Phantom Thread ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Went in thinking Rebecca, with the Mother Figure elements almost hilariously foregrounded, but emerged with a distinct impression of Notorious—not just for the poisoning motivated by love, but also for the entire dynamic of sadism and masochism (“I can stand endlessly"; “I think you are only playing strong") between Reynolds and Alma, and the fact that their relationship is channeled through professional work, just as the Bergman-Grant relationship is. (Woodcock's sarcastic remark about Alma being a spy that's infiltrated his house almost seems a sly acknowledgement in that regard.) But—and this is where the degree of difficulty in the film lies—the extent of this is only clear at the end, with that seismic, destabilizing kiss that ripples back through the runtime, re-framing and transforming what comes before. Up till then, the film is actually rather perplexing—sumptuous and marvelously controlled, but lacking the rich character dynamics that one would expect from PTA. (The post-engagement scenes, especially, felt wan in that regard.) The "problem" is that the film doesn't seem to take the time to evoke genuine love; in retrospect, the petty jealousy (e.g. with the doctor and his godmother at the resort, the New Year's sequence) feels like a couple testing the waters, exploring an entirely new dynamic, masked beneath the circadian rhythms of the old. The asparagus dinner scene—which represents a marked shift in cadence and speech rhythms—is the turning point, the impasse that catalyses a act of love. The way Alma's care of a bedridden Reynolds then flows into her overseeing the wedding dress repairs, with a circling camera co-opted from Vertigo (which seems a reclamation of sorts, a subversion of that film's toxic dependency by genuine love), followed by the reveal of the stitching ("never cursed") — just magnificent.

More after a second viewing, but for now, all I'll say is that this is a supremely tricky film, so much so that it's surprising to me that most critics embraced it so unanimously, so quickly. The craft is immediately impressive, but on a moment-to-moment basis, up until that soaring ending, I found it harder to surrender to than I expected. Killer final line, though.