Could Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes's divorce make 'The Master' this year's zeitgeist movie?

Paul Thomas Anderson's film will take on Scientology as the org battles headlines

<p>Philip&nbsp;Seymour Hoffman in &quot;The Master&quot;</p>

Philip Seymour Hoffman in "The Master"

Credit: The Weinstein Company

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In the wake of recent news that TomKat is officially on the outs, Dana Kennedy has penned an overly long but nevertheless interesting story for The Hollywood Reporter about "cloak and dagger" housewife operations and defections and all the drama that comes with a big Scientology story. And all I could really think of the whole time was, "Boy, this could put some wind in the sails of 'The Master.'"

Paul Thomas Anderson's much-anticipated film will take on Scientology, though not explicitly, with Philip Seymour Hoffman playing a bit of an L. Ron Hubbard surrogate. The Weinstein Company will roll it out in mid-October, prime real estate in an awards season. Recent trailers have been unique in the usual PR fray (typical of Anderson), building on mystery and intrigue. But something like this could shine a brighter light on the film four months out.

Kennedy's piece quotes a number of Scientology defectors who use phrases like "biggest nightmare" and "open the floodgates" regarding Holmes's handling of the divorce and its implications on the criticized organization. It all sounds like a big deal, but who knows, maybe it's just something to chew on over a holiday. Regardless, this kind of thing can be catnip in an Oscar season.

Then again, Scientology hits very close to home. I haven't read Anderson's script for "The Master," so I don't what gestures it plays in -- Accusatory? Polemical? Non-judgmental? -- but it could be a soft subject in a community well-represented in the organization. Just the same, it could be the excuse industry defectors -- like, say, 2005 Best Picture winner Paul Haggis ("Crash") -- need to marshal some outward show of support within the community.

Whatever the case, if indeed the TomKat thing plays out in such dramatic hues with Scientology front and center, it could be an interesting turn of events, establishing "The Master" as the zeitgeist play of the season. "The Social Network" certainly bludgeoned that point to death two years ago, however overstated -- "A film that defines a generation!" -- only to have "The King's Speech" (positioned by Weinstein) play it cool on the way to a victory. So I wouldn't expect that kind of intensity. Then again, people certainly got tired of "The Iron Lady" emails last season, so it's not like Weinstein doesn't know how to lean heavily on something.

We'll see how this all plays out. I'm personally very curious about what industry reaction to a film like this will be. And it's doubly interesting to me that Cruise's best performance came in none other than Anderson's own "Magnolia." What will he think of it?

Anderson reportedly screened the film for Cruise around the time of Cannes and the actor apparently "had issues" with some of it. It was also reported that Anderson plans to screen it for John Travolta, Scientology's other marquee name (currently starring in Oliver Stone's "Savages" on the heels of his own PR nightmare regarding supposed massage parlor encounters). A bit of courtesy as politics? Maybe. One certainly couldn't fault someone for attempting to keep the organization's ire off a film like this, but as it turns out, they may have bigger fish to fry.

"The Master" opens Friday, October 12.

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Kristopher Tapley
Editor-at-Large
Kristopher Tapley has covered the film awards landscape for over a decade. He founded In Contention in 2005. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Times of London and Variety. He begs you not to take any of this too seriously.
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UPDATED: MARCH 2, 2014