This column is dedicated to bringing a critical eye to new trailers by examining their creative aspects -- regardless of whether or not they provide accurate samplings of the features they're designed to tease.
In a startling display of ostentatious mise-en-scene, Freddie initially appears sprawled on his back, his face obscured from view. The boat's triangular edges surround him to claustrophobic effect as the nondescript men on the lower deck scramble about, symbolizing his disconnect from other people. While we don't know if this shot takes place during Freddie's time in the military or after he's drawn into the cult's exploits in international waters, the image gorgeously displays Freddie's sense of being adrift in life -- both physically and otherwise.
A Healthy World...Or Is It?
The early seconds of the trailer display a rash of post-WWII iconography, drawing out America's self-satisfied public face in the wake of its robust global power. This phenomenal long shot of brown-hatted farmers, their garb striking a lovely contrast to the green of the field, has the magical allure of a faded postcard brought to life. But the deep shadows spread equally throughout the frame hint at darker forces lurking just beneath the surface.
"…a doctor, a physicist, a theoretical philosopher…"
Lancaster introduces himself to Freddie in vague terms that echo throughout the trailer in much the same way they appear to fog up Freddie's mind. Lancaster presents his conceptual approach to human behavior with such confidence that Freddie (and many others) can only see him as a wise leader. This image reveals the element of theatricality that Lancester uses to reinforce his ideological authority.
"I wonder how he got here, and what he's after…"
Obviously, the ruse works wonders. Lancaster presents himself as a man of the people -- his people, of course -- as he's seen here dashing through the aisles and stooping to their level as if hugging the entire crowd at once. The makeshift roof in the background provides a firm reminder of the veil Lancaster uses to keep his minions from seeing the bigger picture.
"Is your behavior erratic?"
Balancing off the earlier image of Freddie on the boat, the sailer appears here with his arms outstretched over the waves, in apparent peril. The shot arrives after a series of tense encounters between Freddie and Lancaster show the cultist's routinely coolheaded attempts to inject his rambling therapeutic approach into Freddie's consciousness. The younger man's evident vulnerability, hauntingly displayed here, testifies to the gullibility of a fragile mind.
Watch the trailer for "The Master" below: