Phantom Thread, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and nominated for six Academy Awards, , is an enthralling romantic drama detailing the growing relationship between Reynold Woodcock, played by Daniel Day-Lewis in his final performance, and his maid Alma Elson, played by Vicky Krieps. Full of emotion, this dark romance consists of killer orchestral scores, well-placed camera panning and captivating actors.
Set in 1950s bourgeoisie London, the film is framed by an interview of Alma, a maid at the Victoria Inn. She ultimately wins the heart of Reynold, a stone-cold, wealthy, honor-driven dressmaker. Interrupted by bits of interview, the film progresses chronologically, beginning with Reynold’s personal journey into the “country,” or the Victoria Inn. The film focuses on themes of masculinity, femininity and the ideal body and depicts an entourage of creative costumes detailing 1950s fashion as Reynold sensually dresses his newfound love, Alma. Complacent with being Reynold’s muse, Alma relishes in her newfound “usefulness” and potential romantic partner. With lines like “you have no breasts… My job is to make sure you get them,” the film reveals the historical context of upper society and the objectification of women.
From Reynold’s sister and business partner Cyril Woodcock, powerfully played by Lesley Manville, we learn that Reynold believes he has been cursed to never love. In a reflection of his masculinity, Reynold fears the dark emotions that drive him toward romance. The film also explores the relationship between Reynold and his mother, driving home how the death of his mother emotionally impacted him. This is best shown through an anecdote about how Reynold sewed his mother’s wedding dress for a month, illustrating his potential for attachment as well as his detachment from the people around him; he focuses on his dresses to avoid potential emotional entanglements with his past girlfriends and even his sister.
In one scene, Alma attempts to plan a surprise dinner and romantic evening with Reynold with the support of Cyril. However, Reynold returns home utterly shocked and disappointed. Confused by Alma’s romantic “ambush,” Reynold asks if Alma has a gun, and Alma leaves. After returning, Alma decides that she is tired of waiting for Reynold to fall in love with her. Frustrated by his emotional detachment from her and identifying his toxic masculinity as the root of the problem, Alma poisons Reynold in order to make him weak and vulnerable, both physically and mentally. The shift in power and near-death experience force Reynold to cope with the death of his mother and to romantically engage with Alma, and he asks her to marry him. This transformation from cold-heartnedness to emotional vulnerability is original in terms of Day-Lewis’ emotional depiction of Reynolds’ maturity, but it is also corny in its implementation and cinematographically.
After marrying Alma, Reynold returns to his old routine of working and ignoring his wife. Anderson toys with the concept of Alma cheating, but he quickly shies away in favor of a more Reynold-centered internalized conflict. In one scene, for example, Reynold releases fits of rage at his sister about Alma’s social engagements away from him. Cyril proceeds to ignore these fits and tell him to grow up. I found this particular part of the film to be rather realistic and Cyril’s quips to be a wonderful and highly mesmerizing aspect of the interaction between Reynold and the other characters.
The film is cinematographically brilliant; a phantom thread is consistently woven through the various aspects of the film, whether it be the shaking camera, the orchestral scores or the enticing dialogue. In terms of the plot, however, the film remains lacking due to the overwhelming randomness of some aspects of the story in combination with the conflicting ideologies pushed about feminism and the female body. Furthermore, the fact that Alma has to to poison her husband several times in order to confront his toxic masculinity is rather unsettling and not entirely realistic.
While Phantom Thread may not have the perfect conclusion, it serves as a picturesque denouement of Daniel Day-Lewis’ acting career. With acting as precise as his character’s threading, Day-Lewis stuns, amazes, disgusts, fascinates and enthralls in the career-ending film.