Philip Seymour Hoffman received his fourth Oscar nomination for portraying Lancaster Dodd the titular character in The Master.
I do think Hoffman's role can be reasonably taken either as supporting or lead as he does take over twenty minutes to appear in the film, but his impact is tremendous in the first scene where he speaks to Freddie. The voice that Hoffman uses here as Lancaster Dodd is masterstroke with his deep command that resounds in a special way that makes you listen to him no matter what he may be saying. In his first scene with Freddie, Hoffman gives Dodd an uncompromising stare that seems to delve deeper into this man's mind than one expect. Dodd describes himself as hopelessly inquisitive, and Hoffman holds this inquisition in the face of Lancaster Dodd that shows that Dodd is fascinated with this young man.
In his earliest scenes Hoffman is a charismatic giant as he goes about the ship with an absolute sway. He is the Master of these people, and Hoffman portrays exactly why and how this is. There is a likability to Dodd here seeming like he only wishes well for his followers, and besides his words at the wedding there is nothing that would make one really too suspicious of this man. Hoffman is very welcoming in these scenes in a special way having a warmth among the group, and making it especially easy to believe how so many of these people would look right up to him. Hoffman makes Dodd a fascinating enigma here as he should be to both Freddie and the audience. Hoffman makes a wondrous impression leaving Dodd as someone we only wish to know more about.
One of the strongest scenes in the film takes place in early in the film when Dodd decides to have Freddie undergo his treatment known as processing. This scene is a unique pairing of actors with Phoenix's wild performance (which I will get to soon), and Hoffman's more restrained performance as Dodd. What is amazing about Hoffman here is the fact that he is never forgotten in these scenes despite the camera lingering mostly on Freddie. Hoffman makes Dodd this persistent force in these scenes and an incisive man who keeps piercing through the defensive to find whatever truth Freddie may hold. Hoffman brings this processing to life in a vivid way through his strict portrayal of Dodd's method which is uncompromising and extremely powerful to witness.
Hoffman does something very important in these scenes which is to have all the conviction possible in a human being. He does not seem to portray even the slightest doubt as he speaks about his theories of time and the past lives of individuals for over a trillion years. Hoffman gives such an assurance to Lancaster Dodd that fully realizes the potential of this character. He has a such a significant pull and sway that it is so easy to see how Freddie would be as captivated as he is. For a man who is filled with only doubts and hesitations of his life, Hoffman makes Dodd the perfect representation of the opposite. Hoffman allows Dodd to be the man who seems to seem to have all of the knowledge that he claims to have. Hoffman allows Dodd to be just as he should be.
Of course after they leave the boat we soon see the greater truth behind Dodd in one scene where a man questions his ideas behind his religion the Cause. Hoffman is tremendous in this scene as he shows how slowly Dodd begins to burn beneath the surface, and finds himself barely able to keep himself together as he ineffectually defends his ideas against scrutiny. When he finally does lose his hold on his anger we see a very different Dodd than the man we first met from the start. His voice loses his pitch, he loses his empowered demeanor, he resorts to the lowest form of insult against the man. Hoffman is brilliant because it is just for the slightest moment that portrays Dodd's loss of his Svengali like power, and reduces to basically an uncultured louse.
From that moment on Dodd just is never quite the same anymore, even though Hoffman shows him to be a man who tries to cover for himself very quickly. The simple fact of the matter is though the unblemished armor Hoffman made on the ship we first meet him on begins to quickly show kinks in this armor that never becomes repaired. Hoffman carefully rebuilds Dodd back to the way he was, but it is clear that there is more of a facade to the man than there seemed to be originally. There is a much darker side conveyed about Dodd after this scene that does not ignore those who disagree with him but instead seems to want to possibly violently injure them. There is a raging deep rooted vile within Hoffman portrayal of Dodd that suggests if he was truly in a position of power he could be capable of horrible things.
In the scenes with his congregation later Hoffman still shows to be a charismatic individual once again, but this time Hoffman carefully suggests a lesser man. As he sings his songs and looks among his congregation of many women, there is less the look of a passionate leader of these people, and more of that who is perhaps interested in these women as a lecher rather than a teacher. This leads to the very disturbing scene where his wife Peggy (Amy Adams) pleasures him well threatens him putting in him in his place, and importantly in this scene Hoffman alludes even more to the truth behind Lancaster Dodd. In this scene Dodd seems in a way a pawn himself not to his wife exactly, but to his own cult he has created. Hoffman is compelling because he allows us to see that perhaps he is not even able to escape what he has created.
The pivotal part of the film is of course the relationship between Freddie and Hoffman and we see that Dodd sees Freddie as more than just another member. This all seems to start in the scene when both end up briefly imprisoned, with Freddie out of control, we see more of Dodd once again. Hoffman again shows that when Dodd's charisma is failing him he quickly reduces to an uncultured and uncouth man just sprawling insults in an entirely unrefined manner that perhaps is the true Dodd. As he loses it with Freddie in the cell we still see him attempting to hold onto his task, although in a very different way. In this case he does it with none of the style or suave behavior he exhibited before instead showing Dodd just an average man trying to calm down the out of control Freddie simply by saying he is the only man who likes him.
A great portion of the film ends up being Dodd's attempt to reform Freddie and make him a true member of the cause. Hoffman cleverly leaves a nice bit of interpretation for why Dodd tries so hard to change Freddie in, and allows several conclusions. One being that it is simply to show of the power of the Cause, that is possible not entirely satisfactory to the complex way that Hoffman portrays Dodd. It could be that Dodd feels that if he can't bring Freddie around it proves his own weakness, again Hoffman allows this to be part of it but not the whole. Hoffman subtly suggests that Dodd has a certain connection to the wild man Freddie, something Dodd never could really be. Hoffman creates this underlying force that brings him to want to hold Freddie in his power, because perhaps in a way Freddie is the sort of man Dodd would like to be but never could be.
Again we see Dodd work his ways with Freddie and the full force of the cult at hand. Hoffman portrays Dodd in his ways as he pressures every aspect of the training to make Freddie part of the Cause. Hoffman once again brings to life the full extent of the power within Lancaster Dodd's method. In this case Hoffman makes it less of one powered attack as with the original processing but rather a slower deliberate process of forceful indoctrination. Again Hoffman makes the sway the techniques have on Freddie believable due to the confidence and strength Hoffman brings to the proceedings. In these scenes Hoffman pulls the strings allowing Dodd to be The Master of his cult as he organizes all of them around bringing Freddie into the fold.
Later on Dodd decides to release the second part of his manifesto to the public, and before he goes out to his people we see him brewing alone briefly. This scene is pivotal to Dodd, and though a silent moment Hoffman is excellent in showing the struggle in Dodd's mind in the moment. Here more than any other scene he suggests Dodd own doubts about himself, in this moment lacking that conviction of the cult leader of before. Instead he portrays the true man of the moment, a man no longer entranced by his own abilities instead allowing the flaws of his own concepts brewing in his mind in a way that leaves him a far different man than the over confidence from the beginning. After this moment he comes out in his empowered way, but Hoffman powerfully makes this far more of an act than ever before.
Hoffman is allowed once last scene of Dodd meeting Freddie for the last time. This is an outstanding scene by Hoffman as he creates the end of Dodd. Hoffman verbally displays a certain hatred and violence toward Freddie for leaving him, but in the same moment displays Dodd's fatal attempt to bring in Freddie to the fold once more. Both attempt by Dodd seem in a strange way half-hearted by the expression of his face. Hoffman is spectacular in expressing the idea that Dodd is perhaps in a prison himself by the way he seems not to be holding back hatred this time but perhaps a warmth toward Freddie that he must keep in place knowing that he must reject the type of man Freddie is to keep within his cult. It is a brilliant end to his performance making an understanding of how such a man as Lancaster Dodd could exist as well as how such a man could become trapped by the very thing he created. This is tremendous portrait of such a man by Philip Seymour Hoffman that realizes such a difficult character with believability and a complexity that is astonishing.