Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Camilla Rutherford, Brian Gleeson
Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a world famous designer. Like many great artist, he sacrifices all else in favor of his craft. He needs everything to be just so, and the opening reveals, how this forces the women from his life. Then one day, he meets Alma (Krieps), and while Alma too marvels at Woodcock’s work, where other women were pushed away, she gradually begins to push back. Paul Thomas Anderson, who hit the ground running with Hard Eight and Boogie Nights, has, over the years, has grown more enigmatic and opaque with his work. I’m sure there will be several essays deciphering what exactly is going on between Woodcock and Alma (and the indomitable sister, Cyril, looming over the picture, played expertly by Lesley Manville). I saw, in the end, a strong male figure who ultimately wants to be mothered, with the ghost of his departed mother casting a shadow over his life and work. It becomes nearly masochistic by the end. What’s clear and indisputable, however, is the skill involved, both in front of behind the camera. The film, for large segments, becomes akin to one of Ingmar Bergman’s chamber plays, with three dominant characters stuck in a confined space, allowing their quirks to plays out. I also was reminded of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, wherein Professor Henry Higgins takes a woman named Eliza Doolittle off the street, and attempts to mold her in the image of his liking. Only in Phantom Thread, Alma, unlike Eliza, does the final molding.