A Fantastic Tug-of-War between Artist
By: Contributing Fashion Editor-Zack Huffman
Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Post-War Fashion, and an intriguing tale of obsession between artist and muse – what’s not to like? For anyone worried that Phantom Thread may be one of those films that cannot match the hype – don’t. Director Paul Thomas Anderson expertly constructed Phantom Thread in the same manner his main character, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), constructs visually arresting dresses. For any fashion lover, the film’s, parade of beautiful garments created by costume designer, Mark Bridges, are a sight to behold – only adding to the artisanal quality of the Anderson’s filmmaking. Beyond the exquisite garments, Phantom Thread is a labyrinth of emotional depth, with beautiful adornments expertly weaved throughout the film’s tale of a dark and obsessive love.
From the opening scene, it’s clear that Reynolds Woodcock is a man outwardly defined by his ability to breathe beauty into existence, but internally he’s fraught with a fragile insecurity that manifests in emotional distance and frostiness towards others caught up in his world. This is particularly true for Reynolds’ dutiful sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), whom remains an ever-present source of stability and vigilant upholder of Reynolds’ strangely regimented creative processes. She begins her part in Anderson’s tale with the removal of Reynolds’ previous model and muse who has been the subject of disapproval and growing disinterest in the House of Woodcock. With this act, Cyril solidifies a void Reynolds’ life and creative world – a void which the darkly empathetic and headstrong, Alma (Luxembourgian actor Vicky Krieps) will fill.
Reynolds first meets Alma while having breakfast at a restaurant near his country estate, a home where he frequently retires throughout the film during times of creative exhaustion. Alma begins the breakfast as Reynolds’ server, but ends it as the designer’s date for later that evening. Clearly enraptured with Alma – Reynolds displays a rare, boyish playfulness during their encounter. However, it doesn’t take long for Reynolds to fall back into character. He concludes their first date with a trip to the small workshop in his country home where he asks Alma to model for him. The potentially romantic scene is shattered by the sudden appearance of an icy Cyril and tone-deaf comments from Reynolds towards Alma such as, “You have no breasts…it’s my job to give them to you if I choose.”
Rather than take offense or storm out, Alma’s intrigue and fascination builds. Within a few short frames, Alma is living in Mr. Woodcock’s atelier as a house model. While dutiful, Alma proves to be no shrinking violet. Her presence sweeps Reynolds to new creative heights, but she also has no problem cutting him down to size with her own biting one-liners. Her love for Reynolds becomes all the more obvious as she spends more time by his side, but as her love grows, their relationship becomes strained. She not only challenges his controlling tactics and creative idiosyncrasies, but she demands vulnerability and openness – desiring his proclamation of reciprocal love. When he refuses to grant it in the way she expects, her love for Reynolds takes a more disturbing turn – a turn best discovered by watching the couple’s tug-of-war play out on-screen.
Suffice to say, the film is well worth seeing. Even for those typically wary of dramatic period pieces, this one will leave you feeling that you watched something more akin to a post-war dark comedy. In addition to the film’s depth and exploration of chaotic personality, it’s beautifully shot and executed. Not only did Paul Thomas Anderson serve as Phantom Thread’s director, he played a key role in the film’s cinematography as well. He was the driving force behind the team’s choice of traditional film, lighting, and perspective techniques. The result is a handsomely grainy and smoky picture, constantly reminding the viewer that the veneer of Reynolds’ world is not all that it seems.
If that isn’t enough to entice viewers, it should also be noted that this film is likely to be Daniel Day-Lewis’ last. In late 2017, his agent announced that the acting giant would be retiring after Phantom Thread. In an interview with W magazine, Daniel Day-Lewis said, “Before making the film, I didn’t know I was going to stop acting… Paul and I laughed a lot before we made the movie. And then we stopped laughing because we were both overwhelmed by a sense of sadness. That took us by surprise: We didn’t realize what we had given birth to. It was hard to live with. And still is.”
Like Alma’s intrigue in Reynolds, Daniel Day-Lewis’ “sadness” makes the film even more luring. What could make acting giant, Daniel Day-Lewis, feel the need to simply stop? We may never know the precise reason, but one thing is certain – the mind of an artist is rarely an easy co-inhabitant. Their inner world often creates a melancholic beauty, transcending the everyday and explainable, and Anderson’s Phantom Thread is no exception.
***Photo credits-Courtesy of Focus Features.
DIRECTOR: Paul Thomas Anderson
RUNTIME: 130 minutes
CAST: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, and Brian Gleeson