Phantom Thread (2017)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Actors: Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville
That is the word that comes to mind whenever I think of this film. It is elegant, magical, beautiful and masterful. Every time I think of how much I love Paul Thomas Anderson, I try and doubt myself. Thinking that maybe I am just biased. Then he comes out with a film like this and he continuously proves his abilities as a director. Walking into Phantom Thread, I had the biggest bias, expectation, and hype surrounding this film. How can I not? The Master and There Will Be Blood are both one of my favorite films ever made. Furthermore, Phantom Thread is the first PTA film I ever saw in theaters, which really excited me. With all this excitement and hype, I kept thinking that I may put my expectations too high and would ultimately be disappointed. All of those feelings vanished within the first 5 minutes of the film. With Jonny Greenwood's beautiful score and the colorful cinematography, I knew this film would be immaculate. And boy was I right.
I will get to how technically incredible the film is in a while, first I need to dissect the characters as they are the meat of this film. The plot's greatest aspect is the complexity of the characters of Alma and Reynolds. Each have so much within them that the audience can unearth and analyze. To start off, let's look at Alma. She starts off as being very shy and a person with low self esteem. She never thought of herself as beautiful, and always criticized certain aspects of her. When Reynolds takes that initial step and starts giving her attention, she begins to change. Now, for the first time in her life, she feels the need to be selfish. She wants the attention to be solely on her. Reynolds on the other hand, is a person who is fully dedicated to his work. He moves from one love interest to another, however it is merely due to the dresses and what he sees in them. If you noticed, during the first dressmaking scene, every time Alma and Reynolds are close to each other, Reynolds' eyes are solely looking at the dress, while Alma is always looking at Reynolds. This small detail tells us a lot about these characters and how they feel at different points in the film. Like for example when Reynolds comes in to propose to Alma. The shot is set up so you would think that he would naturally go and see the dress of the princess. Yet for the first time he goes to Alma rather than the dress, which signifies a major turning point in his character. But I'm jumping ahead.
I want to focus a bit on Reynolds and how his character changed due to the persistence of Alma. You see, Reynolds is a man who is madly in love with his work. All he thinks about is his work. You can even see it in the mannerisms that Daniel Day Lewis gives off as the character. You can see Reynolds occasionally repeats himself "I don't like distractions... I don't like distractions.... I don't like distractions". These subtle aspects play really gives the character great depth. It shows us that he is a very precise person and how he meticulously thinks. All of these contribute to the shell that he has created for himself. He never wants to let emotions get in the way of his work, which is why he is always moving from one love interest to another. However, Alma sees through this and tries to get him to break out of his shell. The only way she can do this is take on the role of his caretaker. Throughout the film, we see Cyril as his main caretaker. She does everything for him down to the letter. However, Alma is persistent to take on this role. I also felt somewhat of a correlation between Reynolds' obsession with his mother and the need for a caretaker. Him losing his mother was a great turning point in his life, and he has always held on to her ever since. Which is why he felt the need to have someone taking care of him as he does his work, like a mother figure. The scene when he is hallucinating his mother in the room as he is sick is a perfect example of this. He is at his most vulnerable point yet, and the thing he sees is his mother. He wants a person to take care of him and to treat him as his child. In walks in Alma, and the hallucination disappears. This is the point of the film in which Reynolds' realizes (but maybe doesn't instantly accept) the fact that Alma is the person who can care for him, to treat him as his child. Yet this aspect does not come lightly. He is still in his shell and it is hard for him to get out of it. The only way Alma can do that is chip away at his shell using the mushrooms. Slowly but surely weakening him. This is why Reynolds willingly took a bite out of the omelet, even though he knew he would get poisoned. This destructive relationship is what is needed for both characters to thrive. Reynolds needs a mother figure that will care for him and nurture him. Whereas Alma wants to be the center of attention in his life, for the first time she is being selfish, and she does not want to let that go. Each character is playing off of the needs of the other, and the only way to achieve that is with this destructive lifestyle. Which is what I believe makes this movie so unique.
Now that I talked about the characters, I feel like it is necessary to discuss about the actors playing these characters. As we all know, this is the last film Daniel Day Lewis has decided to act in. Which is very bittersweet. On one hand, we will never see him in a film again, while on the other, we at least got to see him play this incredible role before leaving. As I explained previously, Daniel Day Lewis mastered the character of Reynolds. He was able to bring in these subtle details that really added to the character and made him more believable. As I talked about, him repeating his words plays into the fact that he is very meticulous and precise. Furthermore, the way he looks at things. When he is in a room with Alma and dresses, during the first half of the film he was always looking at the dresses. His eyes were fixated on the fabric which really added to the aspect of his extreme passion for his craft. The way he also smiles, you can see that he meticulously smiles and it is very precise. It doesn't come in a natural way which also adds to this whole character. His acting was impeccable in this film and I am really glad he accepted this role. Now, it is really hard to notice the other actors when Daniel Day Lewis is on the screen, but I really felt like everyone was on the top of their games. Vicky Krieps as Alma did an incredible job. She also gave so much complexity to the character of Alma by having these subtle elements. At the start of the film you can see how her cheeks would go red every time Reynolds would compliment her. She was also more drawn back due to the shy nature of the character at the beginning. Yet slowly as the film went on she broke out of that bubble and changed. Her body movement differed, and even the way she talked changed. Both performances by Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day Lewis were incredible, and the were an essential part of the success of the film's characters.
Finally, I want to quickly talk about the technical aspects of the film. This review is already dragging on so I will try to be brief. First of all, as usual, the soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood is phenomenal. It was so beautiful and really elevated the film to a higher level. His scores with PTA have always been incredible, and I just wish he got more recognition for them. Other than that, the cinematography was as expected again, incredible. Paul Thomas Anderson's films are always so beautiful to look at. Even when there isn't anything interesting to see on screen. Especially with this film, where most of it is shot in the house. You would think that it would get repetitive and boring. But no, the film always kept spicing it up when it came to the cinematography. The colors and the way they contrasted everything around them was so precisely detailed and well executed. And I feel like it is safe to say, that although simple, the entire omelet making sequence was one of the best scenes we have seen in 2017. Everything in this film just oozes beauty and elegance. So much so that I felt choked up from how beautiful this film actually was from a technical standpoint. When the final shot came by and the soaring orchestral music kicked in, I seriously felt like I was watching a beautiful live painting in front of me.
All in all, this film is a work of art. If you know me personally, you know how much I love Paul Thomas Anderson. Phantom Thread is an incredible addition to his filmography and one that I will certainly be coming back to in the near future. It is also I believe one of his most accessible films alongside Punch Drunk-Love. The film had a lot of funny moments which surprised me, and they never felt forced or out of place. It all felt natural. Mainly due to the incredible performances by Daniel Day Lewis and Vicky Krieps. Other than that, the incredible score by Jonny Greenwood coupled with the beautiful cinematography was so good that it was this close to bringing a tear to my eye. I know that sounds cheesy, but when a film can get you to that level of emotion, you know it is something worth watching. This is why I have to give credit where credit is due. Please try and watch this film in theaters if you can. It would be a shame if you miss such a beautiful piece of art.