There was a moment last night when I was sitting in the theater watching Phantom Thread that I was sorely tempted to use a pair of sewing shears on the woman who sat in front of me. You see the theater seats were laid out at a steep angle — downward. I sat above a perfectly harmless young woman whose head was roughly positioned right at my shins. So what was the problem you ask? Well, you see Doctor, she had a seriously long, thick pony tail. Every single time she adjusted her head, or exchanged a glance to see if her companion was having a similar reaction to the movie, her pony tail slapped against my well clad pant leg. After less than an hour of it, I began to fantasize about cutting her pony tail off and handing it to her so I could watch the movie in peace.
Peace is something, I realized, after the movie and what initially seemed to be the cause of my vexation were over, is something Reynolds Jeremiah Woodcock discusses and demands a lot of in this movie. Woodcock played by the incomparable Daniel Day-Lewis is an acclaimed and gifted fashion designer in 1950’s London, who falls in love with Alma, a young country woman, played by Vicki Krieps and introduces her to a life that is very different from anything she’s known before. The story of their affair is at times charming, passionate, searing, and exceedingly funny but, not in a comedic way.
I left the theater thinking that Paul Thomas Anderson who wrote and directed, along with his superb and well-chosen cast had, from the moment the film began, created an atmosphere of such absorbing, quiet, and desperate tension that it’s not at all surprising I was wound so tight I had a ridiculously violent reaction to hair while watching it. In fact, if Mr. Anderson made any mistakes at all in the making of this film it’s that he gave it the wrong name. It should have been called Pins and Needles but I suppose that was too obvious.
As a former actor and a writer of meager experience, I’m still extremely fascinated (and a little depressed) at how easy it is to convey so much meaning not with words but in a look or a gesture or a piece of music in film. Everything was so masterfully done here, the dialogue, the acting, the costumes, the art direction, the crescendos, even the cinematography, particularly in the short scenes that took place in the car which created moments of unexpected intensity.
Vicki Krieps as Alma was a marvelous and trans-formative surprise. Lesley Manville who plays Cyril Woodcock, Reynolds’ controlled and controlling sister, was not at all surprising but she was perfect. And DDL? Well truth be told, I can’t be at all objective about him folks. I have had a crush on Daniel Day-Lewis for a very long time, perhaps even before Last of the Mohicans and My Left Foot. I was dismayed to hear he planned to retire after this film but then I read he said the reason was he felt “overwhelmed” with sadness after finishing this project. And while the movie didn’t strike me as sad, him feeling that I totally understood.
The last time Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis hit it out of the park was in There Will Be Blood which garnered Day-Lewis one of his three Oscars for lead actor in a film (he’s the only person ever to have done that by the way). Their new collaboration Phantom Thread is also well worth your time but you will feel some kind of way when you leave the theater. Be warned, you might even feel some kind of way during it.