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Processing My Feelings About Phantom Thread (2018)

January 15, 2018

I just finished watching Phantom Thread… and hmm. I’m still trying to pinpoint how and what I’m supposed to feel walking away from it. This review serves more as a personal workshop for me to formulate those ideas for a final consensus. I don’t have strong emotions towards the film either way, but I’m not necessarily indifferent to it. This listless confusion is either the result of watching a physically beautiful yet strongly underdeveloped story unfold or just a typical reaction to Paul Thomas Anderson being Paul Thomas Anderson. I can’t decide. Phantom Thread is a simple tale of a woman (Vicky Krieps) who falls in love with a complicated man: Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), London’s premiere fashion designer. Their romance moves along swiftly without notions of time after their meet cute takes place while the woman, Alma, is waitressing. Seemingly drawn together by fate, Alma serves as a muse of sorts for Reynolds while he in turns grants her a life of luxury and elegance. Alma becomes enthralled with being Reynolds’ partner but soon vies for all of his attention; a complicated want of a narcissistic man with obsessive tendencies. But Alma soon proves she’ll do anything to keep Reynolds’ attention no matter how messy things may get.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s patient camera movements paired with Johnny Greenwood’s decadently classical score makes for a hypnotic story that flutters along; and while Alma and Reynolds’s relationship is the film’s centerpiece, audiences are treated to gorgeous sequences interspersed throughout of cutting, sewing, designing, and presenting the lovely gowns that Reynolds and his older sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), oversee. Day-Lewis, in his final performance as we know it, is wonderfully subdued more than usual here. He plays his character with considerable delicacy that adds an extra layer to an already rigid man with crystallized thoughts about the world outside of his own head. Day-Lewis’ on screen presence pairs sensationally with Manville, whose character’s own sanctimoniousness is worn on her sleeve. Manville is without a doubt the film’s MVP. She commands attention whenever she’s on screen and humorously delivers some of the most stinging blows from the script.

But there’s something missing from Phantom Thread that doesn’t make the events of the story add up or make the characters stable enough for me to feel one way or the other by the end. There seems to be a thread missing if you will that ties this story together. Characters are motivated by their own greed, their own egotism, their own delusions of grandeur and even fate but there’s still a surface level motivation missing from the text to truly understand why these characters accept their fate. Alma serves as the film’s narrator as she relays the saga of her relationship with Reynolds to another character. Yet it still feels like we don’t know anything about her. In perhaps the only bit of insight into Alma’s motivations that we get, she admits to feeling that if Reynolds were to die he’d be waiting for her in another life and the life after that. She says this line with a somber delight which further confuses her true intentions as the film progresses.

Alma and Reynolds’ relationship is one built on toxic co-dependency. Though the glow of soft lighting follows Alma and Greenwood’s score screams romance, Phantom Thread isn’t a romantic story. Their relationship doesn’t conjure up feelings of hope or good will. It feels sullied. It’s two lonely people who aren’t good for each other putting up with the other’s shortcomings for reasons that aren’t fully detailed. So maybe Paul Thomas Anderson delivered a cynical romance that I wasn’t prepared for– perhaps that’s where my confusion stems from. Or maybe the story just isn’t fleshed out well enough for this film to work. It’s not on the level of Magnolia in its convoluted pretentiousness but it’s also not as profound as The MasterPhantom Thread follows the same motifs of Anderson’s work but it feels less accessible to a larger audience. That’s not a good or bad thing, it just makes it hard for me to convincingly recommend it to more people.

SEE IT. If you’re a fan of PTA’s most recent films and are used to him creating interesting stories that don’t really make sense.

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