Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread ★★★★★

Phantom Thread intoxicates and needles the viewer, not knowing where it is leading or why Paul Thomas Anderson, who’s lately made such epic in scope films, chose to make it; until it hits with an emotional bag of hammers.

There's something painful about Phantom Thread and that's that Anderson’s weaving an identifiable crisscross desire to be both in a relationship and to be completely alone. That's what Thread is, it's an examination of power dynamics within a relationship that’s volatile because one creates and the other maintains. And I drink this milkshake up, baby. I drink it up.

The title of “phantom thread” concerns the ghastly exhaustion of sewists after completing an intricate dress on a tight deadline. For Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), that tight deadline is making original dresses for princesses on their wedding days, countesses going to exclusive galas, and the richest and most upper-crust women in all of England. His exhaustion after completing a dress puts him in an infantile state of recovery; needing to crawl into blankets and eat soup not unlike the desire to crawl back into the womb. His re-emergence at his estate necessitates new projects, new rigorousness, and, often, a new female companion to assist with the next cycle. If you wanted mother!’s creationist artist abuses without all the finger-wagging allegory and world-building, this is it. (And I don’t mean that as a dis to either film.)

Vicky Krieps is an impeccable find. She plays the one woman whom Reynolds romances and attempts to discard but won’t stand for it. She wins his longer affection by first feeding his ego, deeming a haughty drunk woman as not being worthy of wearing his beautiful dress. But she cannot keep his affection without feeling necessary in his life; to get that feeling she resorts to dastardly deeds that put him in the state where he needs her to dote on him because he’s incapable of caring for himself. The manner in which this is achieved—and then becomes cyclical—is downright delicious. It’s a storytelling masterstroke that will somehow warm the hearts of cynics and romantics alike. Each relationship is only truly known to the two people in it. And what they agree to do for balance would shock most but Anderson presents it as beautifully necessary. An artist and a lover need a constant reset button, so how do they do that together?

Of course, there are splendid technical elements weaved into Phantom Thread, such as Anderson's magnificent and uncredited photography (the car scenes recall A Clockwork Orange, although the race through the streets isn't leaving crime scenes, it's attempting to leave behind work and control and get to the country where some equality and balance can be achieved; it's Kubrick-styled racing to treat yo'self...). The design of the film, is also one of the grandest achievements of the year, with applause for Mark Bridges’ sumptuous dresses, Jonny Greenwood’s magnificent score, a regal New Year's party scene that recalls the glorious production design that befitted Luchiano Visconti’s massive Italian sets.

With Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson goes classical but there is arsenic in this lace. He keeps it from sweeping into lushness because Day-Lewis' Mr. Woodcock is unable to be swept. He's so rigid. And it takes a very brave woman to attempt to stitch her own threads into him and once again Anderson has found the perfect match for Day-Lewis' intensity in a fresh face, here Krieps, whose ability to blush on command and show soft teeth that still have bite. It’s the combination of all the filmmaking elements from performance, to design, to score, to direction, to secretive plotting that makes Phantom Thread the best movie of 2017. I mean, a vengeful and sleuthy gown removal is part of the plot! How magnificent is that?

I admired Phantom Thread while I watched it. I loved it when I digested it. I guess that's also how complicated relationships work as well. Also, it's darkly funny the more you think about it. I can't wait for seconds. How many things can you say that about from 2017?

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