Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is an exquisite example of storytelling. This shouldn’t be shocking to anyone as the director has made a career of exploring fascinating aspects of the human condition. In 2012 he examined the effects of trauma in The Master and in his latest film, he tackles Narcissism. Is it possible to love anyone when you are in a relationship with yourself? Combine Anderson’s storytelling with a crackling performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, and the result is Phantom Thread being a fascinating film.
Reynolds Woodcock (Lewis) is a middle-aged British fashion designer who is at the top of his profession. His mornings are spent in his cream-colored five-story townhouse where he sips tea, eats the same pastries, and sketches his latest ideas for dresses. His creations are the toast of the town, and his artistry draws the attention of women everywhere. Woodcock certainly has the pick of any woman he wants. While for most men in his position, the allure of multiple trysts would be appealing, but for Lewis’s character, it’s the idea of these women worshiping his artistry while inspiring him. To him women are easily replaceable, that is until he meets a waitress named Alma who appears to see him in an entirely different light.
Lewis has made a mark during his career hiding behind different looks as he went on to give countless fantastic performances. Phantom Thread marks the first time in quite awhile that he doesn’t hide behind his appearance but does so behind an object. His dresses are an extension of Woodcock. They represent his adoration for all things beautiful and the thirst for admiration that fuels him. Lewis’s character even comments to Alma during their courtship how many things can be hidden inside the lining of a dress. He also loses grip with reality slightly when the amount of people wanting his work starts to slip. To him his job is everything.
There’s also an element of the narrative that dives into dangers that come with too much adoration. Alma (Vickey Krieps) is so in love with the hunger and drive of Lewis’s character that she’s willing for the first two acts of the film to forgive almost any outlandish behavior he engages in. If he’s rude to her, it’s okay. If he’s controlling of her every move that’s understandable for someone with his talent. As he begins to slip away, she soothes his fragile ego by pointing out at a party that one of his clients was so drunk that she didn’t deserve to wear his dress. This only served to enhance an ego that was already out of control. This type of adoration has consequences, and she realized that shortly after that incident. It was her response to his character which was surprising. How far would you go to keep the person of your dreams interested?
Jonny Greenwood’s score enhances the mood of the second and third act giving the film a slightly ominous tone. Anderson’s cinematography which at time shifts from the aesthetics of their surroundings to close-ups of Woodcock and Alma enhances the experience for the audience and gives glimpses inside just how perverse their relationship becomes in the final act of the film.
My only regret is that a film like Phantom Thread will suffer from lack of promotion while other titles like Darkest Hour will flourish. The perception as we head into the homestretch of the awards season is that Gary Oldman has the Oscar all but locked up but in reality had their been more of a push from Focus Features for Lewis’s final film, he’d be a lock. I hope that this film receives multiple Oscar nominations generating buzz for a spectacular movie.