Whether or not this truly is Daniel Day-Lewis’ final film performance or not, his role, and the entire story, in “Phantom Thread” will be debated for years. What ultimately drives his character? What does the film mean? What does its title pertain to? What is the significance of hiding secrets in garments? Why the obsession with food, specifically breakfast? And, without giving too much away, what does the twist at the end signify?
Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a renowned dressmaker. He takes a fancy to a young girl, Alma (Vicky Krieps), but her boisterous spirit butts against his rigid routine and persona. Together, with Reynolds’ sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), the dressmaking company becomes a haven of differing agendas, undercover operations and latent longings.
For awhile, “Phantom Thread” would be easily mistaken for a film by someone other than Paul Thomas Anderson as it is unlike anything he has ever done. The building tensions and manipulations between Reynolds and Alma however transform a traditional period costume drama into something peculiar and altogether unique. Perhaps it’s a story about the artist and his muse and how that relationship is both give-and-take and a battle of wills. Or it’s representative of Oedipal longing, with Alma coming to represent Reynolds’ mother, feeding him and nursing him to keep him alive. Or old world versus new world, with Reynolds’ prim and proper colliding with Alma’s youth and vigor. It’s so many things without teetering into incoherence, and its interpretations only grow as the viewer looks back and considers the film.
Paul Thomas Anderson has never made “accessible” films. They don’t fill you with emotion and go down without a few hiccups along the way. They make you think and analyze what each scene means, the purpose behind the character’s intentions and the bending of the plot. With “There Will Be Blood”, “Inherent Vice”, “Magnolia”, “Boogie Nights” and “The Master”, among others to his credit, Anderson has built himself an impressive array of films ranging across different genres and subgenres. “Phantom Thread” fits snugly in that list as a peculiar, illuminating and altogether memorable entry.