Today I viewed movie four of nine, on the Best Picture nominated film list. Up today was the 1950s period piece, Phantom Thread. As is my custom, I don’t look up any info about these films before viewing. I’ve seen a couple of movie trailers, so I knew the fashion industry was central to this story. That’s all the knowledge I had as I took my seat in the darkened theater.
Phantom Thread stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville. The romantic drama, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, carries an R rating, for language, and has a run time of 2 hours and 14 minutes. Phantom Thread is nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Music Score, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Day-Lewis) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Manville).
In 1950s post war London, Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Manville) are at the center of the fashion industry. Reynolds caters to the rich and famous as women order dresses from the gifted and fastidious man. Cyril manages their large London house and oversees the details of her brother’s life, including the team of women who painstakingly sew the garments he sketches.
A man of many moods and routines, Reynolds nevertheless attracts a steady stream of women as lovers. He quickly becomes bored with each one, or finds them tiresome and a distraction from his creativity. Until he meets the charming Alma at a restaurant near his country home.
Alma is young, soft spoken and yet strong willed. Reynolds is enchanted, and inspired by her natural beauty. He immediately takes her measurements and his creativity ignites. Reynolds finds her body to be perfect for displaying his creations.
Alma is charmed as well, by the handsome older man who creates such magnificent dresses. She discovers that Reynolds learned to sew from his mother, who died while he was a young man. To honor his mother, Reynolds sews messages or small items into his garments. He carries a lock of her hair within his jacket lining, so that he has his mother near him always. He feels that the dead continue to watch over the living, and he hopes his mother is pleased with him.
Reynolds moves Alma into his house, where she continues to inspire him artistically. The young woman is thrilled to be there, at first, and seeks to fit into Reynolds’ schedule and routines, which she defines as “fussy”. While she finds the man she loves difficult to get close to, Alma and Cyril become good friends.
As is his pattern, Reynolds soon loses interest in his latest muse. He begins to find her habits annoying and her desire for attention frustrating. When he reaches this stage in a relationship, he typically has his sister remove the woman, gifting her with a Woodcock original dress as a parting “gift”.
However, Alma, while quiet, is much more resourceful than that and will not be cast aside like a worn dress. She loves Reynolds best when, exhausted and vulnerable after spending himself in his latest creation, he must retire for a few days to recover. Alma learns to create that situation at will, moving Reynolds into the space of needing her to care for him until he covers, both physically and artistically. Although totally unconventional, their unique relationship not only works for them, Reynolds, who is aware of her wiles, marries Alma and they look forward to spending the rest of their lives together.
This was an exquisite film, visually, with all the beauty and grandeur of the British fashion culture mid century. I appreciated Reynolds’ artistic gifts and his love affair with both the female body and the clothing he created to enhance it. He spoke with such eloquence and passion about fashion. It made me want to dress up, and to experience the wonder of having a garment custom made.
Reynolds was not as gracious when it came to relationships. A confirmed bachelor, he claimed he was too set in his ways to change, nor did he want to. When he was in artistic mode, everything else became a distraction, which caused his mood to sour.
He met his match, however, in Alma. While she enjoyed being Reynolds’ muse, she longed for the chance to get to know the brilliant man in her own way. She constantly challenged him, something he came to dislike. I was cheering for Alma, right up until she decided to manipulate him and circumstances, for her own gain. The unexpected twist in the story has a dark undercurrent to it, and while it worked in their relationship, I found it unsettling.
One of the signs of a good movie, for me, is that it makes me think…not just about what I saw, but about my own life as it connects to the story or characters. I thought about Phantom Thread as I drove home.
What I realized is that in relationships, all types including romantic ones, when we get bored or stuck in a rut or overly challenged by it, we tend to disrupt it somehow. We pick a fight, or withdraw from each other, or try something new. Consciously or unconsciously, we create change by creating disruption, often doing anything that will move us into a different space. Granted, it’s not the ideal way to strengthen a relationship. Such tactics can ultimately create more harm than good. But I understand how it can happen and even why it does.
Peering into my own relationships I can certainly see that while I have never attempted anything as drastic as Alma does, I have disrupted and manipulated in an attempt to dislodge old habits or create a fresh start. I am grateful that I have grown past the need to do such things. It was good today to be reminded of old behaviors and to go inward for a reality check.
Watch Phantom Thread if you enjoy gorgeous dresses, appreciate creativity, or want to witness an outstanding performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, who says he is retiring after this film. Watch this movie as well if you feel a bit stuck in life, and want a different perspective. And be prepared for a surprising…and unsettling…little twist!