Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is an amalgamation of the arts, with the outcome being a violently charming masterstroke. It’s a Zolaesque piece of sophistication, rife with addiction, passion and possession. Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a selfish creature of haute couture; a perverse man-child dependant on strict routine. When he meets young waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps), a sickly relationship begins. He objectifies her as art, but with her consent, she becomes his muse.
From the lavish settings of 1950s London, to Woodcock’s atelier, there is a fascination present in the cinematography, occasionally reminiscent of Edward Hopper. Krieps and Day-Lewis’ portrayal of their characters inspires ineffable tension and attachment. Replacing the painting with filmmaking, summarised by Hopper’s aphorism, ‘If you could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.’ The film is intelligently and expressively crafted. Alma severely desires to take care of Woodcock, who is preoccupied with the selfish concern of personal development. That selfishness is then matched with a lustful and jealous sabotage, executed by Alma. It may feel as though the crux comes too late, but we still swoon in the clever twist’s betrayal of romanticisation.
The writing is mournful and stunning. With lines like “There is an air of quiet death in this house and I do not like the way it smells,” there are countless opportunities for humour. Woodcock’s profanities are hilarious, as are Alma’s assertive retaliations. Lesley Manville’s portrayal of Cyril, Woodcock’s sister, is icewitch-esque, or rather, a softer, defrosting ice-witch, also contributing towards those precious moments of humour. The skill set of Manville and Day-Lewis introduces a threatening air. The two work incredibly well together in creating the authority of artisan predators, with Alma as their prey. Alma refers to Woodcock as a “hungry boy,” and Cyril specifically smells ‘sandalwood and rosewater’ on Alma. Although Woodcock’s ill-manners and strict routine may frustrate Alma, he does experience loving obsession towards her, remarking, “I feel as if I’ve been looking for you for a very long time.”
With captivating fabrics, sweet pastries and abundant longing stares, Phantom Thread may seem to prove that “violent delights have violent ends.” Nevertheless, the concentrated emotions between our two protagonists appear to defy such predictions. It is a commentary on how people tailor themselves for love and how love can surpass addiction, but can also be the addiction.