Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread ★★★★★

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

This review may contain spoilers.

Utterly and unequivocally gorgeous in every single way. There's stunning filmmaking from Paul Thomas Anderson as usual: all of his films have that sort of deliberate framing and composition to them, as if every scene is a painting, a work of art. He really creates a microcosm of the era he's portraying at the time-- things are just modern enough to give it his typical stylistic flair, but accurate enough to the time he's shooting to make you stop and stare, soak up the detail and intricacies of each shot. The score is magnificent, managing to spiral from calmly contemplative to dangerously unsettling many times throughout the film. It does carry a lot of scenes and can feel almost cloying at times, (the auditory chaos of the New Year's Eve ballroom scene was kind of difficult for me to sit through without cringing) but it didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the film, as it successfully inspired feelings in me that reflected each scene, without holding my hand and telling me how to feel.
Many of Paul Thomas Anderson's characters are odd, and hover on the fringes of the society they live in for one reason or another-- whether it's because of their own interior reasoning or external factors. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Reynolds with a particular brand of self-imposed isolation: he's difficult to talk to, closed off and clearly very internally fractured, from the way he meticulously carries himself to the deliberate choice of each of his words. Vicky Krieps is absolutely exceptional as Alma in this. I hope it isn't too controversial of me to say this, but she honestly makes Day-Lewis look like a novice at times. Her ability to carry such strong emotion through the sweep of her eyes or the quirk of her lip and still keep it natural is so engaging and magnetic. Both of their performances are underpinned by this really sinister sort of danger and it's so palpable in some of their scenes towards the middle of the film: the viciousness of their back and forth and the way Alma's intense stare juxtaposes the quick, harsh turns of Reynolds' head. The unfurling animosity between them in the periods between poisonings is polar opposite to the tender and smile-drenched interactions they partake in the rest of the time.
I don't understand it and I don't wish to-- maybe it'll become clearer to me once I've revisited this a few times, but at the moment I'm content to puzzle it out from what I gathered from my first watch. My God, there's such a peculiar dynamic to their relationship that's like, endlessly entertaining to think about. I love Paul Thomas Anderson's weird, weird mind. It was also really satisfying to see some traits of the Gothic genre come alive on screen: the ambiguity surrounding each interaction and plot point, and slight touches of superstition and the supernatural provided some thought-inspiring additions to an already intriguing story, both narratively and in terms of 1950s era context.
Speaking of story: the script of Phantom Thread is one thing that I kept coming back to over and over during my time watching this. I couldn't help but think about the incredible amount of care put into it: each turn of phrase, each gesture and each fleeting glance between our two main characters is chosen in a way that fits in perfectly with every other aspect of the story. It reminded me of the artfully intentional nature of stage reading, albeit with a little more nuance. The way words flowed from one character's mouth to another, like Alma and Reynolds' sharing of the word "hungry," and the poignancy with which they wield the expletive "fuck," was particularly important to me in showing the strength of their strange and twisted kind of connection: they are the only two to use these words in the entire film, if I remember correctly, and it creates an odd sort of tether between them as the nature of their relationship grows. The alarming chaos of the scenes involving House of Woodcock client Barbara and the unsettling power the pair exert over her add to their bond as well, although it's in a much darker fashion. Another really masterful aspect to this film linguistically for me came from the duality of conversation: the implications of Alma frustratedly announcing "I'm not cheating!" during her and Reyolds' argument over backgammon, partly because of a rift between them after being separated all night during a dinner party.
The subtlety and odd tongue-in-cheek allusions to the main plot point in the dialogue makes this such a delightful film to look back on: I can't recall another film I've watched with the same level of linguistic focus. Some of my favourite additions are "if you can stomach it.." " keep my sour heart from choking.." and "..there's an air of quiet death in this house." It just colours a lot of this film in a playful light, making it a really layered and interesting watch. It’s darkly humourous and just shy of ridiculous, which makes it all the more fun.
I have mixed feelings about this, but they all manage to fall in between the lines of “awe-inspired” and “completely, smugly, delighted”. I'm really looking forward to rewatching this as many times as I can as I actually do believe it's a real masterpiece, and possibly my new top film of 2017. It's certainly the most delicious.

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