Few months ago, I had the fortune of watching Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie The Master. I call it a fortune because the movie was shot with a 70 mm film camera (which is extremely rare nowadays), and New York City was one of the few cities that had a movie theater with a 70 mm projector. Being a cinephile, words cannot possibly describe how happy I was.
For those of you who didn’t watch the movie (and I assume it’s the majority), The Master is about a war veteran named Freddie, who recently came home from the Second World War. Like many veterans he struggles to readjust to society, but his mental instability deters him from having a normal job. Then he comes across a religious cult group named “The Cause,” found by a writer, doctor, nuclear physicist, and a theoretical philosopher (if you believe all this is possible) named Lancaster Dodd, or “The Master.” Initially, Freddie takes a liking to the movement and is wholly devoted to its cause, before becoming frustrated at his inability to conform and change even with the teachings of The Master. During its release, The Master was subject to many controversies for its depiction of Scientology—for as you know, any remote reference to Scientology is guaranteed to garner media frenzy and gossip in Hollywood.
However, The Master hardly has any relevance to Scientology at all. In fact, The Master really shows us how we want to control our lives the way we see fit. Freddie wants to take control over his life via the philosophy of The Cause, and Lancaster Dodd wants to control Freddie and in extension his followers with his ideology. [SPOILER ALERT] In the end, Freddie once again becomes the wandering sailor he was when the movie started, and The Master is questioned by his followers for changing some of his philosophical/religious doctrines. As such, the movie really tells us that our attempts at becoming the master—whether that is of our lives or others—is doomed to end in futility.
Have you ever heard of a Chinese finger trap? It is a toy that traps a person’s index fingers; strangely, the harder you pull your index fingers in attempt to get out of the trap, the tighter it will be. The solution to the trap is simple yet counterintuitive: you have to push your fingers instead of pulling it. This simple puzzle designed for kids has a remarkable truth in it: the only way a person can be free is to curb his will in front of God. The harder he tries to pull his life towards his direction the more he will fall in to a trap. However, if he pushes his life towards God, he is a free man.
In the Book of Proverbs in the Holy Bible, it says:
“Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.”
As such, God wants us to wholly devote ourselves to His works. In front of God, I—as an individual, with all my devices and thoughts—am secondary. Just like the Chinese finger trap, we have to push ourselves to where God is if we want to have control over our lives, for only then does God say that he will bless us in all that we pray for. As Christians, it seems like the only way to define ourselves is to deny who we are.