting performances (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams). The cinematography was terrific, even though I saw it in digital format rather than the 70mm in which it was filmed. Unfortunately many theaters are switching to strictly digital projection.  

Freddie Quell, the Phoenix character, is a man of many mental disorders, some of them possibly brought on by drinking darkroom chemicals.  (Ok, so there is an advantage to digital film.) Let’s just say if you met him at a party, you would find another group of people to talk with. Lancaster Dowd, played by Hoffman, is a seemingly charismatic character, who brooks no dissent from his philosophy of The Cause. A guest at a party, played by Christopher Evan Welch, raises probing questions about Dowd’s approach but they are answered by shouts and not discussion.

The film was kind of scattered. Some parts raised questions that weren’t answered.  Furthermore, at 140 minutes, it was about 30 minutes too long for my taste.  And as I said, it was kind of creepy … partly because I have a problem with religion of any type. (I agree with Bill Maher that they are all cults.) But the people and the plot were unpleasant to spend time with. For most of the film, I wouldn’t have minded just walking out of the theater. The really tight closeups and intense conversations between two people surely increased the claustrophobic nature of the film.

However, this may be a film that warrants a second viewing. Michael Glover Smith in White City Cinema says: “I suspect The Master will be a polarizing movie. But it’s also a film that clearly isn’t revealing all of its secrets on a single viewing and so I’m skeptical of all judgements, including my own, until I’ve had a chance to revisit it. The Master is the first new film I’ve seen since Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy that seems to cry out for multiple viewings.”

Certified Copy was an intriguing and beautiful film, and I liked it partly because it generated a really good discussion. So maybe I’ll see The Master again. But I reserve the right to leave in the middle.

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