Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is in love. With what or whom it’s difficult to discern, but his ardent passion, an obsession with beauty, drives him with the relentless fervency of his British coupe, a burgundy Bristol. A sought-after fashion designer in 1950s-era London, Reynolds’ loves include the fabric and thread of the dresses he designs, the women he clothes, the fame and renown of his artistry, his very ego, his devoted sister Cyril (Leslie Manville), his breakfast. Much of Phantom Thread revolves around the seemingly-mundane morning routine of breakfast. Some of the film’s greatest lines (and there are many) are delivered over the pouring of coffee or the spreading of butter over toast: “I can’t begin my day with a confrontation,” quips Reynolds to a soon-t0-be-ex beau, or Cyril’s retaliation to Reynolds, “Don’t pick a fight with me, you certainly won’t come out alive. I’ll go right through you and it’ll be you who ends up on the floor. Understood?” Later, during a sabbath in the countryside, Reynolds orders what feels like the entire breakfast menu from a beautiful blushing waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who quickly joins the ranks of Reynolds’ loves. It is this relationship between Alma and Reynolds which makes up the narrative of Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth film and one of his finest.
Phantom Thread is much like its central character–exquisite, dapper, precise, rich in color and complexity. It appears controlled without feeling cold, intimate and erotic while also creating an air of enigma and never devolving into lecherousness. The bizarre love triangle between Reynolds, Alma, and Cyril–as well as the invisible presence of Reynolds’ deceased mother–is wonderfully knotty due to the depth and authenticity of each character. These are not one-note caricatures or tropes; just as soon as you think you know where the story is headed, a decision or conversation changes the entire trajectory. At first, I thought the story was headed the way of The Beguiled (let the reader understand), but it eventually transformed into The Duke of Burgundy. Which, come to think of it, would be an entirely appropriate title for this film. The clear cinematic reference point for Phantom Thread is Alfred Hitchcock, particularly Rebecca as a tale of haunting, claustrophobic obsession, but really all of Hitchcock’s filmography and biography. Though Phantom Thread can be considered an exploration of marriage itself, it’s neither a celebration nor a critique of the institution. Reynolds tells Alma early on that he’s a confirmed bachelor. “Marriage would make me deceitful and I don’t ever want that.” This notion of deceit and honesty, revealing what is hidden in the linings of hems and hearts, is the thread woven throughout the film.
Released in the UK in 2018, Phantom Thread is already a strong contender for my favorite film of this year. Strikingly different from his previous collaboration with Anderson in There Will be Blood, Day-Lewis’ performance is nonetheless another masterpiece of subtlety and attraction. Despite all his fussy, controlling behaviors and spiteful outbursts directed towards Alma, Reynolds is nonetheless charming precisely because Day-Lewis makes him so. Manville as Cyril is deliciously frigid, a ballast for Reynolds’ emotional peaks and valleys in her steady demeanor and commitment. Yet the performance which most impressed me is Krieps as Alma (her lack of an Oscar nomination is an atrocity), who holds her own against the Woodcock siblings with a quiet confidence and resolved beauty. When she blushes in her first encounter with Reynolds, it’s simply marvelous, a bodily confession of her emotional tenor. Accompanying the exquisite performances, costumes, lighting, cinematography, editing–really, every detail about Phantom Thread–is Jonny Greenwood’s wonderfully eerie and emotive score, a perfect sonic complement to a narrative about beauty, obsession, homes, marriage, and the curse of the tortured artist. I’m listening to it as I type this review, as it’s become a sort of soundtrack to my own life. It’s making me feel hungry. Perhaps I need some breakfast.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5776858/