Starting now, for every plot hole complaint that appears this thread, I will euthanize a kitten. Samsong and Tictacbk, that means you. (I'm including Tictacbk preemptively.) The Master is like swiss cheese, and that's part of its beauty. It has gaps everywhere: gaps in time, gaps in space, gaps in logic. The rug-pulling that the trailers do is an obvious extension of that.
Anyway, if people really need to know how Freddie got to England and found Dodd... there were ways to England in the 1950s, and The Cause wouldn't have been difficult to look up.
I love the way Freddie fights. It's so bizarre and comical, like he's messing with people and shuffling them around. Instead of throwing punches, he sort of pulls and wrestles and tangles with them clumsily. Like he just wants to play. As for the scenes where Freddie beats people up in defense of The Cause, I think he's just being tribal. It's his family/tribe they're insulting, and he reacts like a primate.
What's really fascinating right now is all the business concerning things that didn't happen or might not have happened, i.e. the "imagine" vs. "recall" question. This must be one of our big opportunities for interpretation. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that during Freddie's first processing, it was clear that at least some of the flashbacks to scenes with Doris had NOT actually happened, that half-remembered or complete fantasy bits were materializing in his mind. That's my position until a repeated viewing or until someone can convince me otherwise. Those fragments reminded me so much of Inland Empire's "reliving" scenes.
@ Brando & Kellen - Beyond what I've said above, I really doubt they "hooked up in one of Freddie's drunken binges," because the film (or I suppose Freddie's memory) purposefully describes Doris outside of that world; instead she is sort of encased in this gauzy adolescent memory place, before things went wrong.
Also, I'm not sure there's anything in the film to suggest Freddie had quite so many "problems" before the war. In fact it's surprising that PTSD has not yet come up in this thread, because that really popped out for me. It's even the thing that frames the entire movie in the full-length trailer: "There will be people on the outside who will not understand the condition you men have." Most of Freddie's "drifterness" involves his ineptitude at readjusting to civilian life, as each job ends in conflict and combustion. That and his seeming lack of mission are endemic of veterans with PTSD. Which, by the way, seems like a very special thing for Dodd to have in his gallery of curable ailments.
After the film, I was tempted to conclude that this is simply Freddie's nature, that "processing" can't cure his animalness, etc. But it seems that The Cause is correct, in a way; Freddie has a real ailment (PTSD) and can probably benefit from treatment. The Cause helped him a bit, at least temporarily, but I think regular therapy would have done at least as well. Which is a fairly major indictment of The Cause.
But as indictments of cults go, it wasn't as harsh as most of us expected. There's obviously something else going on. It's not a bleak picture of brainwashing and servitude; that's been done before. Instead, we get a view of a cult in its foreboding infancy. They're still refining their ideas. They are somewhat undisciplined and inconsistent. But we see all the makings of a cult, from Dodd's creepy nickname to Peggy's paranoid vigilance concerning outsiders, which begins to spread. So I actually do think it was sufficiently ominous. I also loved how I was so charmed by Dodd during the movie, and then it starts to sink in: oh, right, maybe he is a charlatan, and I guess I'm really not sure he believes everything he's saying.
I totally agree about PSH outperforming JP. I loved them both, but PSH has layers upon layers, and, as cbrad mentioned, this is yet again by some miraculous defiance of physics unlike anything he's ever done before. I can't do justice to either performance, so I'll just stop trying to describe them.
One of my favorite parts of the movie, for whatever reason, was the scene where Peggy is off on one of her composed rants while Dodd is typing away. It felt like one of the coked-out scenes from Boogie Nights. The camera movements were even similar.
It's striking how sparse the exposition is. For example, all we needed from Jesse Plemons was one line of dialogue and a few conservatively-distributed mopey looks.
Peggy also gets a lot done with relatively little screen time. I absolutely loved that character, and Amy Adams's performance. I know it will get richer with each subsequent viewing, as will the subtle but crazy sexual and power dynamic between the three characters.
In fact, "subtle but crazy" is a pretty good way to describe this film.