Warning: Contains spoilers
REVIEW BY MATTHEW CLARK
Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, Phantom Thread, is set in the High Fashion world of London post-WWII, and focuses on the story of fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock and his new muse, a waitress named Alma. Through the course of the film we see their relationship develop as the characters learn of each others’ dysfunctions and their lives become interwoven.
Anyone who has seen Anderson’s work should be familiar with his tendency to examine imbalanced power dynamics, whether between performer and mentor, (as seen in Boogie Nights) or a criminal and the people he is exploiting (as seen in Punch-Drunk Love) to name just two. Phantom Thread is no different, with Daniel Day Lewis saying the emotional toll of making the movie inspired his retirement from acting. Anderson manages to subvert audience expectations in a way that makes Phantom Thread both feel fresh and nostalgically familiar.
About halfway through the film, Alma reaches her breaking point and can’t take any more of Reynold’s obsessive behaviour. She realizes she has to do something or nothing is going to change, due to his controlling tendencies. Taking matters into her own hands, she begins to poison Reynold’s food with toxic mushrooms found on the property, unbeknownst to him. When Reynolds gets sick, Alma takes advantage of his weakened state to nurse him back to health, making him need her again.
This moment marks a clear shift in the power dynamic in Reynolds and Alma’s relationship. Up until this point, despite Alma being a resilient, strong-willed woman, her agency is constantly infringed upon by Reynolds and the way he does business. He remarks on her body, and complains about her making noise during breakfast. By poisoning him and making him rely on her for survival she strips him of his power, even if he isn’t originally aware of it. He eventually discovers what transpired, but decides that his love for Alma is stronger than any trepidation he could have about being poisoned.
Through the meticulous cinematography, costume design, and scoring, Anderson manages to create a tightly wound film that seems to be a thematic amalgamation of his previous films while managing to subvert the very formula he has created. Both Daniel Day Lewis and Vicky Krieps give wonderful performances, not to mention the supporting cast as well.
Fans of Anderson’s previous work have complained that Phantom Thread is too slow, or boring, mostly due to the film’s minimal plot and focus on character study. However, much like the dresses made by Reynolds in the film, Phantom Thread is a movie based around subtlety and fine details, something that definitely warrants multiple viewings to truly appreciate the craft put into it. There is a sense that Anderson is toying with the viewer this way, as they struggle to see the point in what is happening until the movie is flipped on Its head. For all of this and more, Phantom Thread is worth the time.