Phantom Thread Review
Phantom Thread opens with a simple title card accompanied by high-pitched tones, followed by a medium close-up of a young woman, her face bathed in firelight. “Reynolds has made my dreams come true,” she says calmly to an as yet unseen figure. The remainder of the film does its best to disprove this assertion.
We are thrust into the world of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a dressmaker and man of meticulous routine, as the following montage of his morning ritual attests. He carries and presents himself with precision. Over breakfast, a young woman offers him a pastry and he looks at her as if she were a gigantic insect. Shortly after, Woodcock consults with his sister Cyril (Lesly Manville) about how this young woman is to be disposed of.
Soon, Woodcock is off to Robin Hood’s Bay, driving into the morning, dropping his car off at a local garage, and settling down at the Victoria Hotel for breakfast. A young waitress (Alma, played wonderfully by Vicky Krieps) enters the room, whom we notice due to her clumsiness. She gains assurance as she takes Woodcock’s order, vowing to remember it by heart. She gets it just right, and Woodcock asks her to dinner. At dinner, he talks almost entirely about himself at length. He discusses the way in which you can stow away hidden messages within the linings of handmade garments. Eventually, he stops talking and just looks at Alma. “If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose,” she says. From there, the two head off to his studio in his country home. However, he does not seduce her; instead, he asks her to stand for him so he can begin to create a dress for her. Cyril arrives as if on cue to write down Alma’s measurements–but not before looking at her as if she were a slide under a microscope. Alma relates her bodily insecurities to Cyril, who responds, “You’re perfect. He likes a little belly.”
Later on, while on a stroll by the bay, Reynolds mentions his great luck in finding Alma, who responds, “Whatever you do, do it carefully.” Reynolds is anything but careful with Alma, as he finds many of her mannerisms irksome. She butters her toast too loudly. She carries tea into his study and he can’t take it. They fire verbal volleys at each other and he finally says, “The tea is going out. The interruption is staying right here with me.” This leads to Alma’s conclusion that Reynolds needs to “settle down” after long periods of work. Her way of accomplishing this is novel, to say the least.
This film is mesmerizingly beautiful. Anderson reportedly shot this film himself (with collaboration from lighting cameraman Michael Bauman) and he frames in a Kubrick-inflected style but cuts with a Hitchcockian one. This gives the film a sense of momentum that is supported by Jonny Greenwood’s score and the other classical music that alternates with it. Very little of the film is without music, and there are minuscule but deliberate shifts in instrumentation and orchestration throughout that suffuse the film with a tightly-wound tension. The performances in this film are impeccable. Day-Lewis is a tightly-wound wonder who becomes open and tender once Alma has reduced him to the state she frequently desires of him. Krieps and Manville are equally incredible, inhabiting the world of this story with integrity.
As Reynolds is ill with a mushroom-induced fever, he hallucinates his mother, standing stiffly in the wedding gown he made for her. However, he never looks directly at her, instead staring up to the heavens. “Are you here? Are you always here?” he inquires. “I miss you. I think about you all the time.” This is the crux of the film. It points to an unsolvable mystery, an expression of hope and longing within the crushing loneliness we all try to escape. It points back to the movie’s title and imbues it with a power that is equally frightening and exciting.