Phantom Thread (2017): A Discussion

Ok, let’s do a quick rundown. Phantom Thread is a drama film set in 1950’s fashionable London, about a well-known dressmaker, Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis) that works with his sister (Lesley Manville) and follows his tempestuous relationship he begins with a young waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps).

Spoilers Ahead!

Phantom Thread opens up with a sweeping classical score and Reynolds preparing for the day. The way he grooms himself clearly sets his character to be meticulous and refined. Amongst all of the dressmaking and sketching, the viewer can clearly see that Reynolds is in a lackluster relationship. He pays little attention to the partner he is with at the beginning of the film.

Reynolds takes a holiday to clear his head and heads out to the country, where he stops for a meal. He meets Alma and is immediately enamored with her. She takes his order which borders on ridiculous, and Reynolds asks for the ticket. He wonders whether she can remember his order by heart and she takes up the challenge. When she brings out his lavish meal, he asks her if he will have dinner with her. Already their budding romance is off and running.

On their date, Reynolds wipes off her lipstick and asks her if she looks like her mother. She replies that she sort of does. We find out that Reynolds mother has long since died and that he created her wedding dress single-handedly. He asks Alma if she has a photograph of her mother, and she does, but at home. Reynolds tells her to carry the picture of her mother with her always.

Reynolds sews a secret message in all of his dresses. In his jacket, he sewed in a locket of his mother’s hair. One of the reason’s the character loves his mother so much is that she taught him his trade. Reynold’s seems to consider his mother to be one of the most precious people in his life. He smells her, sees her, dreams of her. He goes on to tell Alma that he considers himself to be a confirmed bachelor and that he feels marriage would only make him deceitful.

After the meal, he brings Alma to his home and asks her to put on one of his dresses while he works on it. The romantic chemistry between them is already forming. Alma clearly feels honored and beautiful. Cyril, Reynolds’ sister and dressmaking partner comes into the room and starts to examine Alma. She even sniffs the girl who has clearly become uncomfortable and tells her that her breasts are small. But Alma finds out that what she views as an imperfect body is perfect to Reynolds. What begins is a grueling series of late nights and early mornings of Alma being Reynolds’ muse.

Alma and Reynolds begin to discover their passionate love for each other and a growing disdain all at the same time. In Reynolds view, Alma moves too much and is too loud, breaking his concentration when he is trying to draw dress designs at the breakfast table. Alma feels that Reynolds is often overly controlled and picky about things. He is so engrossed in his work that eventually Alma begins to feel incredibly lonely. That is until Reynolds falls into a depressive episode from all the pressures of his work.

This gives Alma an opportunity to take care of him and spend time with him. Reynolds becomes reliant on Alma and tender in this state. Their relationship seems to be on an upswing again. Alma can get the love and attention she needs, and Reynolds can have her play nurse. Alma says in this point of the film, “When you love your work, you need to come down again.” This is so true for artists. We tend to burn ourselves out, and I have ended up in depressive episodes by pushing too hard and working too much.

In the next part of the film, Reynolds is corralled into doing a wedding dress for the owner of the house, Barbara. Barbara is a bit on the heavier side and has deep body issues. The entire time Reynolds works on the dress with her in it, she cries that she feels ugly. This frustrates him and gives him anxiety. He’s doing the best he can, and she is making him feel like the work is not enough. On the night of the wedding, Reynolds witnesses Barbara get incredibly drunk and make a fool of herself in his dress. Alma is angry and begins to tear up. She tells Reynolds that his work deserves more respect than that.

After Barbara passes out and is carried out of the hall to her bedroom, both Reynolds and Alma demand the dress back. The staff says she is sleeping, but Alma won’t take no for an answer. She stomps into the bedroom and rolls Barbara over and takes off the dress. Both Alma and Reynolds feel victorious, and their romance seems to blossom even more. But of course, as in other parts of the film, this appears to be short-lived once Reynolds gets thrown back into his work. This time he must work on yet another wedding dress, but this time the stakes are higher because it is a Belgian princess he has made many gowns for.

Alma falls into a bout of jealousy and decides she wants to make a romantic dinner for Reynolds. She runs the idea by Cyril who knows very well that he does not like having his daily routines taken off track whatsoever. She tries to convince Alma not to go through with it, but in the end, there is no changing the young woman’s mind. Everyone is sent away for the night, and Reynolds arrives home to a nearly empty house. Once he understands what is going on, he insists on a bath. Alma waits for him, and he begrudgingly eats the dinner she prepared, but it isn’t the way he likes it, so the romantic meal devolves into a searing argument.

Ok, so here is where the movie gets really weird for me. Reynolds ends up wanting Alma to leave, so what does she do? She picks some poison mushrooms and makes some tea out of it. I totally thought this was going to go the route of killing herself, but I was in for a surprise. Nope, she gives Reynolds the tea, and he becomes horribly ill. Alma nurses him back to health, all the while knowing she was the one who made him sick. She does this to win back his affection, but of course, showing him that she is the only one that can truly take care of him. Creepy much? Yes indeed. During his sickness, Reynolds has hallucinations of his mother in her wedding dress. He’s apparently connecting Alma with the love he has for his mother.

After Reynolds is nursed back to health, he asks Alma to marry him. She hesitates but decides to accept his proposal. Naturally, it isn’t long before things turn sour again. He still finds her to be irritating, and Alma still finds him to be too uptight and boring. Now it is toward the end of the film, and it seems to be written on the walls that this couple is going to divorce, but nope. Alma harvests her trusty poison mushrooms again but takes a different approach to preparing them.

Finally, Reynolds has figured out what is going on. He watches Alma prepare him an omelet with the tainted mushrooms. They both say nothing and remain utterly silent. She serves him the food and pours him a glass of water. This is where it got super weird to me. He willingly takes a bite of the omelet. He knows that the mushrooms are poisonous but eats them anyway. He wants to get sick so he can bond with his wife again. The film ends with everything being pretty much happily ever after.

So, what did I think of this movie? Honestly, I think I’m still digesting it (haha). The ending was quite a surprise for me. I wasn’t expecting for Reynolds to willingly eat the omelet. The relationship definitely had a bit of a twisted dynamic all throughout the film. My thought on it is if these two were a real couple, I would want them to get a divorce. If you feel you need to poison the person you are with to make them stay with you, then you might need to examine yourself. Same goes for Reynolds just letting her poison him in the end. I mean, what the hell people? As a person that just got out of an unhealthy relationship, this whole dynamic between the two main characters makes me totally skeeved out. Not healthy, not OK.

Overall the film was excellent though. The score was beautiful, but I’m a sucker for classical music though. The shots were alright, though it was clear the story was the primary focus. The actors all gave a solid performance and made this story quite believable (and really freaking disturbing at some points). Personally, I would rate Phantom Thread a solid 7/10. This was Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film before he went into retirement and I think it was a solid endcap to his acting career. So if you enjoy romance, drama, and things getting pretty freaking weird, Phantom Thread just might be the film for you.








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