"You do this for a billion years or not at all. It's not fashion," declares Amy Adams' character, the wife of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), to a straying acolyte in their business-like post-Second World War cult called The Cause, obviously modelled on Scientology. Here, in his hypnotic and gorgeous feature (shot in 70mm), Paul Thomas Anderson weaves a fable about a shell-shocked sailor, Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), an animalistic, hypersexual drunk who finds himself on an ocean yacht commanded by a charismatic leader who claims to be a nuclear scientist, doctor and philosopher. Taking Freddie into his inner circle, Dodd labours to turn him into an example of his transformative method, though his interest is obviously deeper: either homo-erotic or a recognition of a mirror of his own madness. Along with the intense intimacy of the scenes between the two men, the film offers its own beautifully realized form of past-life regression in its detailed recreation of of post-War fashion, decor and music. Phoenix's performance is a revelation; Hoffman evokes Orson Welles at his most grand and tragic. The singularity of Anderson's vision will keep this from being exactly a hit, but there's been no more accomplished or, frankly, masterful a movie released this year.
Sun., Sept. 16, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1, 6 p.m.