How Did Scientology Influence 'The Master'?


Historic Parallels

The similarities extend beyond scenes. Details of the film appear to be ripped from the history of Scientology, from the type of boat Lancaster lives on -- a cattle trawler, the same boat Hubbard sailed on in the 1960s and '70s -- to a speech Lancaster makes in Phoenix about the power of laughter during processing sessions. In 1954, Hubbard gave a lecture on the theory of laughter and auditing in Phoenix.

Lancaster claims his processing sessions can treat diseases that started "trillions of years ago," such as leukemia. Kent said that dovetails with Scientology's weariness of modern medicine. "The assumption that Scientology makes, and it's in writing, is that 70 percent of illnesses are psychosomatic," he said. "A number of Scientologists, when people get sick, the first thing they do is go into auditing. The first instinct is not to go to a medical doctor."

Even Lancaster's appearance and personality bring to mind Hubbard in the 1950s. A robust, well dressed man with blond waves of hair, The Master fancies himself a party thrower and often croons while he carouses.

"Hubbard would, on occasion, have parties," Kent said. "He saw himself as a master entertainer and singer."

When Freddie first asks Lancaster who he is, The Master describes himself as a nuclear physicist, a doctor, and a man of many hats.

"That's straight Hubbard," Kent said. "Hubbard claimed he was a nuclear physicist. He also claimed he could heal people."

And then there's the year the movie takes place, 1950, when Hubbard's first edition of "Dianetics" was published. "1950 is a pivotal year for Scientology," Kent said. "It was the foundation for what became Scientology.

But while Scientology inspired "The Master," it isn't its focus. The rise of "The Cause" serves as a backdrop to the ebb and flow of Lancaster and Freddie's relationship. Whatever similarities exist between the film and Scientology, critics and Anderson have ended up emphasizing the performances of Hoffman and Phoenix, which come awards season, may prove to be "The Master's" legacy beyond the Scientology buzz.

"I look at these guys not like father and son. They're a little more like, not even master and servant," Anderson said in Venice. "I think we were just trying to tell a love story between these guys. And we had a lot of scenes that weren't about that and we just took them out and the narrative, for whatever the narrative ended up being, just ended up being driven by these two guys and their love for each other."

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