Phantom Thread (2017)
Paul Thomas Anderson never stops surprising. Besides being the director of modern classics such as Boogie Nights and There WIll Be Blood and marrying SNL goddess Maya Rudolph, he is able to deliver varied stories of troubled characters with seeming ease. This year with Phantom Thread, he reteams to Daniel Day-Lewis for his reported final film. Day-Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock, a London dressmaker known for his particularities over breakfast noise and couture women’s wear. When he invites Alma, a determined young woman, to be his muse, the connection between the two balances the power dynamic in very unexpected ways. Vicky Krieps, who plays Alma, fascinates with her understated tet-a-tet with the famed designer. She gains the upper hand as she notes her exit from the House of Woodcock, and she refuses to be disconnected from the man who inspires her through his inspiration.
Marvelously acted, Day-Lewis has a gorgeous endcap to his film career. Woodcock is a difficult man, requiring those around him to pander to his insecurities and peculiarities with none of this attention returned to the needs of those around him. Think a serious Sheldon Cooper if he was fixated on hemlines. Rarely looking up from his sketches, Woodcock is an intense form; foolishness is equivalent to violence. Movement should be restricted; his fashions are where the spirit lies, not in the body filling them. Effortlessly cruel but completely incompetent when attempting connection, he falls under Alma’s spell without realizing her determination. Krieps is hushed as she learns her place aside the genius, but where past muses have failed, she is insistant of her necessity. Her toothy smile and halted manner of speaking promise a gentle, obedient model, a mannequin barely brought to life, but her desires quietly contradict her appearance. Paired with the always stellar Lesley Manville, a stern sister and caretaker with a biting wit, the trio are an enigma in themselves. They barely seem to want each other around but are desperate when attempting to be separated.
Surrounded by a string filled, surreal score from Jonny Greenwood, previous collaborator on The Master and There Will Be Blood, among others, the scene becomes set and rattled with the thematic variations. Whether seamstresses are ascending a spiral staircase, a photoshoot is idealizing the artist’s creations, or more nefarious actions are afoot, Greenwood’s score is a character in itself. With Mark Bridges’ (Oscar winner for The Artist) spectacular gowns, Phantom Thread is the most beautiful, hushed thriller in years. Unsettling at times, sweepingly gorgeous at others, the film embodies an intimate, coercive bond between master and muse. The first fitting Woodcock bestows upon Alma might be the most sensual scene of the year; the encompassing fascination from Day-Lewis paired with ingénue sensitivity presents Woodcock’s perceived blank canvas. As if Alma comes alive with Woodcock’s fascination, his obsession with her body’s features and ignorance to her identity allows Alma to develop her fantasy of what their partnership should be. A lightly touched “confirmed bachelor” conversation and comments from Manville regarding Alma’s appearance left me seeking so much in their relationship that both excited and perplexed me along the way. This film is quite rightly a work of art directly from the writer-directors imagination. Go in with an open mind and let me know what you’ve found.