Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.
David Fincher once said that the founding tenet of his career is that “people are perverts.” From his mouth, that sounds coy at best and cynical at worst. Phantom Thread takes that exact sentiment as its thesis and makes it feel liberating, as it should be. Connects it to the spiritual, not necessarily something you would expect from a director who has made multiple films about con men using religion as deceit. Anderson weaves streams of light as if they were shining from the heavens above, and exposes the naked, childlike need (and constant existential terror) that drives all desire for control.
Paul Thomas Anderson has crafted a heightened reality in which senses and feeling can be easily and strongly perceived. One can view his work with the eyes of a dressmaker. PTA has sewed one of the most beautiful and brilliant films with the help of his cinematography, his screenplay, its pacing, Jonny Greenwood’s phenomenal score, Vicky Krieps’ beautiful and exceptional performance as the thread of the film, and Daniel Day Lewis and Lesley Manville’s marvelous and enchanting needles. Each instrument different from one another, but each ending together as one remarkable piece. Nevertheless, there is a singular similarity that the instruments share: they will always follow the same path.
One of its most impressive qualities is that Phantom Thread doesn’t commit itself to tired optimism or dull pessimism. It doesn’t adhere to any one black-and-white worldview. It not only fully embraces the tumultuous process of ups and downs that is existence, but it takes this hard fact and makes it the lifeline of the entire film. It’s an incredibly intelligent and unique approach that is a breath of fresh air from what we’re usually imposed with.
There was perhaps the fear prior to Phantom Thread’s release that Anderson’s decision to forgo hiring a traditional Director of Photography in favour of his own personal eye may leave him too much to chew. The result however is the seamless creation of a new creative authority. Anderson’s ability to match and locate new perspective and emotional intrigue within often just the small confines of Woodcock’s house makes one set seem like multiple. The camera and performances work with perfect fluidity, often swapping centre-stage for moments which suit one more than the other – with the one retreating to the shadows always happy to award the limelight for the good of the overall.
Also mastering his craft is composer Jonny Greenwood, lead Radiohead guitarist, a common Anderson collaborator. His score here couldn’t be further away from the deep growls of Radiohead here however. Whether soft or shrill, Greenwood’s piano is omnipresent and gives the film rhythm and tempo, making Phantom Thread read as much a sheet of music as a motion picture. This score makes you wonder why he’s been spending most of his years bashing a guitar and living as a rockstar – let’s hope Anderson locks him in a composing suite and throws away the key.
Phantom Thread is a textbook example of everything I love about cinema. It makes me feel indescribable emotions. There are moments of pure silence yet I feel like I’m having a wonderful conversation with the film. The framing, lighting, acting: all of it works so well together to elicit such intense feeling.