Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread ★★★½

An interview quote surfaced on twitter this morning* that Anderson intended Alma to be a specifically Jewish refugee, as hinted by the scene in which she reacts with disgust to one character profiting off of selling visas to Jews during wartime. It speaks to something I originally thought of as one the film's strengths, mainly that Anderson gave up his failed attempts at saying something big in TWWB or the Master and realized he's much better at floating signifiers an audience can connect to larger political constructs would they be interested in doing so. The film becomes a collection of phantom threads, if you will.

Thus, while not the main theme of the movie, there's space for a critique of class and gender dynamics in a field where femininity is constructed by a domineering male artist of questionable genius, but also gives space for a relationship where, perhaps in relation to these external dynamics, can also only be mutually beneficial and psychologically satisfactory via a reverse humiliation in which power is ultimately in the hands of the partner with lesser societal status. My personal favorite moment in the film comes when, after being bed-ridden for the first time, the women who work for Woodcock finish the dress themselves, illuminating the invisible labor required for a prominent artist to bring his craft to life, and suggesting they'd be just as well off without him. It's not a film about that, but it's there for a few moments.

Alma being Jewish certainly gives the film's post-war setting more justification (along with Woodcock's line about rescuing a fabric during the war, showing where his priorities were while, perhaps, Alma's family was being slaughtered). Does it, as Fassbinder intends in "Year of 13 Moons" give Alma a bit of Anton Seitz's streak of architectural vengeance, where ruthlessness honed in the camps set the groundwork for destroying and rebuilding Germany at whim?

I don't know, and I don't think Anderson does either, but I do wonder what Akerman would have done with the material. Her films too float a reference or two that changes the paradigm of everything onscreen, from Tomorrow We Move becoming about a survivor's sense of dislocation and inability to settle to a doomed romance in Golden Eighties being partly about self-deprivation, a residual of irreparable trauma caused by the Holocaust. They're similarly on screen for mere moments, but they're intentional, and strike me as a much bolder choice than allowing for audience participation. Then again, I wouldn't trust Anderson in that regard, so a phantom subtext is probably for the best.


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