Paul Thomas Anderson’s films create worlds, alternate earths where the lives and deaths of the characters seen on screen are the only things that matter. Phantom Thread does not take place in the 1950s world of fashion in London. It is set in the world of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and no one else’s. When the outside world creeps in, he rejects it. The next outsider to enter his world wrecks it completely, in what may be the strangest romance filmed this decade.
Woodcock is a respected dressmaker, whose sister, Cyril (Leslie Manville), is the only other person he trusts. Then waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps) walks into his life. They fall in love. The film follows their ups and downs as Alma begins to realize the only way she can be more that a model to Woodcock is to take drastic and dangerous measures.
Phantom Thread‘s dialogue is some of the best Anderson has every written. From the incredible “fucking chic” speech, to “There is an air of death in this house,” Anderson has outdone himself here. The script’s attention to contemporary vernacular should also not be missed. Language is an important, unsung player in this film, which makes its lack of an Oscar nomination for screenplay more shocking.
There is also a unique love triangle going on here. You could even call it a love square. At one corner, we have Woodcock, who is blindly in love with his work and his sister. Alma comes in, creating a square and realizing quickly that her love is in competition with all these things. All stories have been told, but a romantic triangle like this is new, and how it is resolved is completely unexpected. It unfolds slowly and shockingly, with pin-point precision. It’s astounding that this movie came from the same filmmaker of There Will Be Blood, but Anderson continues to show he can approach his favorite themes in different ways each time he makes a film.
The performances are astounding, and there’s nothing more to be said about how Day-Lewis can completely transform into a character. Manville, who was deservedly nominated for an Oscar, gives a chilling, stoic performance. Every time she is on screen, we can feel like she knows exactly what will happen long before it does.
Then there is Vicky Krieps, who was robbed of a nomination. How anyone saw this and decided Krieps should not be considered for Best Actress is mind-blowing. She goes to toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis, and was clearly never intimidated by him. If she was, it did not make it into the final cut. She is a perfect actress for an Anderson film, overflowing with the strength to make his script believable. The “My Own Taste” scene alone shows so much chemistry between Day-Lewis and Krieps that you wish it could go on forever.
Phantom Thread is a film begging for multiple viewings and revisits, as detailed as the dresses from the House of Woodcock. Like his main character, Anderson loves hiding things in the lining, and Phantom Thread is going to take another viewing to uncover all its messages. The air of death hangs over this film, but unlike the smell in Woodcock’s house, it surprisingly smells pretty good.