It's been 15 years since Paul Thomas Anderson became a critical darling with the premiere of his sprawling '70s porn epic Boogie Nights. As widely liked as the movie was then, one couldn't have anticipated the quantum leap Anderson's already impressive skills would take over the next decade-and-a-half, as he crafted films as diverse and challenging as Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love and his masterpiece, There Will Be Blood. Put alongside those titles, Boogie Nights stands out as his most conventional movie; it's a straightforward rise-and-fall-and-rise-again Hollywood narrative that just happens to take place in the adult film industry rather than bright lights of the studio world. Seen today, the film is still a lot of fun -- before it goes to some truly dark places in the second half -- packed with great performances (it's still a crime that Burt Reynolds didn't win that Best Supporting Actor statue he was nominated for) and lots of razzle-dazzle filmmaking, but it's also a reminder of how much richer and complex Anderson's pictures have gotten since.
The writer/director's latest feature, The Master, which opens in limited release on Friday, appears to be one of his most daring and provocative efforts yet. The '50s-set film stars Anderson regular Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, a spiritually hungry World War II veteran who starts his own religion (clearly modeled after Scientology) that attracts similar lost souls, including Joaquin Phoenix's angry young man, Freddie Quell. The Master seems light years removed from Boogie Nights in terms of its formal style and searing dramatic content, but another viewing of Anderson's 1997 film did make us realize that there are a handful of characters from Boogie Nights that we could easily envision forming their own cultish spiritual moments... not that we'd want to join them, of course.
Played by: Burt Reynolds
Profession: Director of adult entertainments and father figure to his galaxy of stars.
Type of Cult: An artistic, free-love collective dedicated to the pursuit of reality onscreen and the primacy of celluloid. Any kind of camera that records a digital image is banned from the communal living space and partner-swapping isn't just permitted... it's encouraged.
Guiding Philosophy: "There's shadows in life, baby."
Eddie Adams a.k.a. Dirk Diggler
Played by: Mark Wahlberg
Profession: Porn movie superstar with the biggest piece of equipment around and an insatiable appetite for the latest in fashion trends.
Type of Cult: A self-help movement dedicated to finding and cultivating the special something that exists inside of every individual. Believers follow a rigorous course of kung-fu training and songwriting to locate their inner specialness. Absolutely no drugs allowed, apart from the narcotic known as youthful idealism.
Guiding Philosophy: "I am a star. I'm a star, I'm a star, I'm a star. I'm a big bright shining star."
Played by: Heather Graham
Profession: Adult film temptress best known for her flowing blonde locks, killer figure and signature roller skates.
Type of Cult: Having realized that slowing down to take stock of your life usually only results in unhappiness, Rollergirl teaches her disciples to simply keep on moving forward, following your own beat and doing what feels natural. Self-reflection is actively discouraged in favor of a moment-to-moment existence where the past ceases to matter because you're not paying attention to it.
Guiding Philosophy: "I don't take my skates off. And don't fucking come in me"
Played by: Don Cheadle
Profession: Reluctant porn actor and aspiring stereo retailer who foresees a future where consumers will want to purchase high-quality equipment at discount prices... a prediction that later became a reality in the age of Best Buy and Radio Shack.
Type of Cult: An audio-centric faith that worships at the altar of high-fidelity anything and encourages followers to pursue their dreams, no matter how unlikely they might be. Holy objects include the TK-421, which boasts the kind of quads per channel that forces followers to drop to their knees in devotion.
Guiding Philosophy: "Oh, I think you need all that bass."
Played by: Alfred Molina
Profession: Amateur drug dealer and professional party animal with a collection of mix tapes boasting the latest in pop hits.
Type of Cult: Taking their cue from Dionysus, Jackson and his followers only seek to create a non-stop bacchanal of music-fueled hedonism where all of one's whims can be indulged at a moment's notice. Under their belief system, true enlightenment can only be attained while putting a gun under your chin while rocking out to "Sister Christian."
Guiding Philosophy: "I don't like to be told what to listen to, when to listen to it or anything."
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