Honestly Paul Anderson is a director that can do no wrong. I have seen 7 of his eight films and they are all favourites, even the much maligned Inherent Vice, I mean in order to adapt a Pynchon novel and retain the spirit of Pynchon you need a lot of skill. Anyway Phantom Thread is another P.T. Anderson masterpiece.
The main focus of the film is power struggle through abuse, with mother/son issues chucked in the mix: Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a successful designer, who makes clothes for the rich. He is also a man-child, who is overly fussy, wants things his own way constantly and tends to view life as if it is some sort of game. Reynolds also works with his sister and is constantly grieving his departed mother.
One day he meets a waitress called Alma (Vicky Krieps) and invites her to live with him. At first the arrangement works but then Reynolds’ attitude descends into psychological bullying until Alma poisons Reynolds and then the power shifts to Alma and she is in control of the relationship and eventually the couple marry.
Soon Reynolds begins to bully and Alma poisons him again but this time Reynolds sees her but succumbs to eating the poisoned food anyway as he knows that, ultimately she has the upper hand in the relationship. Alternatively you can also see it has Reynolds descending into the infant state he always wanted as Alma does promise that she will mother him. Despite the two interpretations Alma does triumph.
This is an abusive relationship, and yet this is one of the few times when both parties are abusive and the main abuser is willing to let himself be the passive person and absorb the various ways he can be hurt. Despite the quirky theme, P.T. Anderson handles this excellently and stays on neutral ground – we nether root for any of the characters, neither do we feel sorry for them. Both Reynolds and Alma act in unacceptable ways and Anderson makes sure the audience knows this. The exception being the asparagus scene when the audience thinks that Alma is a passive victim to Reynolds psychological bullying but after the following events we think otherwise.
I also like the way Anderson explores the character of the manchild; the way Reynolds likes to avoid healthy food, that he will be irritable for a whole day if breakfast isn’t to his liking. The way he hides little messages in the clothes he makes. Even his mannerisms are similar to little boy and like a child he needs a punishment to behave.
The role of Alma is interesting. Is she an independent woman or a surrogate mother? In Phantom thread she flirts with both or is that having motherly power over Reynolds she is free? The last part of the film depicts her taking over the business and with a child so this could be the case.
Other than the main themes there are other aspects of the film which have that P.T. Anderson touch, there’s a lot of attention to detail, tons of symbolism, the dresses being the epitome of the power struggle that exists in the film, and a rich use of colors, especially during one scene which involves a party.
All the actors are fantastic. As always Daniel Day-Lewis acts like this film will be his last (coincidentally Phantom Thread is going to be his last film!) Vicky Krieps and that’s just the main two actors. A superb cast.
Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood composed the minimalist piano score and it suits the film. Since I’ve been listening to Nils Frahm’s new album All Melody (more of that towards the end of February) for the past two weeks it felt like some weird type of synchronicity happening.
Eight films in and P.T. Anderson still can make a movie to ponder and combine a high aesthetic. Phantom Thread could possibly be the film that reaches the high standards of his first masterpiece, Magnolia. What do you think?