It is hard to review Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” without being contradictory. This Oscar-nominated and winning film from 2017 is a complex, twisted story of a relationship hidden in a glamorous fashion world. The film gained attention for being Daniel Day-Lewis’ supposed last film. Though people were drawn in because of Day-Lewis, many audience members left thinking more about Vicky Krieps’ impressive performance as Alma.
Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a famous and fabulous dressmaker in 1950s central London, living his rigid and tailored life by finding inspiration in lovers, who he always gets bored with quite quickly. Once Reynolds discovers Alma, a non-Londoner waitress, things quickly change. Alma comes to London to work for him and Reynolds’ controlling and obsessive personality is challenged by his new muse who refuses to adhere to certain aspects of his lifestyle. But the romance plot becomes twisted by the two characters’ butting personalities and the power dynamic between a controlling rich man and a compliant model switches on the viewer. This film, besides being a beautifully shot piece of art about fashion and beauty, shows a complex and toxic relationship that leaves the viewer feeling intoxicated. Whether this feeling of intoxication is good or bad is where thinking about this film becomes contradictory.
On one hand, the narrative of a controlling toxic man holding a woman emotionally captive is flipped as Alma holds a position of power over him. Without spoiling the end of the film, Alma’s trickery that allows her to take control ends up revealing that Reynolds desires to be submissive. On the other hand, their relationship is far from healthy and the story revolves around a selfish and domineering “male genius” where the women in his life either take care of him or are used and disposed of. On the third hand, it’s a sexy movie. It’s a relationship and story that is arousing, but at times feels wrong or disturbing to enjoy.
The visuals of high-class beauty and fashion in post-war London bring the audience back in time. Paired with a musical score by Jonny Greenwood—the leading man of Radiohead who has done many film scores and has partnered with Paul Thomas Anderson before – “Phantom Thread” visually pulls the audience into the jarring world of Reynolds and Alma. The chemistry between the leads feels so real; in fact, Day-Lewis insisted that he not meet his costar until the first scene. This was understandably nerve-wracking for the actress. But she went along with it, and it turned out for the best. The complex and absurd emotions that the two were able to show onscreen make the movie the confusing, beautiful piece that it is. The elegant and sometimes melancholy musical score assists the film in feeling more sensual and mysterious as well, particularly the song “House of Woodcock.”
It is hard to say my exact feelings on this film. Sitting in a dark old theater watching it for the first time, I found myself lost in the intensity and beauty. It’s important to think about how this relationship would even function or exist in real life. That being said, the acting from Day-Lewis and Krieps is stunning. The acting, when combined with the beautiful score, costume design, writing and art design, make for a mesmerizing film.