The latest film by acclaimed director and writer, Paul Thomas Anderson, titled ‘Phantom Thread’ is said to be actor Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film. In an interview, Day-Lewis claimed that ‘Phantom Thread’ left him with a deep sadness that has not left him. However, this strange film about fashion, set in 1950’s Great Britain, is not a sad film. Although it is a drama, and it can be a bit dark, there is quite a bit of humor and glints of hope throughout Paul Thomas Anderson’s script. This film seems to seize your attention, even if you have absolutely no interest in fashion, mainly because of the high level of production value and the performances that are captured on screen.
Utterly unrecognizable, Day-Lewis plays fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock, who is a man who is obsessed with his work. Taught his trade by his mother, Woodcock is a tortured genius. The character strikes parallels with other more modern day genius types to the tone of someone like Steve Jobs - at least to the extent that he may be portrayed on screen. Eating at odd intervals, requiring absolute silence and stillness while working, and obsessive compulsive need for everything to be just so in order for him to do his work. It is not as if his habits have not served him well, he is rich, and has the highest calibur clients in all of England - even making dresses directly for British Royalty.
It is made clear early on that Woodcock derives inspiration from his various female suitors, and with many creative types, that inspiration needs to be refreshed from time to time. Woodcock makes his way to the country and meets ‘Alma’ (Vicky Krieps) who happens to be entranced by squirreliness while acting as his waitress (It’s much more elegant then that, I just couldn’t think of a way to describe it. Servant maybe?). She becomes Woodcock’s new dress model and lover.
‘Phantom Thread’ is more of a character study than a narrative film. Similar in some ways to Danny Boyle’s 2015 film ‘Steve Jobs,’ you see that this man is a flawed genius, and his genius seems to come from torturing those around him by being cruelly intolerable, unable to relinquish control over anything in his own life. Reynolds Woodcock is an artist in every sense of the word and fabric is his canvas. Exclusively putting his own signature message hidden within the stitching of every dress that he creates. Even going so far as refusing clients based on their non-elegance or classless mannerisms. He takes such great care and control over his dresses that for anything to go wrong exhausts him. It seems that in order to be a genius in a field, you need to have equal parts madness - some would call it passion.
However, regardless of subject matter, a character like this could be seen working on literally anything. But the fashion industry is so intense and constantly changing with trends, and taste being so subjective it adds a level of drama that is not present with other industries or forms of art. Even today, people are judged by the branding of clothes that we wear as it not only shows off one’s taste, or need for quality, but it also shows one’s economic status. This is even more encapsulated by the romanticized posh setting of Great Britain post WW2. Much like Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘There Will Be Blood,’ you may have not had much interest in the oil industry, but the setting simply helps to tell a good story and is better served by it.
Paul Thomas Anderson is a master filmmaker, and Daniel Day-Lewis is in top form. You would be doing yourself a disservice by not seeing his last film.
**Fun Fact: This movie has some fun quotable lines much like ‘There Will Be Blood’ ‘s milkshake scene. Enjoy.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written By: Paul Thomas Anderson
Runtime: 132 Minutes