Phantom Thread: A Story Better Told Through the Unsaid
Daniel Day-LewisLesley Manville...
Paul Thomas Anderson
In 2 Cinemas
Phantom Thread tells the story of fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel-Day Lewis), a fussy, narcissistic, controlling, workaholic, who also happens to be an absolute genius at his trade. Woodcock generally treats women like temporary muses; muses that have to follow his rigid rules and peculiar preferences. If they don’t, he feels they no longer inspire him, and asks his sister Cyril (Leslie Manville) to dispose of them. This is all true until Reynolds encounters a waitress called Alma (Vicky Krieps); solely focused on turning her into another one of his disposable muses, Reynolds becomes far too obsessively distracted to foresee what is to come.
This was Daniel-Day Lewis’ last movie, and what a performance he delivers. Indeed, Lewis does not fall into the pitfalls associated with performing such a poignant character. More specifically, Lewis avoids delivering a cartoonish portrayal, and also avoids delivering a character hated by audiences. As such, Lewis’ portrayal of Woodcock gave the character several dimensions, making him highly relatable and weirdly lovable.
Particularly, the character exhibits traces of human weakness, during several occasions, throughout the film. Despite their scarcity, these occasions allow the audience to view Woodcock as a human being, a highly flawed one at the least, but still a human being. Woodstock’s character is complex; he is self-absorbed when it comes to his particular fancies, he values his work above anything (including his own health), and he aggressively pressures the women surrounding him to fit an idealized mold of his own creation.
Vicky Krieps also proves to be the perfect casting choice for the role of Alma; the waitress who initially looks like she could be another one of Woodcock’s weakling muses, but who then slowly transforms into an intricately strong and smart character. The relationship between Woodstock and Alma is toxic in every manner, with Alma being initially entrapped in the claustrophobic and deathly presence of Woodcock, and his house.
Only in the second half of the film does the audience realize that she is no fragile angel; much like him, she possesses incredible strength and determination. A scene representative of their disturbing relationship is one where Alma serves Woodcock poisoned mushrooms; despite knowing the mushrooms’ toxic nature, needy and fragile, Woodcock eats them. This scene captures the ghastly nature of desires that humans sometimes possess towards their partners; this scene also makes evident the lengths that some humans are willing to go to, in order to feed their addiction for someone’s love and approval.
The true beauty of Paul Anderson’s directing comes through in the way in which he leaves the verdict on the characters’ motives and feelings to the audience. Furthermore, from the very beginning to the very end, the framing of the film’s shots is impeccably artistic, so much so in fact that each scene could be viewed as a painting in and of itself. Moreover, the film’s color palette and lighting, transport the audience to the cinematic text’s 1950’s setting, while simultaneously creating one of the world’s most aesthetically pleasing features. The costume crew also did an amazing job designing and crafting the dresses; the dresses seemed to be freshly sewn, whilst retaining a regal like elegance.
All in all, Anderson excelled at using the unsaid, and the audience’s induced feelings, to tell a story that is just as strange as it is fascinating. Phantom Thread is strange, dark and genius but, it is not made for the liking of mass audiences. Much like a painting, it is created to be highly appreciated by a handful of individuals.