Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (2017)
by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, Phantom Thread, for many, may be regarded as an eccentric or even downright weird love story. For me, it is a tale proving that love truly has no definition and certainly is not experienced the same by anyone. This is a story that portrays how the ones we choose to love us permit us to be the people we are and accept us for our true individual selves.
Phantom Thread tells the story of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) a meticulous legendary dressmaker living in London in the 1950s, whose excessively scheduled life is interrupted when he chooses to love. He meets Alma (Vicky Krieps) at a countryside restaurant where she is waiting tables. A connection is made instantaneously. What initially seems as if it will be another cliché and unnerving story of an older gentleman preying on a younger woman is quickly turned on its head. Reynolds does have a physical attraction to Alma, but his intentions are quite different. When he sees this woman, he views her as the perfect specimen to don his dresses. For Reynolds, his work is his love. He even goes as far to explain to Alma that he could never marry for this reason, as it would only lead to deceit…to the dresses.
For much of the film, I found myself in somewhat of a trance caused by the music. The score by Jonny Greenwood lulls you into Reynolds’s world and you are simply consumed. A world in which Reynolds has created and is based on rules that he and only he alone has established.
When Alma is first introduced to this world and the House of Woodcock, she is informed by Reynolds’s candid sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) of the importance of falling in line. The simple act of buttering your toast too loudly at breakfast could throw Reynolds into a tizzy causing him to not recover for the rest of the day. The world he is living in is unnatural, sterile and then Alma enters it.
This world really doesn’t seem to be possible without Reynolds’s sister. She may not be the creator, but she helps ensure his environment and way of life is sustained. His sister ended up becoming my favorite character in all of this. She is direct, authoritative and, frankly, gets shit done. She is a woman of few words but can make a significant impact. She also seems to be the only person that instills fear in Reynolds. For without Cyril, there would be no house of Woodcock. Her character, along with Alma, was so welcoming to see on screen as they both portrayed strong intelligent females that I wanted to know everything about.
Early in Alma and Reynolds’s courtship, it appears that he only keeps Alma around simply to use as a plaything, one which he can dress up and take out on the town to show off. Alma has this specific place in Reynolds’s life and he is infatuated with the creation of her, not her overall being. Alma wants more and she is determined. She challenges his way of life and does something that we all do when we are in love with someone: she tries to understand it.
When someone accepts you for what you are and attempts to understand your world, that is love. This notion is what makes love so unique between two other people and the reason that only they understand their love. This theme is prevalent throughout the film. Alma is extremely observant. During much of the film, she attempts to learn what exactly makes Reynolds tick. It would be a battle lost to try to change Reynolds. So, instead, she learns to appreciate his quirkiness and understand it. During this journey, she finds the necessary steps to take to challenge it and make the love work for her.
Loving someone for who and what they are is not only adoring them for their likable qualities but also loving them for the monster they, at times, become. It took me a while to come around to Reynolds. Much of his dialogue and delivery is often insensitive and tactless. However, my feelings changed with a single scene. The dresses are not just a symbol of the love that Reynolds has for his work. Each dress that he makes is time in which he has taken from Alma. When Alma makes this connection, the result is powerful. It proves to Reynolds that Alma understands his world, and the sacrifice he makes for his art. If Alma were to turn away from his work, it would be the same as turning away from him.
The last Paul Thomas Anderson film I remember enjoying was There Will Be Blood. I keep meaning to revisit The Master and hope to find time soon for that re-watch. For me, Phantom Thread is a such a welcoming return of the Paul Thomas Anderson flicks I have loved in the past. It is a story filled with memorable characters and goes to a place that for many will be unexpected.