****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****
My Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars
My Recommendation: SEE IT IN THE THEATRE. For those who have more sophisticated taste in cinema, this is a true gem. For those with more conventional tastes, this might be enjoyable but a bit difficult.
Phantom Thread, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is the story of Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned fashion designer in 1950's London, and his unlikely relationship with a young waitress. The film stars Daniel Day-Lewis, with supporting turns from Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps.
Phantom Thread is, like most of director PT Anderson's films, one of those movies that successfully operates upon multiple levels simultaneously. On the surface, the film is a dark relationship story, but just below that surface there is a seething underbelly that is glorious in its insightful complexity. While the surface story is entertaining and compelling, the real riches are to be found in the underbelly, where the treasure chest of psychological marrow resides.
That marrow is the psychological story of a man attempting to integrate his anima. The anima is archetypal feminine energy and men spend their lifetimes trying to resolve their anima issues, just as women spend their lives attempting to resolve their animus issues, both in the pursuit of psychological wholeness. The true narrative at the heart of Phantom Thread is that of the artist (Woodcock - who is probably a stand in for the artist PT Anderson himself), first recognizing, then reconciling with his anima. All artists are in a lifelong dance with their anima, at times immersed in it and other times repulsed by it. While the twists and turns in the narrative of Phantom Thread can at first glance seem a bit much, when viewed through the prism of this psychological lens, they are entirely appropriate and quite remarkable.
PT Anderson is the preeminent auteur of our age. He is one of the rarest of rare filmmakers who is equally masterful directing actors as he is directing the camera and the narrative. Darren Aronofsky is similar filmmaker to Anderson in this respect but is not quite up to his level. What immediately struck me about Phantom Thread and brought Aronofsky to mind is that the anima narrative at the core of Phantom Thread is almost identical to the core of Aronofsky's last film, the much maligned and debated Mother! (not to mention a very similar narrative structure). I certainly do not think either director intentionally stole the idea or that they were even conscious of the similarities, but it is very striking to me when two artists of PT Anderson's and Darren Aronofsky's caliber are moved by the same muse. Whenever that happens my Isaiah/McCaffrey Wave Theory alarms go off and I immediately sit up and take notice. Now…to be clear, Phantom Thread is a vastly superior film to Mother!, of that there is no doubt, but the similarities of their DNA are worth noting.
Daniel Day Lewis gives what may very well be his greatest performance in Phantom Thread, and considering his stellar career, that is saying a lot. Lewis gives his Reynolds Woodcock a vivid inner life filled with specific and detailed intentions that are palpable on screen, such as when he sets his sights on the young waitress Alma. While Woodcock is a meticulous study in contained fury, it is when he reveals his magnetic and seductive charm that the true force of his power is seen.
Lewis is always an intoxicating actor to watch, a master craftsman with a commanding and innate dynamism that is so compelling as to be nearly hypnotic, and so it is in Phantom Thread. Lewis has said that this is his last performance, and that would certainly be a terrific loss for the acting world, but going out with such a tour de force as he gives in Phantom Thread feels like a wonderful Daniel Day-Lewis-ian thing to do for the always enigmatic master.
Vicky Krieps bursts onto the acting scene as Alma Elson, the waitress who catches Reynold Woodcock's eye. Krieps is an alluring and luminous screen presence. She has an understated power to her that is impressive to behold. There is never a moment where she seems overwhelmed opposite the Greatest Actor in the World®, Daniel Day-Lewis.
Krieps has an earthy, beguiling sexuality about her that is captivating and enchanting. Watching her Alma navigate the treacherous waters of her relationship with Woodcock by using different tactics and strategies was a joy to behold simply due to Kriep's unabashed talent.
Lesley Manville plays Reynolds sister Cyrill to perfection. Cyrill is the brains and structure behind Reynolds talent, without her the entire fashion dynasty they have built would crumble. Manville's command of stillness and steely glare make her Cyrill a sort of Lady MacBeth of the House of Woodcock, as she is unsexed and the true power behind the throne.
Even though he is a highly skilled fashion designer, Reynolds is still a man in every sense of his being. Although he may not appear to be, he is a man ruled by his appetites and his very specific and unique tastes, whether it be in food or women.
Cyrill is the one who has learned to remain still so that Reynolds hungry animal nature does not devour her, but the intrigue of Phantom Thread is watching Alma try and figure out how to tame Reynolds beast and satiate his appetites without sacrificing herself in the process.
Besides being filled with superior acting, Phantom Thread is a gorgeous film to look at as well. Anderson's usual cinematographer, the always fantastic Robert Elswitt, was unavailable to shoot Phantom Thread, and rumors are that Anderson shot it himself, although he claims it was a collaborative effort on the part of multiple people. Whoever shot it though deserves accolades as the framing, in particular, but also the color palette and the sheer beauty of the lighting, some of it with just candles, is remarkable.
The fashion on display is also a wonder to behold. I am not someone who usually notices that sort of thing but I was overwhelmed with the beauty and intricacy of the wardrobe in the movie. I assume Phantom Thread, which is nominated for six Oscars, will at the very least get a win for Costume Designer Mark Bridges, who richly deserves the award.
In conclusion, I loved Phantom Thread and think it is one of the very best films of the year. Like PT Anderson's other films There Will Be Blood and The Master, it may be a bit impenetrable for those whose tastes are not inclined to the art house. For cinephiles or those with more ambitious movie going tastes though, Phantom Thread is a delectable cinematic feast. I highly recommend you spend your hard earned dollars and sparse free time to go see it in the theatre.
****WARNING- THIS ADDENDUM CONTAINS SPOILERS!! THIS IS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!****
- I just wanted to write a brief analysis of the film to add to my review for those who have seen the movie already. The thing to watch for in Phantom Thread is Reynolds obvious controlling and power hungry nature. Notice how he has very specific tastes in food and how he controls his environment.
Reynolds, who, like most artists, is estranged from his anima but like a flame is constantly drawn to it and then repulsed by it, which is why he goes through so many different muses…just like the writer character in Mother!.
The fascinating thing to me is that Alma uses mushrooms to sicken Reynolds. Mushroom are grown in the shadow…symbolic of the psychological shadow. She surreptitiously gets Reynolds to digest his shadow material and it makes him ill. It is when he is ill, weakened, that his "male armor" comes down and he is helpless and is able to appreciate Alma once again.
When caring for the sick Reynolds, Alma takes on the role of his late mother…mother being the ultimate anima figure (hence Aronsofky's film titled Mother!). Reynolds even has a fever dream where he sees Alma and his dead mother in the room with him and they sort of blend into one another. This is the beginning of Reynolds integrating his anima, which is hard and painful work, but ultimately not only necessary but vital.
As time goes on and their relationship twists and turns, Alma returns to the mushrooms, this time even more of them. Reynolds understand why this is, and that he must turn himself over to the shadow material (mushrooms), even risking his life, in order to have the anima experience he so desperately needs to "survive" as an artist and to continue on his journey to wholeness.
In some ways, Alma is a witch, using nature to brew up a concoction in order to weaken Reynolds and remove his masculine armor in order to make him more susceptible to the spell of the animus.
I know that this interpretation might be a bit much for some people, but it makes for a fascinating and in my opinion, ultimately satisfying, way to watch the film.