TRAILER: Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master — Is Scientology on Blast?

Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master - Chicago screening

A war veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) with a "nervous condition" finds himself entrenched in a cult — if not a religious cult, at least a cult of personality — built around a charismatic leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. At long last, after a series of enigmatic teases, the first full trailer has hit the web offering more than just abstract, beguiling peeks at the rumored Scientology drama. So how much L. Ron Hubbard is there in Hoffman's Master?

The trailer alights on Phoenix's Freddie Sutton as he wanders into the world of writer, doctor, nuclear physicist, and theoretical philosopher Lancaster Dodd, whose Hubbard-esque writings are glimpsed. (The way Dodd pens the dedication of his novel — "As a gift to Homo Sapiens" — is a bit of scripting brilliance that hints at Dodd's grandiose, bombastic personality in just a single glance.)

Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master - Trailer

Things seem innocent enough as Dodd and his wife (Amy Adams) welcome his new charge into the fold. "We'll urge you toward existence within a group, a society of family," Dodd says. Like Scientology, this group promises self-improvement through community, though suspense kicks in as an accuser drops the c-word — "cult" — sending Dodd's group onto a more sinister path. "The only way to defend ourselves is to attack," Adams spits.

It all certainly seems to be calling out Scientology and its founder, moreso the unflattering public image of its followers in the eyes of the outside world — organized faith-peddlers masking dubious claims behind their eccentric figurehead, desperate to protect themselves against scrutiny or worse. It might not seem so Scientology-esque if the tales of ex-members exiting the group weren't so dramatic, or if Katie Holmes hadn't reportedly been followed by a gang of Church members following her separation from Tom Cruise, the kind of crazy story that highlights the organization's more bizarre characteristics.

But does The Master really seem to be about Scientology at its core? Not much is apparent so far. The parallels are there - the author-turned-spiritual leader, the cult-like tendencies, the insular power dynamic within and without, not to mention the suggestion that it's all a sham — and maybe Anderson's taking an overt jab at the Church by using the bones of Scientology's story to set up his own. But Anderson's films explore larger human themes within narrow, specific worlds; it feels reductive to call The Master a Scientology movie just yet, though how much specific criticism can be drawn from the story remains to be seen.

So forget the Scientology ties for a moment. This trailer looks fantastic, and though it hints at much more of the plot than we've seen previously, it's still tantalizingly mysterious. Most surprising is Amy Adams, who commands attention as Dodd's wife with glimpses of a mousy-to-Lady Macbethian arc throughout the trailer.

Watch the trailer debut via Yahoo:

[vodpod id=Video.16513930&w=630&h=350&fv=vid%3D30033391%3Dtrue%26volume%3D100%26enableFullScreen%3D1%26lang%3D]

The Master will be released on October 12.

Follow Jen Yamato on Twitter.
Follow Movieline on Twitter.