A Master Builder
The Criterion Collection home release cover
Directed byJonathan Demme
Screenplay byWallace Shawn
Based onThe Master Builder
by Henrik Ibsen
Produced byRocco Caruso
Andre Gregory
Wallace Shawn
StarringWallace Shawn
Julie Hagerty
Andre Gregory
CinematographyDeclan Quinn
Edited byTim Squyres
Distributed byAbramorama
Release dates
  • November 11, 2013 (2013-11-11) (Rome Film Festival)[1]
  • July 23, 2014 (2014-07-23) (United States)[2]
Running time
130 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$46,874[2]

A Master Builder is a 2013 film directed by Jonathan Demme, based on Henrik Ibsen's 1892 play The Master Builder. The film was released in the United States in June 2014 and stars Wallace Shawn, Julie Hagerty, Lisa Joyce and Andre Gregory. The film is a production of the Ibsen play dealing with the relationship between an aging architect and a younger woman. The play originally premiered in 1893.


Halvard Solness (Shawn) is an aging architect of a small town in Norway, who has managed to attain some distinction and local reputation; he has long been married to Aline (Hagerty). One day while his friend Doctor Herdal (Pine) is visiting, Solness has another caller: 22-year-old out-of-towner Hilde Wangel (Joyce), whom the Doctor promptly recognizes from a recent trip.

Soon after the Doctor leaves and Solness is alone with Hilde, she reminds him that they are not strangers; they previously met in her home 10 years ago when she was 12. When Solness does not respond to her quickly enough, she reminds him that at one point he made advances to her, offered a romantic interlude, and promised her "castles in the sky" during their encounter, which she believed. He denies this, but she gradually convinces him that she can assist him with his household duties and he brings her into his home.

During the construction of his most recent project, which includes towering steeples, Hilde learns that Solness suffers from acrophobia, a morbid fear of extreme heights, but nonetheless encourages him to climb the steeples to their very heights at the public opening of the newly-completed building. Inspired by her words, Solness begins his ascent to the top of the steeples. At this point it is revealed that this entire time with Hilde been imagined. Solness never left his bed. As, in the imaginary setting, Solness hangs the wreath on the new house he built for his wife, he dies.



Andre Gregory said that he was drawn to the play due to his age and the themes of redemption.[3] Gregory said of Joyce that she is "astounding" and hopes that her career takes off, and Demme said that they were all "blown away" by her performance.[4]


A Master Builder premiered at the Rome Film Festival under the title Fear of Falling.[1] Abramorama released the film in New York on July 23, 2014.[5] In February 2015, after a limited theatrical release in several cities in the United States, the film was released for distribution in streaming video through Amazon.[6]


Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 84% of 31 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 7/10.[7] Metacritic rated it 62/100 based on eleven reviews.[8] David Edelstein of New York wrote that the film "brings the genius of Ibsen to the screen in a way I never thought was possible."[9] Jay Weissberg of Variety called it "constricted and uninspired".[10] Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote that Shawn "employs insidious sleight of hand to score moral points".[11] Jordan Mintzer of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "Wallace Shawn shines in this well-acted piece of filmed theater."[12] The magazine Architectural Record gave the film a mixed review, singling out Julie Hagerty's performance opposite Wallace Shawn as exceptional.[13]


  1. ^ a b "Global Showbiz Briefs: Jonathan Demme's 'Fear Of Falling' To Premiere At Rome Fest; 'We Are The Best!' Lines Up Sales; More". Deadline Hollywood. 2013-09-10. Retrieved 2014-07-30.
  2. ^ a b "A Master Builder". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2014-09-02.
  3. ^ Edelstein, David (2014-07-25). "David Edelstein Talks to Wallace Shawn, Andre Gregory, and Jonathan Demme About Their New Collaboration". Vulture.com. Retrieved 2014-07-30.
  4. ^ Gerard, Jeremy (2014-07-23). "Jonathan Demme's A Master Builder Introduces A New Star: Video". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2014-07-30.
  5. ^ "Abramorama Acquires Jonathan Demme Pic 'A Master Builder'". Deadline Hollywood. 2014-05-06. Retrieved 2014-07-30.
  6. ^ "a master builder". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2019-04-14.
  7. ^ "A Master Builder (2014)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2014-07-30.
  8. ^ "A Master Builder". Metacritic. Retrieved 2014-07-30.
  9. ^ Edelstein, David (2014-07-22). "Jonathan Demme's A Master Builder Is Madly, Bitingly, Chillingly Alive". New York. Retrieved 2014-07-30 – via Vulture.com.
  10. ^ Weissberg, Jay (2013-11-12). "Rome Film Review: 'Fear of Falling'". Variety. Retrieved 2014-07-30.
  11. ^ Holden, Stephen (2014-07-22). "A Power Broker's World Comes Tumbling Down". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-07-30.
  12. ^ Mintzer, Jordan (2013-11-12). "Fear of Falling: Rome Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2014-07-30.
  13. ^ Ciampaglia, Dante A. (August 1, 2014). "Film Review: A Master Builder". Architectural Record.