Esotericism and the ‘Walking Wounded’

Last night I watched The Master, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Joaquin Phoenix, respectively playing an L. Ron Hubbard-type esoteric group’s leader (making stuff up as he goes), his wife and collaborator,  and an erratic alcoholic sailor who becomes, for a time, his follower.

I rented it mainly because I have long been a big fan of Hoffman as an actor who disappears into roles (especially Capote), rather than just playing variations on himself. And The Master is more about character than plot — the plot itself could be summarized in one sentence.

Walking the dogs this morning, I started fantasizing that if there were a School of Esoteric Management, this movie could be shown in class, followed by lengthy discussion, because what esoteric group does not have its “Freddy Quells” (Phoenix’s character)?

Eighty years ago, the occultist Dion Fortune made dismissive references to “lecture room tramps,” the people who came to lectures and presentations by this teacher or that, but who never really committed to any system.

Freddie is not looking for teaching necessarily — he literally stumbles into “The Cause,” and “Lancaster Dodd” (Hoffman) decides to demonstrate his method of quick psychological breakthrough and cure on him. For a time, Freddie becomes a loyal follower, even a kind of enforcer. But in the end, he is too damaged for “The Cause.”

Esoteric groups always attract the psychological “walking wounded” who are looking for a quick fix and excitement. Even Jesus of Nazareth had Judas the Sicarius, who seemed OK for a while but was really the kind of unstable fanatic who today would strap on a suicide vest.