Film Review: Phantom Thread
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps
Winning the award for Best Costume Design at the Academy Awards, Phantom Thread promises a glamorous insight to the world of fashion and vanity. The dresses of Mark Bridges are made to let the women shine when they step into the spotlight.
After Paul Thomas Anderson’s two other well-known patriarchal characters, Daniel Day-Lewis breathes his last acting breath into the famous fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock. Woodcock might not have been based on a particular real-life fashion designer from the 50s, however, the scenery of the film highlights the gossip culture and the cruelty it carries. The soundtrack and sound design and editing however seem to play a greater role in the film, albeit not as explicit as the costume design.
On a strange note, the film doesn’t exactly focus on the clothing, but rather on how they were portrayed and created by this ingenious male designer. Arguably, the sole message of the film is not about the male dominance, but it hammers more on the morality and aesthetics of the celebrity culture of the 1950s. Daniel Day-Lewis’ acting revolves around sorrow and the sick relationship between him and the female characters, underlined through the sophisticated soundtrack that lures the audience into the journey of Reynolds and Alma.
From silence to disturbing loudness, Reynolds' relationship with Alma has inevitably depended on the weak nature of this mother-and-son relationship. There’s a strangeness in it that flows from the first scene when Alma meets Reynolds at his house and he is taking her measurments. The gentle soundtrack twists into a brutal rhythm, set to the darkness of Alma’s character whenever she appears on the screen. This plays amazingly at the end of the film (no spoilers!).
The breakfast scene, one of the most important in the film, is ingeniously set and scored to bring Reynolds’ modus operandi to the forefront of the viewer’s attention, as one of the aspects of the film that pulls most of the weight. Alma’s disturbing restricted movements signal the onset of chaos in Reynolds’ world. That shows the significance of reprise sounds and movements in the film through Alma’s continuous movements. The gain of music in these scenes can be compared to The Pygmalion’s waking of the sculpture: first we see her as a mannequin and she becomes a real person (a bit more twisted, but still).
The film’s music captures the rhythms of the relationships, the clothing, and the 1950s world, giving a glimpse of something we all are familiar with even from our 21st century distance. Anderson fulfils the mission of this interdependent, sinister relationship of two characters within the glamorous fashion world where one struggles to hold onto anything they can.