The Master: From Script To Screen
With the book now closed on 2012 films and awards season in full swing, we thought this would be a good opportunity to dive a little deeper into one of our favorite films of last year, Paul Thomas Anderson’s most recent opus, “The Master.” Though not your typical awards bait, the film has nonetheless managed to rack up an impressive number of accolades including the title of Best Film of 2012 by Sight & Sound, Rolling Stone and the Village Voice among others.
The production had a long (and well documented) road to the screen but we’ve yet to really dig into exactly how much the film changed from that rough draft we read back in 2010 to the version that landed in theaters this past September. The Weinstein Company recently posted the WGA nominated script on their FYC site and though it bears only a few noticeable differences from the earlier draft we reviewed back in 2010, it is significantly different from what ended up onscreen. Since “Punch-Drunk Love,” Anderson has become a more confident storyteller, allowing his films to evolve as he’s making them. Joaquin Phoenix described the process back in September saying, “Paul will write many, many scenes that won’t make it into the movie,” adding that Anderson doesn’t worry about continuity, is open to improvisation and often scenes that might take up one-eighth of a page can shoot for a day and a half.
Though many have noted how much of the footage from the teasers & trailers didn’t make it into the final film — an intentional move by Anderson and editor Leslie Jones to give of the flavor of the film without actually spoiling it — the screenplay also takes significant detours from the final film with entire deleted sequences, subplots and dialogue that radically alter the DNA of the piece. And while the film is ultimately a more compelling effort, it’s fascinating to compare the two versions. We would guess only about 60% of what’s on the page ended up onscreen so if you’re at all curious, the screenplay is definitely worth reading as a literary companion to the cinematic offering. While some moments in the screenplay now seem extraneous, by excising certain scenes Anderson has changed the nature of various relationships between the characters and obscured certain aspects of the story that were made clearer in the text as you’ll see below. Since we already highlighted many of the overt Scientology connections in our script review, we won’t dwell on them here. Needless to say they are there if you’re looking for them, many were scaled back for the final cut.
We’ve broken down the script into sections to note the film’s biggest deviations from the text and needless to say, there will be major spoilers so you should only read on after you’ve seen the film. Before we dig into the big changes, we thought would be worth pointing out that in the screenplay Freddie Sutton (not Quell) is described as being 28 years old (as opposed to the 38 year old Phoenix) and Peggy (Amy Adams) is called Mary Sue though we’ve referred to her here as Peggy to avoid confusion.
1. ALTERNATE OPENING (1-5)
One of the most striking sections of the film is the opening 10 minutes featuring Freddie on the beach at the close of WWII, drinking his special brew out of a coconut, humping a sandwoman and explaining to his shipmates how to get rid of crabs. The first thing you’ll notice when opening the screenplay is that absolutely none of this is in the script. Instead, the screenplay opens directly with Freddie being given a psychological exam by an army doctor in a scene similar (though not identical) to the one in the film.
After this, in the script, Freddie escapes from the hospital leaving a note that says “I’VE GONE TO CHINA. SEE YOU AGAIN SOMETIME. THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP.” This moment can be glimpsed in a deleted scene from the film and helped to thematically tie The Master’s choice of song at the end of the film, “(I’d Like To Get You On A) Slow Boat To China,” back to this moment. Subsequently Freddie visits a gambling club and gets mugged outside before we finally arrive with him at his job at the department store and the text matches back up with the film.
2. FREDDIE FIRST MEETS THE MASTER (11-17)
Another memorable moment in the film is the first meeting of The Master (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Freddie, which in the screenplay is actually their third encounter. In the script, Freddie first sneaks onto the ship and slips on a tuxedo, at which point he first sees The Master and his family in the dining hall. In a controversial scene that was cut from the film, he’s drugged by the bartender and passes out. When he wakes up he’s confronted by The Master and their conversation takes on the tone of an interrogation, with the paranoid Master repeatedly asking Freddie if he’s a Russian spy. Freddie is eventually dragged away from this confrontation to sleep it off and when he wakes up from this nap, he meets The Master yet again and this conversation is the one seen in the final film.
3. THE MASTER’S SPEECH AT THE SOCIETY PARTY IN NEW YORK (48-52)
In the film, we see The Master and co. arrive by ship at the docks in New York to be greeted by follower of the Cause, Bill White (Kevin J. O’Connor), the man who Freddie gets into a fight with later in the film. In the screenplay, it’s revealed that Bill is responsible for the Harley Davidson (seen later during the Pick-A-Point sequence) which he gifts to him upon arrival and The Master rides to the apartment of aging socialite Mildred Drummond (Patty McCormack). In the film, the group enter the fancy her New York apartment and then it cuts to The Master digging into the past lives of the hostess.
In the script, however, The Master first captivates his audience via a lengthy 2+ page monologue where he explains in grand fashion why he finds himself walking with a limp everytime he comes to New York. According to The Master, through processing, he learned that in his past life as “a thief and a criminal” in 1888, he robbed a bank for gold and evaded authorities by escaping into the sewers, only to be faced with a 25 foot alligator. Rather than face the beast, he dropped the gold and escaped but not before shattering his knee in five places. This tall tale ends up coming into play later on in another deleted sequence as Freddie leads a band of men into the sewers to look for The Master’s gold. After this, The Master begins to dig into Mildred’s past lives, at which point he is confronted by “Pig Fuck!” John More (Christopher Evan Welch) who he silences in the script with the more graphic outburst, “Slimy little piece of cum fuck!”
4. “THE ONLY WAY TO DEFEND OURSELVES IS ATTACK.” (57)
Peggy Dodd’s speech just following the blow-up at the society party is featured almost word-for-word in the screenplay. “WE WILL NEVER DOMINATE OUR ENVIRONMENT THE WAY WE SHOULD UNLESS WE ATTACK.” But on the page, quite crucially it’s The Master who gives this speech while Peggy stands silently by him. By having Peggy deliver this dialogue in the film, Anderson radically shifted the power dynamic of the couple, making it clear that The Master may wear the pants in public but Peggy dominates behind closed doors.
5. CLARK & FREDDIE GO TO A BURLESQUE CLUB (58-66)
In the film, Freddie and Master’s son-in-law Clark (Rami Malek) have a very adversarial relationship, with Clark attempting to rat Freddie out as a “spy” and Freddie offering to fart in Clark’s face. In the script however, their relationship is even more complicated. Initially, the pair seem to get along until Clark eventually becomes an antagonist for Freddie. On the way to visit heckler “Pig Fuck” John More, Clark opens up to Freddie, telling him that he’s indebted to The Cause because Book One helped him more than an army shrink ever did. Remember in the film, Freddie shuts Clark down later on by using his own navy service as a measure of his manhood while Clark falls silent, meaning a decision must’ve been made later on to make Clark not a veteran.
When Clark and Freddie burst into Moore’s apartment to deliver his beating, the script follows the brutality all the way through. Freddie drags John across the floor as John’s wife looks on in horror. Freddie ties up both of them and steals a few valuables before they both flee the apartment. Clark only looks on but does nothing to stop him.
In one of the more interesting deleted scenes in the film, the pair set off to a burlesque club. There, Clark tells Freddie that when he first arrived, people thought he might be a spy, there to steal The Master’s latest book. Clark reveals the secretive nature of the material, saying that all who had read the manual “either went insane or committed suicide.” He says the book contains “the truth about life on this planet” and Freddie asks what something like this might be worth. Clark estimates $25,000 but says the true value is “incalculable.” This exchange is interesting because it indicates that Freddie might actually be interested in stealing the manuscript after all, a charge leveled at him in the film by Clark, which appears fabricated but seems to have basis in truth in this version of the script.
While the pair have this conversation, Freddie ogles a topless dancer, Ellen, who he propositions before passing out. Clark drags him back to his hotel (a sequence glimpsed briefly in a deleted scene) and the next morning, Peggy tries to send Freddie off for good. But The Master steps in and takes Freddie aside to tell him that his son Val (Jesse Plemons) is the one often “finding trouble” and that Freddie should keep an eye on him. After this, Freddie is visited in his room by Master’s daughter Elizabeth (Ambyr Childers) who goes even further in her attempts to seduce him than in the film, planting a kiss on him and dropping her robe to reveal her naked figure.
6. FREDDIE VISITS HIS COUSIN BOB (69-75)
After being told by The Master to keep an eye on Val, Freddie tracks him from their hotel to a coffee shop in the Village where he sees Val meeting with Bill White, his girlfriend and two men. After being unable to discern what the meeting is about from his vantage point across the street, Freddie gets bored and calls his 17 year old cousin Bob who also lives in New York. He tells Bob he’s coming over and heads to his cousin’s West Village apartment where a party is going on. Despite the presence of girls and booze, Freddie convinces Bob and a few other boys from the party to come with him up to Harlem to look for the stolen jewels that Dodd had described dropping in the sewer there 60 years prior.
The five ride up to Harlem and descend into the sewers armed with flashlights and a sledgehammer. Freddie leads them as they begin busting away with sledgehammers but eventually their search turns up fruitless. Even as Freddie’s faith is shaken he doesn’t want to disappoint the group so he pretends to find the jewels he lifted from Mrs. Drummond’s apartment and shares them with the other boys. Elated, the group heads back to Bob’s apartment to celebrate. After everyone else passes out, Freddie leaves a note that says, “I’VE GONE TO AFRICA. SEE YOU AGAIN SOMETIME. FREDDIE” (which echoes Freddie’s earlier letter), along with the stolen jewels and takes off.
7. THE GROUP ARRIVE IN PHILADELPHIA (75-80)
In the film, The Master and co. arrive at Helen Sullivan’s (Laura Dern) Philadelphia estate like old friends but in the screenplay she’s revealed to be just another admirer. Helen writes a letter to The Master promising him a nightly audience if he’ll bring his teachings there and he agrees. When they arrive in Philadelphia, the group is thrown a lavish welcome party where a woman named Joan Banks (possibly Melora Walters, who was cut from the film) sings and The Master’s daughter Elizabeth plays the piano. This scene was likely reconceived by the “I’ll Go No More A-Roving” sequence. But nowhere in the screenplay does it mention The Master singing that song or Freddie daydreaming about all of the female guests being nude.
One of the more ambiguous bits of dialogue in the film is when Peggy tells The Master, “It didn’t work for them and it’s not going to work for you” during the Master-bation sequence. In the screenplay however (and as many viewers might have inferred) it’s made more explicit that the “them” she’s referring to are the Mormons and what “didn’t work for them” is polygamy. In the screenplay, Master openly flirts with Joan Banks during the party but overplays his hand. “Something that Joseph Smith had right: the breeding and development of the group… doubled, tripled with certain…. a certain marital structure…how clever. Something to look at deeply for a growth…” This rant explains why Peggy feels compelled to re-assert her power in the following scene by giving him a handjob and also showing him who’s boss.
8. JAIL SCENE (84-86)
One of the most memorable scenes in the film is undoubtedly the jail sequence with The Master and Freddie. In the script, the scene is similar to the one onscreen but contains more dialogue where Freddie confesses that he wants to fuck all the girls at the house. The Master tells him that there’s nothing wrong with that because “sex is not an aberration” and Freddie reveals that Val was the one who called the police. One can infer this was something discussed during Val’s secret meeting with Bill White and might explain why Val is so casual on the porch as the police arrive.
When Freddie returns to the house, Val has written “YOU’LL NEVER GET BETTER” in lipstick on his mirror, which once again shows him to be a much more antagonistic character on the page.
9. FREDDIE FLIES TO PHOENIX (88-95)
In the film, we cut to The Master and Freddie in the desert digging up the manuscript without any context or explanation, but in the screenplay, the Phoenix trip is set up as a mission for Freddie. When Freddie returns to the house, he is confronted by the group to stop boozing. Once he agrees, Master decides to send him to Phoenix to help protect them from potential dark forces like “CIA, Russians, Catholic Church, [etc.].” The Master tells Freddie that once he arrives he should dig up a box containing “valuables, personal and confidential” which is buried underneath the house. (In the film, The Master and Freddie dig up these up together in the desert). In the screenplay, we follow a newly-sober Freddie on the flight to Phoenix as he begins to detox, sweating and shaking.
When he arrives, he finds that The Master’s “large ranch-style home” has been ransacked. There are “holes in the walls, sockets ripped out [and] floor boards ripped up” which means either The Master has coordinated this himself (which seems excessive even for a showboat of his caliber) or he’s not completely paranoid after all. Freddie digs up the mystery box (supposedly containing The Master’s latest manuscript) from under the house and takes it to the bank to deposit in a safety deposit box. At the bank, Freddie calls The Master to tell him about the break-in and The Master suggests that Val could be responsible or perhaps just some “crazed lone lunatic for all we know. Certain atomic agencies wouldn’t mind a crack at it, I’m sure.”
10. FREDDIE CHASES DOWN A MYSTERY MAN, BEGINS TO PREACH THE CAUSE (95-100)
After the break-in at the house, The Master tells Freddie to head to a local motel to keep his prized possession safe. After checking in, we see a brief sequence where Freddie imagines himself opening the box and flames burst forth from inside, engulfing his head and body before “blowing his head off.” We cut back to reality where he continues to detox, sweating and throwing up throughout the night. Flames erupting from the suitcase can be glimpsed in a deleted scene in the film, though Freddie appears to be in an office, not a hotel. In the morning, Freddie leaves his hotel room only to catch a mysterious figure lurking nearby.
In the one major action sequence in the screenplay, Freddie chases after this figure “in full-ready-for-anything-mode,” looking in rooftops, alleys, etc. before finally giving up and depositing the box at the bank. After this, we see Freddie speaking to a group of 20 or so followers about the Universe Process Congress of the Cause, handing out flyers and doing a radio promo (as seen in the film) before meeting The Master and co. who have arrived at the airport. By this point, Freddie is finished detoxing, he’s now “clean cut and wearing a nice suit.” Back at the house, Freddie gives The Master the key to the safety deposit box, and The Master informs him that his son-in-law Clark has been sent away to Denver for a “secret mission.”
11. BILL & FREDDIE GET INTO A SCUFFLE (101-105)
In the film, Freddie gets into a fight with Bill White after he suggests that The Master’s new book might’ve been better as a pamphlet after the convention in Phoenix. In the script, Bill White arrives at The Master’s home in Phoenix and finds Freddie on the front porch. Bill asks why he hadn’t been invited to the Phoenix congregation and begins to get agitated about the workings of the organization. “You know what this all is? Huh? It’s mental cruelty. That’s what it is,” Bill fumes, explaining he feels scammed by the Cause for continually having to pay more money to get to the next step. (This moment is one of many that have been called out for explicitly recalling the S-word). “It’s just mental cruelty to invent all these new ideas and never follow through on it and just keep adding and subtracting and I gotta pay for this and that level and more and more… and Book II’s coming. All the answers… if you had that, it’s no good ‘cause here’s the new thing…and noh no…you don’t need that… that’s old… this is new.” As Bill goes to leave, Freddie attacks him and the two get into a fist fight much like in the film.
12. FREDDIE CUTS OFF THE MASTER’S HEAD (106)
In the screenplay, The Master’s speech at the convention in Phoenix is nearly identical to the version in the finished film but the scene plays quite differently on the page. In the screenplay, as Freddie becomes disillusioned with The Master’s speech, he approaches the stage and cuts off The Master’s head. Well, technically it’s a daydream but would’ve still been a pretty jaw-dropping moment in the context of the story. After The Master rattles on about the secret to the universe being “laughter,” Freddie imagines himself walking up to The Master, pulling out a large saber and cutting his head clean off as it rolls out into the audience. Along the way Anderson must’ve gotten shy about some of the more flamboyant moments in the script and stuck to a more grounded direction. Though we can’t imagine the film would’ve been better with this sequence, we’d still be fascinated to know how close this came to being filmed.
13. TOO TOUGH TO DIE (109)
One of Freddie’s most defining physical characteristics in the screenplay was dropped entirely before filming. In the script, Freddie is covered in “amazing, intricate tattoos: birds, ships, flags, palm trees,” which he gathers during the course of the film, and after riding off during Pick-A-Point, there is a bridging scene of Freddie on a freighter mixing up a batch of liquor. It’s revealed there that he’s now sporting a new tattoo that reads TOO TOUGH TO DIE. Again, it seems like it was an unnecessary trait now but we’d love to know how close it came to filming before it was dropped. Imagining Phoenix in all those tattoos still seems like a stunning image.
14. FREDDIE FALLS / HOSPITAL STAY (115-119)
After Freddie visits the Solstad house, we arrive at the movie theater. In the film, we cut from Freddie dreaming in the movie theater– something many viewers seemed to miss but it’s quite clearly edited in a way that indicates he’s dreaming Dodd’s entire phone call– to Freddie arriving in England. In the screenplay, Freddie takes quite a different detour. As he wakes up after his phone call, Freddie accidentally falls off the balcony of the movie theatre onto the auditorium below and ends up in a hospital. In an episode of chance, he hits the ground right next to Ellen, the burlesque dancer he met during his night out with Clark. She accompanies his unconscious body to the hospital and when he wakes up, she tells him that his advice helped saved her life. Freddie asks her if he’s dead or dreaming and she assures him that he’s not. Seeing this stranger who had meant so much to her in such a damanged state, Ellen begins to cry. Freddie decides to track down the The Master and calls the Cause College of Phoenix who confirms Freddie’s dream, that The Master is indeed in England.
15. THE END (120-125)
In the film, the shot of Freddie walking down a tree lined street is replaced in the script by war-ravaged London but other than some minor differences, the final sequence with The Master and Freddie plays out much the same as it does in the film. The Master, not Peggy, delivers Peggy’s dialogue about “This is not fashion. This is something you do for a billion years or not at all….” which makes sense that Anderson would transfer that to Peggy as well to assert her as being a less demure character. During their final conversation, The Master asks Freddie to sign a contract to serve the Cause for 3 billion years, which Freddie silently passes on.
Like the film, the screenplay ends with Freddie sleeping with Winn Manchester (Jennifer Neala Page), described in the text as a prostitute, though his closing words, “…now put me back in” appear to have been an ad lib.
APPENDIX (SEQUENCES NOT IN THE SCREENPLAY)
There are also a significant number of scenes in the film which are not anywhere in the script (though it’s completely possible the Weinstein Co. have posted a draft which was not the final shooting script on their site). These scenes include: the close up of Freddie in the war, everything on the beach, Freddie drinking rocket fuel on V-J Day, soldiers being debriefed (as inspired by “Let There Be Light”), the inkblot test, every scene with Doris (the script only mentions her by name), “I’ll Go No More A-Roving” naked dancing scene, the window to the wall sequence, Peggy reading the Victorian porn, Freddie & Clark facing off during Application 45 Version 1, Freddie and Master digging up the manuscript (in the script Freddie digs it up alone under a house) and The Master yelling at Helen Sullivan.
For a full list of sequences that were filmed but not included in the final cut, see Cigarettes & Red Vines: Guide To ‘The Master’ Deleted Scenes.