It is incredible how immersive is the experience that Anderson gifted us with his incredible, precious creation that resembles an elegant poem. A film that is as dramatic as anecdotal and funny by highlighting the comedy that thrives in uncomfortable and absurd moments of hyperbole. Excellent angles, stills and shaking shots, portraits and landscapes, a plethora of gazes at a beautiful time and space. An unconventional film about extraordinary people that engage in a challenging relationship. Anderson delivers a film so beautifully shot and crafted that lures you into the obsessive control of the couturier, the rebellious passion of the muse/waitress, and the struggling influence of the sister.
Jonny Greenwood’s orchestral score is truly magnificent and elegant as it intertwines with instrumental classical pieces that enable our transportation into 1950’s London. Don’t be surprised if you feel the pavement under your feet, your fingertips sliding over the fabrics, if you can notice every line on the protagonists’ expression and sense every breath they draw. Anderson constructed a robust world with such impeccable performers embedded that each moment gradually intensifies the cinematic experience and delves you deeper into the soul of its personas.
Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) has been carrying a devastating burden throughout his life, calling it a curse and has yet to get over his mother’s death. It seems that by experiencing the loss of his first and most intense love, his mother, who taught him generosity and giving has by admittedly, tragic irony caused him to stubbornly refuse to love anyone ever again. He is not lost completely though to the darkest misery of a loveless existence, his relationship with Alma inevitably restructures his life and mindset.
The genius of the film lies in the powerful and genuine characters that even in prolonged silence reveal layer by layer the complexity of their psyche. Reynolds in his stillness and persistent gaze, dressed with an overly sweet smile unveils a sickening desire to control every detail in his environment and within him of course by banishing his instincts and feelings. From the first date with Alma, it becomes apparent how desperately he needs to grasp onto his rules and firm convictions.
Reynold’s sister (Lesley Manville) acquires a haunting presence over his life. He seems not to bear life without her, even her absence for a few hours disorients him, however she constitutes a constant reminder of his fears and self-limiting lifestyle. Alma is portrayed with ample naturality and piercing expressiveness by Vicky Krieps who proves herself a charismatic partner to Daniel Day-Lewis as they share with both talent and chemistry.
There are stunning scenes that elevate Phantom Thread to a classic. For instance, the scene where a jealous Reynolds seeks Alma in despair at the colourful and tacky New Year’s party is breathtakingly intense and dramatic. There are no words in this scene but the performances have an emotional transparency that spurs various thoughts around love, relationships and introspective analysis. The surprise dinner scene is a delicious game involving the power of will, comical exaggerations and a deep sadness. Towards the end, again the dinner scene is terrific as the game continues between the two until the climactic moment of surrender occurs, layered with the release of their passion.
In Phantom Thread we witness two diametrically opposed individuals fighting in their own unique ways to stay together while maintaining their selves intact. Reynolds’s way is to provoke with his spoilt, childish manner and to violently persist in his absurdities. It appears that his ultimate goal is to find a worthy rival that can earn his respect and trust, both necessary to enable his surrender. Alma’s way is an initial submissive stance that is later replaced with a fierce and brave confrontation and declaration of independent will.
Their conflict has a personality of its own and spreads over the different stages of their relationship, from their first encounter to their cohabitation, to their marriage and finally, to their utter openness and mutual understanding. Unorthodox and peculiar, the resolution is made possible by the accidental discovery that one can fulfil the other’s desire and experience pleasure simultaneously.
Reynolds seems to have no control over his obsessiveness but Alma seems to have come up with a… creative way to disarm him and return him to the infant stage where he can always revive the experience of having a mother figure taking care of him. Alma on the other hand perceives love as the absolute closeness and craves to bring her strong-looking partner to a state of weakness and total physical and emotional dependence on her thus, to fulfil her need to be a nurturer and the centre of his world.
Are these characters troubled? Certainly! But so are we all, trapped in our shortcomings and subconsciously, if not purposefully seeking the people who can cater to our needs. This scandalous conflict resolution brought La sirène du Mississipi (1969) in mind, where Julie (Catherine Deneuve) and Louis (Jean-Paul Belmondo) experience the same oxymoron contradiction that marries lust and loss.
To leave yourself entirely defenceless in the care of the one you love by embracing the dangers but also admitting to the dark hedonism of this state is a powerful experience to convey through storytelling and as Truffaut did in 1969 so does Anderson in this spellbinding ghost story. In the history of cinema, we can find love stories underpinned by seemingly harmful acts, like in Suspicion (1941) or My Cousin Rachel (2017) however in Phantom Thread the act becomes a mechanism for catharsis and we suspect, a tactic for bringing harmony into the relationship, a remedy almost.
After the film you might feel spellbound and mesmerised by Anderson’s vintage world and its’ captivating performances, you might immerse into Greenwood’s score, indulge yourself with some delicious pastry for breakfast while contemplating about how obsessive you can become with your cyclical habits. You might also place yourself in this unorthodox couple’s shoes by reconsidering the value of seemingly absurd or dangerous acts and by acknowledging the risk of initiating or/and admitting the darkest side of one’s sexuality.