Exploring intricacy in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Phantom Thread’
At one point in the “Phantom Thread,” Alma (Vicky Krieps) daringly approaches Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis) in the middle of his work. She brings tea he did not request. He protests and bullies her until she leaves, taking the tea with her. As she exits the frame, Reynolds cries, “The tea is leaving, but the interruption is staying right here with me.”
Reynolds’ sentiment perfectly captures the experience of viewing “Phantom Thread.” Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film graces the screen for two hours and 10 minutes at the Tivoli, but it’s richly-executed, mesmerizing intrusion on your mind will last much longer. With “Phantom Thread,” Anderson crafts nothing short of a masterpiece.
Set ambiguously in post-World War II Britain, the film details Reynolds’ obsessive devotion to his dress-making and the women he cruelly employs as artistic muses. The women love him and how he and his dresses make them feel. He fears returning their feeling and toys with them until he finds their presence distracting. His sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), assists in his endeavors. She knows her brother serves a greater, more divine, purpose and dismisses women for him when they have outstayed their welcome.
Alma’s entrance into this equation disrupts the Woodcock routine. She refuses to be forgotten and rejects Cyril’s interference in her relationship with Reynolds. She demands the right to love Reynolds as she sees fit and bother him when she wishes. Ultimately, she recognizes that Reynolds sees love as a game, and she thinks she can outplay him.
Explaining the plot any further would compromise the thrall in which Anderson holds his audience. Perhaps best described as a mashup of the romance, comedy and drama genres, the film unfolds with aplomb in consistently surprising and engaging ways. The film’s storytelling form matches its stunning content.
Anderson’s technique is exquisite. Each line of dialogue and shot are both impactful and brilliantly crafted. Watch for how the camera carefully tracks beyond an important dress when Reynolds confesses his love for Alma or the manic camerawork when Reynolds drives. Anderson fully commands his material and designs wondrous visuals around it. As much as this is his film however, the end product is a team effort.
The film works because the set design pulls the audience in, the costume design dazzles, and Jonny Greenwood’s score delights. Two of Greenwood’s pieces are especially played to great effect. The hauntingly beautiful “House of Woodcock” defines the playful yet threatening atmosphere which looms over the film, and the “Phantom Thread III” emphasizes the film’s more melodramatic moments.
Anderson’s screenplay required an incredible cast and Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville deliver exceptionally. Each plays a rather ridiculous character rendered with just the right level of sincerity. Day-Lewis evokes the loneliness, obsessiveness, vulnerability and misanthropic tendencies of his character brilliantly. It is a great performance from a great actor who will be missed fiercely. Matching him is Krieps, whose every reactive expression conveys a thousand thoughts, and Manville, whose impeccable method lends a much-needed sense of reality to the central couple’s increasingly perverse game.
Anderson anchors his strange film to these central characters and explores their competitive, often truly poisonous and occasionally quite tender relationships. The upshot is a clever look on the secrets and insecurities we hide from others and how they reveal themselves in who and what we love, and how we show it.
The film will stay with you long after the credits roll. Mysteries are raised and left unsolved. Questions will be left unanswered. Mushroom omelets may never taste the same, buttering toast may never sound the same and asparagus will have its well-deserved cinematic moment as well. Watch the movie, and it will all make sense.
The “Phantom Thread” is fascinating, weird and wonderful. It left me hungry for more like it.