Top 100 American Movie Quotes of the 21st Century: #86

The actor:Philip Seymour Hoffman
The character:Lancaster Dodd
The film:The Master
The quote:“Close your eyes. From now on you are not to blink. If you blink we go back to the start.”

There are three categories of great lines from The Master. The first is a small category. It’s lines from skeptics in a tizzy, like Lancaster Dodd’s son Val (“He’s making all of this up as he goes along. You don’t see that?”) and after a time, Freddie Quell (“You’re making this shit up! You make this shit up!”). The second is a very small category, in which Freddie is doing something amusingly base like seeing vaginas in every Rorschach blotch he’s presented.

The third is a much larger category, one which has to do with the indubitable intensity of a highly dubious faith. The Cause, even by the low standards of proof which we generously provide to world religions, is really unlikely. Nonetheless its adherents believe in it with the fury of martyrs, no matter how odd its leader’s musings are. I love that late scene in the film—Paul Thomas Anderson loves a good desk as an obstacle between his characters—where Lancaster and Freddie see each other one last time. The former details to the latter that they used to know each other in Paris, sending messages via pigeon and balloon “in the worst winter on record.” He sings “I Want to Get You on a Slow Boat to China.” I love that scene which I’ve written about so many times in which Lancaster’s attempt to stay even with an obstreperous nonbeliever fails with a screamed “PIG FUCK.” And I love this scene where Freddie is first inducted into the rituals of the Cause. Without transitioning in words between “close your eyes” and “don’t blink,” Lancaster brings Freddie into Processing. Processing brings a person into the Cause, and more potently brings Freddie into a state of reflection which he has actively avoided for years, if not since always.

The intensity of the Cause is frequently symbolized with sight itself. Not blinking, which I imagine a lot of us do a great deal when we’re looking at our mobile gamest, isn’t all that hard when you don’t think about it. Think about not blinking and one is almost immediately compelled to do so. Yet Freddie’s personal vehemence, which finds its expression in anatomically correct women in the sand, in drinks made with turpentine, in brusque failure to work as a department store photographer, finds an outlet here. It is the simplest command, one which is entirely physical until it’s entirely mental. Don’t blink. If you blink there is a consequence. There is no way of knowing how long one must not blink until it’s over. It’s a challenge laid down to the kind of person who is unable to resist a challenge. In this moment, The Master provides us with one of the most dramatic head-to-head combat scenes of the aughts, all the more potent because the combatants are seated.

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