In the Second World War, a young man by the name of Freddie serves in the American Navy. He is an alcoholic with a talent for making drinks from paint thinners and other harmful substances. On a beach as navy men make the figure of a naked woman in the sand, Freddie simply comes over and lies down on it and attempts to have sex with it. At first they laugh thinking that he is just joking but as Freddie continues to shake and hug the sand sexually, they realize that he is weird. They stay away from him and he is also in his own world lazing under the sun and not saying much. Even the navy establishment realizes that he has problems and the shrink gives him an evaluation. But that is all the Navy can do with someone that strange.
The Second World War ends and Freddie enters civilian life as a photographer in a high end shopping mall. This seems like a great job, as Freddie is a good photographer and has a hot girl friend who works there as a model. Women are attracted to Freddie and Freddie is not boring. He is simply detached and has a severe drinking problem. He gets into a fight with a client, is fired, and now roams America aimlessly. All this is established in an absorbing and believable manner by the one and only Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie.
Then there is the chubby charismatic man who is known as ‘The Master,’ a rich novelist who has a cult following. This character and his story are based on the founder of Scientology. The Master interviews people and records their answers on tape. He has devised a technique which he claims allows people to recall events from their ‘past lives!’ Say you have a fear of heights, its because thousands of years ago, as a caveman you fell from some mountain and now in these modern times, in your current body, you resent tall buildings.
Some of us have become too rationale because we drive on the road and do technical things like playing cd player, and tell microwave exactly how many seconds it should heat the food. We live with cell phones and ever present electricity and too many ceiling lights. But try to really understand the emotional weakness which the Master is exploiting. Feeling lazy and don’t like your co-worker? Its because in Ancient Egypt he was your sworn enemy and you were a Pharaoh and he pushed you into the Nile. Don’t like your job? How can you, when you were a pirate who lived free and wild four hundred years ago in the Bahamas. Who wouldn’t want to believe such things?
By the way this film does not move fast and is even boring at times. But it will stay with you because when Freddie comes into contact with the Master, a very great philosophical question is being asked and it is also answered. Not by one dialog or some clever one liner, but all the scenes are adding up to a realization which you can take with you. I say no more because it should be experienced.