Phantom Thread

A well-spun tale

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The delectable peculiarities of Phantom Thread come from all over, from countless inspirations. Some are cinematic: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Gothic standard Rebecca, for one, and David Lean’s little-known and fascinating 1949 romantic triangle The Passionate Friends, for another.

Other inspirations are personal, presumably, since a movie this distinctive in its delicate perversity is likely saying something about the preoccupations and ambitions of its writer/director, Paul Thomas Anderson, and its star, Daniel Day-Lewis.

The actor, whom Anderson says had a considerable, uncredited hand in the shaping of the material, claims this will be his final screen role. He has said also that he and Anderson laughed a great deal as they were preparing Phantom Thread. Shooting it, however, in cramped quarters on location in London and elsewhere, was a “nightmare” that left the famously obsessive actor feeling a bit crushed and more than a little sad.

Seeing the movie, you understand the mood swings. Anderson and his exquisitely, tactfully mobile camera explores a marriage in a constant state of dynamic, even sociopathic tension. More narrowly, the film is a portrait of a certain kind of male temperament that’s just asking for a comeuppance. In that regard Phantom Thread connects to everything going on in the culture right now. And yet it’s about the least topical thing you can imagine: Its insular, spellbinding gorgeousness is the work of creative artists on their own wavelength.

The setting of Phantom Thread is the high-fashion world of 1950s London. Anderson treats his subject, and his shape-shifting story, to a series of luxe, swank images. The protagonist, Reynolds Jeremiah Woodcock, exerts every ounce of taste, focus and control he can muster to create gowns for a rarefied clientele of royalty and lesser mortals. Business is slipping; the House of Woodcock has its more modish competitors.

But Reynolds, whose mother issues lurk in the shadows, continues to devote his life to his work, carving out room only for his business partner sister, Cyril, played with sly authority by Lesley Manville, with an air of Rebecca and Mrs. Danvers about her. Early in the film we see Reynolds and Cyril at breakfast with Reynolds’ latest temporary muse, model and paramour. This interloper’s usefulness to the House of Woodcock has run its course. Cyril, whom Reynolds calls “my old so-and-so,” suggests a change of scenery.

Alone, traveling to his cottage in the country, Reynolds meets a waitress at a seaside inn. She is Alma, of uncertain extraction. The actress who plays her, Vicky Krieps, is from Luxembourg, and she is excellent, at once emotionally open and a master concealer when the central relationship in the film demands it.

Phantom Thread jostles these two together, abruptly; this is not a Gothic romance much interested in the getting-to-know-you sequences. Too many other things are going on to compete with the ordinary expository business. As Alma and Reynolds come to know each other, it’s a chaste depiction of love between strangely matched equals. Alma appreciates the finery she’s a part of, but does Reynolds see her as anything more than a clothes rack with a beating heart? Probably, but one of the triumphs of Phantom Thread lies in Day-Lewis’ witty dissection of an aesthete who cannot abide the sound of his wife eating cereal in the morning. (Anderson’s shot of Day-Lewis unconsciously mimicking Krieps’ way of biting down on her spoon is one of a hundred wonderful details in the movie.)

Where this marriage goes, and what Alma does to course-correct her spouse’s less attractive traits, takes Phantom Thread into unexpected territory. Parts of the film suggest an intoxicating, windswept romance laden with secrets; other parts go for wild tonal change-ups, on par with the raucous black-comic coda of There Will Be Blood (2007), Anderson’s previous collaboration with Day-Lewis. The movie feels both expansive and confining, depending on the story chapter. Anderson’s visual facility by now has become so intuitive, so fluid and effortlessly right, if you’re at all susceptible to the allure of a moving camera you’ll fall headlong into Phantom Thread.

It must be said, I suppose: Where Phantom Thread dares to tread may exasperate anyone looking for a disposable exercise in movie nostalgia. When Alma feels her happiness slipping away, her solution is at once alarming and effective. I’d characterize Anderson’s film as a romantic comedy with an unusually complicated and profoundly destabilizing happy ending. If that sounds like your thing, then here you are. Oh, this, too: If there’s a better piece of film music in theaters at the moment than Jonny Greenwood’s astonishing “House of Woodcock” theme, I can’t wait to hear it. Max Ophuls and Douglas Sirk only wish their movies featured such ironic-romantic grandeur on the soundtrack.

More Film...
The King
Elvis as America

Documentaries about the current state of America, as good as some of them are, often have the effect of news headlines: They come and go, leaving a slight blur. But The King isn’t like other politically and socially inflamed documentaries. Written and directed by Eugene Jarecki (Why We…

more »
A man of constant sorrow

How do you make a movie about stagnation? A movie that doesn’t just tell you a story about someone wasting away, but that seems to embody a state of physical and moral decay for nearly two hours?

It may not sound like a glowing recommendation, but Lucrecia Martel has made such a movie…

more »
Hearts Beat Loud
Life writ small

Brett Haley’s new movie, Hearts Beat Loud, isn’t quite in the same league as his best film, I’ll See You in My Dreams, but I see what he’s up to, and I’m liking it. At a time when popular American movies are heading in the direction of the huge and the simple, Haley is developing…

more »
Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:30pm|Vanier Park

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Festival of Music Community Concert

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Wednesday Farmers Market

3:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Downtown Sounds

5:30pm|Downtown Bellingham

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Swing Connection

6:00pm|Seafarers' Memorial Park

Backpacking Basics


Creekside Open Mic

6:30pm|South Whatcom Library

Vegetarian Pakistani

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Brewers Cruise


Intro to Improv

7:00pm|Improv Playworks

Village Books
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Kids Can Cook, Science Edition

10:00am|Community Food Co-op

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bow Farmers Market

1:00pm|Samish Bay Cheese

Blues and Brews

5:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Poetry Writing Group

5:30pm|Village Books

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

Ales & Sails

6:00pm| Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Pub Run

6:00pm|BBay Running

Elizabeth Park Summer Concert Series

6:00pm| Elizabeth Park

Riverwalk Concert Series

6:00pm|Riverwalk Plaza

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Commedia in the Park

7:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Village Books Trove Web
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Commedia in the Park

7:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Wild Things

9:30am|Boulevard Park

Take a Swing at Arthritis

9:30am|North Bellingham Golf Course

Northwest Raspberry Festival


Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Beachside Barbecue

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Beachside Barbecue

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Beachside Barbecue

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Commercial Street Night Market

6:00pm|Commercial Street

Burlington Summer Nights

6:00pm|Burlington Visitors Center

Seafarers' Summer

6:00pm|Seafarers' Park

Salmon Dinner Sail

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Dancing on the Green

7:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Summer of Blood

7:00pm|Rexville Grange Amphitheater

Poetry Party

7:00pm|Village Books

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Joey Curtin and Jon Mutchler


Charlie King and Rebel Voices


Festival of Music Finale

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall


9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

see our complete calendar »

2018 Cascadia Kids Trove Web Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books