MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville.
Although Phantom Thread is clearly set in the fashion world of early 1950’s post-war London, its story is a Gothic romance in the style of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre or Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. A young woman enters into the employ and household of a mysterious older man and challenges the homeostasis of his daily routines.
Fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a demanding and meticulous boss, used to controlling everyone in order to create his clothing and to maintain the upper hand. He is assisted by his sister Cyril (Manville), who is virtually always by his side.
When out of town at a seaside hotel, Woodcock begins a conversation with Alma (Vicky Krieps), who first impresses him by remembering and delivering to the table what we would call in America a “lumberjack’s breakfast”. Woodcock invites Alma to come back with him to his country home and she surprisingly accepts his offer on the spot, leaving the hotel for good.
Woodcock’s intentions for Alma are complex. She has a form that he considers “perfect” for his creations, but he is reluctant to praise her. There appears to be moments of off-screen intimacy between them, but there are no public displays of tenderness.
Woodcock is a lonely man and he and his sister share the regrets of a troubled childhood. He has everything that money can buy as well as international acclaim, and that is not enough. As Alma confounds his expectations, he is visibly upset but also intrigued. The film takes its time to reach an unexpected and yet satisfying conclusion.
Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s films always reward future viewings, but there is much to enjoy the first time around, from the beautiful set design and use of light, Jonny Greenwood’s romantic score, Anderson’s confidence behind the camera, and many moments of dry humor.
Phantom Thread features a good performance by Krieps (although her German accent comes and goes) and outstanding star turns from Day-Lewis and Manville. The slow pace is likely to bore some viewers, and its themes of loneliness and manipulation are also challenging to people expecting a romance. The film is likely to age well, like a fine wine, but with a bitter and unforgettable aftertaste. I may not be able to persuade you to view or even embrace this film, but I look forward to revisiting Phantom Thread and the discussions that will inevitably follow.
Three halos: For the patient viewer, this is a rewarding character study with more than a few surprises.
Two pitchforks: Brief multiple occasions of the F-Bomb; mild dread.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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