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Decoding the strange mysteries of 'phantom thread'.
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Phantom Thread Ending, Explained: Why Does Alma Poison Woodcock?
‘Phantom Thread’ is a 2017 romantic drama about what it is to be in love with an artist. Set in 1950s London, the film follows acclaimed and eccentric dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock ( Daniel Day-Lewis ) and his unlikely muse, Alma, who he meets at a diner and eventually marries. The shifting moods, peculiar habits, and constant obsession with his work make loving Reynolds a complicated and demanding task — one that Alma takes on more gallantly than most others.
The delicate and tenuous relationship between the artistic dressmaker and his muse remains fragile until Alma takes drastic steps to make her place in Reynolds’ life more significant. A truly baffling ending crowns the masterpiece with a message of deep love — too deep, perhaps. There are so many layers to ‘Phantom Thread,’ and discovering them requires a closer look at the film’s climax. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Phantom Thread Plot Synopsis
The film opens with Alma sitting by a fire, speaking to an unseen person about her relationship with Reynolds. She claims to have given him everything, and her companion describes the dressmaker as a demanding man. We are then taken to a typical morning at acclaimed dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock’s residence , where things proceed like clockwork. After a few stressful days of delivering dresses to a high-profile clientele that includes a Countess, he heads to the countryside where he meets Alma, a waitress at a diner.
The connection between Reynolds and Alma is instant and strong, with both enchanted by the other for completely different reasons. In Alma, the dressmaker finds his muse who inspires him and lends the perfect form to his creations. Alma has so far had a relatively unfavorable view of herself until she looks through Reynolds’ eyes and discovers her own beauty. Their connection notwithstanding, Reynolds’ foremost preoccupation remains his work, and soon, Alma feels neglected as the busy dressmaker’s life goes on in a flurry.
Reynolds’ sporadic displays of affection, combined with his nitpicking of Alma’s habits (like too much “movement” at breakfast), result in a fight over a meal originally meant to be a surprise. The argument ends with Reynolds telling Alma to leave, after which the latter secretly slips ground up poisonous mushrooms into the former’s tea. Later, while working on a dress for the Princess, Reynolds collapses. He spends the next few days in a delirious fever, and Alma watches over him constantly. When he recovers, the so-far detached dressmaker realizes how important his muse is to him and asks her to marry him, to which she agrees.
Phantom Thread Ending: Does Alma Poison Reynolds Woodcock?
Once married, Reynolds reacts even more strongly to what he views as distractions to his work that stem from Alma. Apart from being annoyed by small things like the noises she makes while buttering her toast, he now finds it hard to focus on work and complains as much to Cyril. Not knowing that Alma is in the room, Reynolds goes on a tirade about how her presence has turned things upside down and him inside out. The film’s climax then slowly unfolds as Alma cooks Reynolds an omelet for dinner.
This time, the poisonous mushrooms are chopped up and fried in butter, and Reynolds watches thoughtfully as Alma makes the omelet. As he takes the first bite, she says that she wants him helpless and on his back so that she may take care of him. The dressmaker continues to chew and then asks Alma to kiss him before he gets sick again. The film closes with scenes of a future in which the couple has a child and grows old together before coming back to the present where Reynolds, saying he is “hungry,” begins to fit another dress on his willing muse, Alma.
And so, Alma poisons Reynolds not once but twice over the course of the film. What is perhaps most remarkable is how the dynamic between the artist and his muse is able to encompass him being poisoned by her and still not break their relationship but instead make it arguably stronger. For her plot, Alma uses poisonous local mushrooms, which she picks in the countryside after referring to a book on recognizing different varieties of fungi.
Though Alma poisons him, it is not her intention to kill Reynolds. As she makes clear in the film’s climax, she merely wants him to be helpless and tender so that she can care for him. Through experience, Alma has learned that Reynolds is generally too engrossed in his work for them to have a meaningful connection. However, when he is sick (or depressed, as he gets after a less than perfect fashion show), his “strong” persona drops, and the tireless dressmaker becomes more amenable to emotional connection.
Of course, not wanting to kill Reynolds is well and good, but Alma’s confidence in him not dying after consuming her poisonous mushroom-laced preparations seems a little misplaced. She doesn’t know for sure that he will not die and admits as much — saying that if he does die, she will just have to remain patient (as she has before) until they meet again. Alma is convinced that her patience and dedication to Reynolds will keep them together, even if he dies along the way.
Does Reynolds Know Alma is Poisoning Him? Why Does He Eat the Omelet?
The first time he is poisoned, Reynolds has no idea what has happened to him and claims to feel sick like he has never felt before. He refuses to see a doctor and spends a couple of nights in delirious fever before recovering. The second time Alma poisons him, however, Reynolds seems to know what is going on and becomes a willing participant in his own poisoning. As Alma prepares his omelet, Reynolds watches her thoughtfully, clearly aware of the fact that she overheard him complaining about how Alma has hindered his life and creative process.
It seems like he slowly begins putting the pieces together as he watches her make a mushroom omelet and knows even before taking the first bite that all is not normal with the dish. Of course, as soon as Reynolds takes the first bite, Alma essentially admits to poisoning him, saying that she wants him to be helpless and that he is going to get very sick but not die.
Reynolds and Alma also share an interesting dynamic with food, which is lightly hinted at when Alma cooks a romantic dinner — sans poisonous mushrooms — for the dressmaker. Despite knowing his dislike of excessive butter, she serves him asparagus in butter sauce, angering Reynolds and prompting him to question why she is making him eat something she knows he doesn’t like. However, Reynolds “gallantly” eats a few bites of the asparagus. It seems like eating the poisoned omelet is an extension of the theme, and Reynolds accepts the eccentric (and potentially murderous) way his muse expresses her own brand of love for him through food.
Who is Alma Talking To in the Film?
In the film’s opening sequence and then sporadically throughout, we see Alma sitting by a fire, describing her relationship with Reynolds to an unseen individual. She recalls her husband’s strict facade and emotionally tender episodes, talking freely even about poisoning him. At the end of the film, it is revealed that Alma is speaking to Dr. Robert Hardy (Brian Gleeson), who sits across from her by the fire.
The context of their conversation is not elaborated on, but a few hints can be gleaned from the interaction. Considering Alma describes poisoning Reynolds and its aftermath, the conversation clearly takes place after the events of the film. Also, considering Reynolds is described in the present tense, it seems like he is still alive and, going by Alma’s appearance, not too much time has passed since the omelet incident.
Though it isn’t clear what makes Alma talk to Dr. Hardy so candidly — having only met him on a few occasions — it seems like there isn’t anyone else she can discuss her relationship with. Dr. Hardy is someone of the same age, and just as he convinces her to go out on New Year’s Eve, he seemingly makes a compelling companion talk to. It is quite apparent that there are no romantic feelings between Dr. Hardy and Alma. Still, the former is intrigued by the latter, and Alma, living in the solemn Woodcock household, is only too happy to have someone to talk to.
What Does Reynolds Sew into the Dress?
One of the first (and most intimate) things Reynolds shares about himself with Alma is his habit of sewing an “artifact” or blessing into his creations — something he refers to as a phantom thread. After he falls ill and is unable to help finish the Princess’ dress, Alma helps the dressmaker’s subordinates complete the crucial project. While working on the skirt, she finds a small tag sewn into its hem with the words “Never Cursed” embroidered on it.
The significance of the words takes us back to Reynolds and Alma’s first evening together, where the former describes various superstitions that people hold about sewing wedding dresses. The artistic dressmaker describes working for months as a teenager on a dress for his mother because his superstitious nanny (nicknamed “Black Death”) refused to help. His sister, who did help, remains unmarried.
Thus it seems like Reynolds himself holds some superstitions about making wedding dresses, which is why he chooses the words “Never Cursed” to be sewn into the Princess’ wedding dress. It is worth noting that Reynolds does eventually get married despite having made multiple wedding dresses (which, according to superstition, results in one not finding a spouse). However, his wife also poisons him on a semi-regular basis, leaving it open for the audience to mull over whether the artistic dressmaker is actually cursed.
Read More: Is Phantom Thread Based on a True Story?
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The Strange, True Story Behind One Of The Saddest ‘Phantom Thread’ Characters
Poor little rich girl
The title of Paul Thomas Anderson's vibrantly strange film Phantom Thread refers to the secret words that fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) likes to sew into his haute couture garments for wealthy women in 1950s Britain. One of Woodcock's most important clients is the heiress Barbara Rose (Harriet Sansom Harris). Anderson gives Harris only four scenes in Phantom Thread , and they are not long in terms of length. But it seems to me that Barbara Rose is like a message stitched into the fabric of the narrative, and her appearance feels crucial to understanding the rather obscure meanings of the movie.
Though her first name is Barbara, it did not occur to me that Harris was playing a role based on the Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton until her second scene, where Anderson stages Barbara Rose's humiliating press conference announcing her marriage to a noted playboy, who is clearly meant to be the infamous Porfirio Rubirosa. When I got home from seeing Phantom Thread , I Googled Hutton and Rubirosa and found photos from their own press conference, which looks exactly like the one in the film, down to the couch they are sitting on and their positions on it.
We first see Harris’ Barbara Rose tottering up the steps of Woodcock’s atelier on the arm of a male handler. Harris walks in such a way that she gets across the idea that this woman is so rich and so fragile that she has lost the ability to move from one place to another without help. (The consumption of large quantities of alcohol is, also, maybe part of her mobility problem here.) Her face is quivering with hope and expectation as she ascends those stairs, but these are quickly dashed when Woodcock fits her for a dress. Barbara Rose looks at herself in an offscreen mirror as she is fitted, and her eyes bulge with grief as she exclaims, “I’m still so ugly!” She begins to pull at the fabric at the top of the green dress in an attempt to hide her face, and Woodcock, a control freak, severely reprimands her for this.
The way that Harris says, “I’m still so ugly” is extremely upsetting, and she seems to have accessed some deep-seated emotion within herself to represent Barbara Rose’s despair. Phantom Thread is a movie filled with performances that feel like the best Method acting from the mid-20th century, when actors like Montgomery Clift and Julie Harris seemed to know every minute of each day in the past lives of their characters. Harris does this thing where she drags up very raw grief from within herself and then controls it physically and reins it in, which is what Barbara Rose has to do socially in this situation. It reminded me of the scene in Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997) when Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character, Scotty J., confessed his love to Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler and then sat in a car afterward repeating, “I’m a fucking idiot” in an inconsolable way.
Phantom Thread is partly about power dynamics between people, and none shift more than in this fitting scene with Barbara Rose, who tells Woodcock that she expects him at her wedding. He does not want to go, but she stares at him and tells him that she “really must insist.” The effect of this change is emotionally dazzling because Harris has shown us such a private moment of Barbara Rose’s unhappiness with herself, and now she shows her getting her own back by asserting her power over this distinguished man and treating him like a servant. What’s indelible here is that Harris doesn’t make the change in attitude too extreme. When Barbara Rose says that she “must insist” that Woodcock go to her wedding, her face and her voice still sound a little soft and shaky. But she has issued a command, and it must be followed.
Woodcock does go to the very sad press conference, and his frustrated girlfriend Alma ( Vicky Krieps ) stands next to him and looks very dismayed. It seems as if Alma is dismayed because she feels compassion for Barbara Rose, and maybe she does. But Alma decides to use the Barbara Rose situation as a kind of chess move with her very difficult lover.
When Barbara Rose gets so drunk at her wedding reception that her head falls into her dinner plate, Alma gets upset, and Woodcock tells her not to cry, but Alma says instead that she is angry. Not angry about what the world has made of poor Barbara Rose, but angry that Barbara Rose is not treating one of his garments with the proper respect. This is the first indication in Phantom Thread that Alma has a twisted psychology that makes Woodcock’s own Oedipal issues seem mild in comparison.
In an earlier scene, Woodcock had unguardedly spoken to Alma of his “ugly” governess, who did not want to sew his beloved mother’s wedding dress because she superstitiously believed it would hurt her own chances of marriage. Alma stores this information away, and now she makes use of it to impress Woodcock and begin her campaign to vanquish the looming influence of his dead mother.
Woodcock and Alma go back to Barbara Rose’s hotel room and actually strip his dress off of her drunken body, and then when they go outside, Woodcock kisses Alma intensely, as if to say, “You’re even crazier than I am, what a relief!” They are a romantic match, these two, and that’s what Phantom Thread dramatizes in its screwball melodrama way. But Harris dramatizes—with very limited screen time—what can happen to a person who is unlucky in love.
Hutton was married to Rubirosa for less than two months, and in exchange, he received a coffee plantation in the Dominican Republic, jewelry, polo ponies, and roughly 2.5 million dollars from her. So it was an expensive month-and-a-half for Hutton, and Barbara Rose will probably have to shell out just as much money for her own playboy (hopefully he is just as skillful a bedroom technician as Rubirosa was reputed to be). It seems clear that Anderson’s big heart goes out to Barbara Rose, even if she is just a pawn in the game of the main characters.
Lesley Manville is superlative in Phantom Thread as Woodcock’s forbiddingly controlled sister Cyril, and more than worthy of attention for supporting actress awards. (When Cyril warns Woodcock not to pick a fight with her because she will have him “on the floor” if she chooses to strike out at him, you believe her.) But Harris is just as worthy in her own much shorter screen time, and her memorable performance as Barbara Rose is an example of that hopeful adage: “There are no small parts only small actors.”
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Despite being, in a sense, the most straightforward, linear narrative movie the writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson has made in quite some time (perhaps since “Punch Drunk Love”—and this is not the only respect in which the two films resemble each other), “Phantom Thread” could be the filmmaker's most fascinatingly oblique work.
The movie opens with a simple title card (accompanied on the soundtrack by high-pitched tones that could be string instruments, or electronic feedback), followed by a medium close-up of a young woman sitting in a chair, her face illuminated by fire light. “Reynolds has made my dreams come true,” she says calmly, addressing a figure not yet seen. The scenes that follow make this assertion rather hard to believe.
Welcome to the world, then, of Reynolds Woodcock, a couturier and a man of meticulous routine, as the following montage of his toilette attest. He applies shaving soap with brio, snips his nose and ear hairs with precision (played by Daniel Day-Lewis , he is a well-kempt man of a certain age), pulls up and cuffs his purple socks with vigor. At breakfast, a young woman offers him a luscious looking pastry and he looks at her as if she were a gigantic insect. A little later, Woodcock consults with his sister Cyril, a clipped and forceful woman, about how this household figure is to be disposed of.
And soon Woodcock is off, like a shot, to Robin Hood’s Bay, driving into the morning, dropping off his powerful car at a local garage, and ordering as he settles down to a table at the Victoria Hotel. We notice a young waitress at first because she is clumsy. Taking Woodcock’s order, she gains assurance; she vows to remember his order by heart, and it is enormous. She gets it just right, and he asks her, Alma, to dinner. At dinner he does most of the talking, describing his mother, and how she made him the dressmaker he is now, on account of his having made the dress for her second marriage. He talks of various superstitions concerning the making of wedding dresses; he tells Alma about the ways one can secrete small objects and messages into handmade clothing. When the conversation wanes, he looks at her. “If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose,” she says. And finally he invites her to his dressmaking studio in his country home. Where he does not seduce her, but asks her to stand for him so he can begin to create a dress for her. Cyril arrives just in time to write down Alma’s measurements— but not before sniffing Alma all over. Alma confides to Cyril her insecurities about her body. “You’re perfect,” crisp Cyril responds. “He likes a little belly.”
What is this relationship? A little later on, walking by the bay, Reynolds reflects on his great luck in finding Alma, and she responds, “Whatever you do, do it carefully.”
Reynolds is not particularly careful with Alma. She butters her toast too loudly. She oozes into his studio carrying a tea tray and he can’t take it at all; they volley back and forth with hard words and he finally says to her, “The tea is going out. The interruption is staying right here with me.” Alma concludes that after long periods of work, Reynolds needs to “settle down.” Her way of making him do this is, well, interesting.
But this is not a film that has a conventional climax; the war of wills between the two characters does not have a tidy resolution. We don’t even know just what it is that Alma wants, let alone what she gets. Her background is shrouded. Beautifully portrayed by Vicky Krieps , she speaks with a slight German accent. There’s a scene set at a press conference, where a vulgar dowager for whom Woodcock has made a wedding dress is discussing her impending wedding to a Dominican politician. A journalist asks the man about whether he “sold visas to Jews during the war” and Anderson cuts to a close-up of Alma, her face neutral. This is a movie of confrontations, of dreamlike moments dissolving into micro nightmares, but it is hardly a conventional “battle of the sexes” story.
The movie is, of course, beautifully made. Anderson’s visual style is remarkable. Shooting the picture himself, reportedly, with the collaboration of lighting cameraman Michael Bauman , he frames in a Kubrick-inflected style but cuts with a Hitchcock-influenced one. This gives the movie a sense of momentum that’s supported by Jonny Greenwood ’s score and the other music (mostly classical) alternating with it. This is very much a “composed” movie; very little of it is without music, and there are very deliberate shifts in instrumentation and orchestration throughout. The acting is, of course, impeccable. Day-Lewis, performing for the first time in what seems like a long time in an accent and vocal timbre not unlike his natural one, is a tightly-wound wonder who becomes like an old-man kitten once Alma has reduced him to the “open and tender” state that she frequently desires of him. Krieps and Lesley Manville , both impeccable, inhabit the circumscribed world of this story with utter integrity.
There is a good deal around that world that Anderson withholds. The film is set some time after World War II, and it seems like centuries away from the so-called “Swinging Sixties.” But "Phantom Thread" goes to great lengths to never identify the exact time, despite containing a scene set at a New Year’s Eve party. There is never, in the scenario, a turning point that signals a permanent change in one of the character’s behaviors. Rather, the movie is a persistent depiction of the perverse stages of a perverse evolution. (Irresistible force and immovable object constantly moving to different places on a chess board.) In a sense, it feels anecdotal. The dialect in which the characters speak (peppered with frequent profanity; this R-rated film has no nudity, no sexual depiction, no physical violence and is rated R solely on account of its language, and possibly its themes) presents an arguably contemporary portrait of what would conventionally be called a bad alliance/marriage. But, as we’ve said, it’s set in an indeterminate time period, and Anderson’s determination to keep that period indeterminate creates a fluttering sensation relative to the familiar worlds and/or genres wherein we suspect the work itself could be said to be located. Numinous objects in the movie signify the pre-gothic (mushrooms, the dirt from which they are pulled) and the post-gothic (Woodcock’s car, a purple Bristol sedan, possibly a 1955 405, a speed demon of almost science-fictional dimensions). The movie also is rich with simultaneously playful and serious nods to what I presume to be Anderson cinematic touchstones, including “ A Clockwork Orange ,” “Psycho,” “The Knack (And How To Get It),” and, not as improbably as you might think, “ Raising Arizona .”
As they gradually build, the intimations inherent in the movie’s latent content, which is ever roiling under its beautiful surfaces, become dizzying.
When Reynolds is sick with fever, he imagines his mother, standing stiffly in the wedding gown he made for her, against a wall next to a door in his bedroom. But he never looks directly at the figure. Instead, lying on his back, he stares straight up, and says “Are you here? Are you always here? I miss you. I think about you all the time.” This is the central node of the work, a pointing to a mystery that none of us will ever be able to solve, a sincere expression of hope within the loneliness we try to escape by, among other things, refusing to love each other. It takes us back to the movie’s title, and invests it with a power that is both exhilarating and frightening.
Glenn Kenny was the chief film critic of Premiere magazine for almost half of its existence. He has written for a host of other publications and resides in Brooklyn. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here .
And the King Said, What a Fantastic Machine
Phantom Thread (2017)
Rated R for language.
Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock
Lesley Manville as Cyril Woodcock
Vicky Krieps as Alma
- Paul Thomas Anderson
- Dylan Tichenor
- Jonny Greenwood
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Why “Phantom Thread” Is Propaganda for Toxic Masculinity
By Aleksandar Hemon
My first experience of cinema was watching “Battle of Neretva” (“ Bitka na Neretvi ”), a Yugoslav-liberation-war spectacle starring Yul Brynner, Franco Nero, and Orson Welles, as well as domestic actors known to Yugoslav viewers by their first names (Milena, Bata, Boris, Smoki). The movie is about the 1943 battle in which our great leader Tito and his partisans outwitted the Germans and their local collaborators, crossing the river Neretva to escape encirclement. A major co-production, it received substantial funding from America and from fifty-eight Yugoslav state companies, plus logistical support from the Yugoslav People’s Army, which provided ten thousand soldiers as extras and built a steel bridge and a couple of villages to be destroyed in battle scenes. The première took place in Sarajevo, on November 29, 1969, and was attended by Comrade Tito himself, who was accompanied by Sophia Loren and Omar Sharif. Afterward, Tito declared the representation of the great battle very realistic.
I didn’t attend the première, because I was five at the time. But I saw the film at Kino Arena, the movie theatre next door to our apartment building, in Sarajevo. My parents apparently believed that Yugoslav pride would protect me; it was the first movie I ever saw all by myself. It was glorious. On the wide screen, the battle was as real as could be; the thunder of German artillery shelling the refugees went right through my chest; and when the freedom-loving people sang in defiance, I was proud to be a Yugoslav boy. In a scene I’d never forget, Dana, the partisan nurse attending to wounded comrades during battle, is herself struck by shrapnel. With a gaping wound on her back, she implores her brother to keep shooting (“ Pucaj! ”) and to continue the struggle for freedom. The music swelling, Dana’s brother (played by Smoki) drops his machine gun to embrace his sister, who dies in his arms as he weeps. I wept, too, and subsequently developed a postmortem crush on Dana.
Back then, I was the perfect moviegoer. To me, the film’s propaganda was invisible, as all good propaganda always is, because it was everywhere, and the only thing I saw on the screen was the great battle in which Dana sacrificed her life so that I could watch movies in freedom, all by myself. Much of the power of cinema is in this visual stimulation, which overwhelms the mind with emotion, forcing the viewer to suspend judgment. This is why all the ideologically committed regimes—the Nazis, the Soviets, the Yugoslavs—have been willing to invest in film production.
One might argue that a similar ideology is at work in American cinema—that “Apocalypse Now” is just as loaded with imperialist racism as is John Wayne's openly propagandistic “The Green Berets”; or that “Zero Dark Thirty” is drama-coated torture advertisement, just as “The Hurt Locker” is a war-recruitment movie; or that the preponderance of superhero movies contributes more to this country’s self-image as a superpower than does the deployment of U.S. troops around the world. Still, one would imagine that American auteur cinema, rooted in private enterprise and inherently antithetical to groupthink, is the opposite of propaganda, which by its very nature always projects and endorses the structures of power.
Recently, however, upon watching Paul Thomas Anderson’s “ Phantom Thread ,” I found myself recalling “Battle of Neretva.” Reynolds Woodcock, the controlling dressmaker played by Daniel Day-Lewis, governs a domain peopled exclusively by obedient and loyal women. Among them, Alma distinguishes herself by refusing to be used and discarded by the couturier. But, for all her relative agency, she exists only within the world of Woodcock. We have no idea who she was before entering it, where she might have come from, or what she might have wanted from her life. Soon after she meets Woodcock, he measures her for a dress. When, in a fit of internalized misogyny, she apologizes for having small breasts, he says, “Oh, no, you’re perfect. It’s my job to give you some—if I choose to.” Just as her body is significant only in his dress, she has value only in relation to his ever-present, shamelessly metaphorical hunger.
Anderson’s casting effectively reflects this distribution of power: on the one hand, there is Day-Lewis, in his last film performance ever; on the other, a newcomer from Luxembourg, Vicky Krieps, who might have remained unknown had the light of the great star not been cast upon her. The sexual politics of “Phantom Thread” owe much to Alfred Hitchcock: the closeup of Woodcock consuming Alma by way of his (Oscar-nominated) gaze is the most dominant shot in the film; “Vertigo” and “Rebecca” are obvious references. “Phantom Thread” might appear to some as a critical exploration of male power, but for that to be the case there would have to be alternative positions that are not dependent on the hero’s centrality. The scene in which Alma arranges an intimate dinner seems to provide space for such a position, as she litigates against “all your rules and your walls and your doors and your people.” And yet she remains desperate to remain in the House of Woodcock, where she can be the well-dressed mannequin muse, replenishing with her emptiness the great man’s inner life and creativity. When she discovers her function—to feed the hunger, if perversely—love reigns eternal. (The only other woman with some agency in the film is Cyril, Woodcock’s “old so-and-so,” whose life and desire are similarly dictated by him.)
Before Woodcock, Anderson gave us Dirk Diggler and his pronouncedly phallic masculinity in “Boogie Nights.” And, like “Phantom Thread,” “The Master” and “There Will Be Blood” are set in masculinized landscapes in which power is flexed, challenged, then flexed again. In other words, “Phantom Thread” reveals plenty about the auteur’s obsessions and self-conception. Like Woodcock, he gives meaning to everything and everyone lucky enough to be inside his domain. And, like Woodcock, Anderson creates sumptuously crafted artifacts, inside of which cryptic messages about himself—phantom threads—are stitched.
Perhaps one man’s sexual politics, however reactionary, do not amount to an ideology. If they do, they might at least be challenged and criticized in the forum of public opinion. And yet few critics saw in “Phantom Thread”—which was nominated for six Academy Awards—a symptom of the Weinsteinian toxic masculinity exposed by the #MeToo movement. (Owen Gleiberman of Variety was a notable exception .) Nor were they concerned that, in stark contrast with the Englishman upon whom the mighty House of Woodcock is built, Alma has no past nor origin of her own. (Christopher Orr, in The Atlantic , determined that Alma was of “ indeterminate non-British origin ,” while A. O. Scott, in the Times , identified her as “ a non-British waitress .”) More troubling, it was difficult to find anyone who addressed the glaring presence of the (Wood)cock at the heart of the film. Just as propaganda was once invisible to me because it was everywhere, the film’s spectacle of male power—its woodcockiness—was so embedded in its every fibre that it was largely missed.
Everyone, however, identified Day-Lewis’s genius, which exactly matched Woodcock’s genius and, while we’re at it, Anderson’s genius. Thus frothed Richard Roeper, in the Chicago Sun-Times : “Like Day-Lewis, Reynolds is a mesmerizing, captivating, mercurial, painstakingly meticulous creative force who moves to the sound of his own inner music, has a very specific (and more than a little eccentric) way of doing things, refuses to be rushed and will not allow outside forces to dictate how he operates.” Orr wrote that “Anderson directs with an understated elegance worthy of the House of Woodcock,” while Scott diagnosed Woodcock’s dresses as “works of art, obscurely and yet unmistakably saturated with the passion and personality of their creator,” and that is why “Phantom Thread” is a “profoundly, intensely, extravagantly personal film.”
Personal as it may be, the film is about a male genius so supreme that it can choose even when and how to be weakened in the presence of a woman, who, in exchange for monogamy, is ever willing to serve it. Anderson dazzled critics into believing that they’re not reproducing power but affirming the art of the personal. Disguised as art-house cinema, the film spectacularly endorses the inherent genius of masculinity. “Phantom Thread” is nothing if not propaganda for patriarchy.
By Helen Rosner
By Anthony Lane
By Richard Brody
Notes on Psychoanalysis & Cinema
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11/19/21: _Phantom Thread_ and the Impossible Agreement
There are few films in the last decade as unnerving as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread . The film begins by confronting two positions of sexual relationality: Alma as the hopelessly desirous muse of Reynolds, the indifferent man concerned with nothing other than his art and the phantom of his dead mother. Alma is destined to wait ad infinitum for Reynolds to finally shed his veneer and consummate his love for her – a consummation that, by being purely the object of the drive, has no true telos. So, how does Phantom Thread provide Alma the consummation she desires? In continuity with the film’s enigmatic narrative indecision regarding sexual positionality, Phantom Thread makes Reynolds “open” to, and for, Alma. In an agreement that escapes every normative definition of an “agreement,” Reynolds submits to Alma’s poisoning of his food, and agrees to repetitively undergo intense illness. But the question that Phantom Thread does not truly answer is why Reynolds, in such a sublime Event that evades any normative autonomy, so immediately submits to the supposed phallic authority of Alma. To begin to explore this question, we must begin with Reynolds’ obsession with his dead mother, and the psychic implications this has. When first poisoned unwillingly by Alma, Reynolds, while being cared for by Alma in his bed, sees a hallucinatory image of his dead mother in his room. He verbalizes his deep mourning for her, and the phantom image refuses to answer to his childlike grief. After he recovers from the poison, gets married to Alma, and then violently regrets the decision, Alma suddenly becomes voiceless herself, returning a silent gaze towards Reynolds that disturbs him to no end and causes him to proclaim that there is the presence of an “air of quiet death” in his house. From the voiceless mother, the phantom thread impossibly present in the psychic life of Reynolds, to the suddenly voiceless Alma, the materialized oscillation between the caring Mother of the Imaginary and the obscene Mother of the Real begins to produce an intense psychic interference that necessitates a decision on the part of Reynolds. He cannot live on like this – he has recognized the limits of life, and has furthermore realized the tear in him (the very cut of the unassumingly threatening Alma) that has begun to shred his usually orderly and routined Symbolic world. What more can he do but decide a new mode of sexual relationality that can keep him put in his neat Symbolic world but provide him a jouissance that reaches far beyond the Symbolic and, paradoxically, sustains “normality” itself? This is a decision that is far from normatively autonomous, as a response to the (M)other, yet nonetheless is depicted as shockingly autonomous. Thus, Reynolds becomes “open” to, and for, Alma, the one muse who cares for him like she is his Mother, but, contrary to the other muses, also allows Reynolds to be penetrated by the desire of the Other, therefore allowing Reynolds to identify with the position of the Mother herself.
Glowing with pride, Alma, explaining her and Reynolds’ “agreement,” tells Dr. Hardy that “[i]f he wasn’t there tomorrow, he would be waiting for me in the afterlife.” It is obvious that this “agreement” is transformative beyond the Symbolic, and has taken on a mystical dimension that secures an illicit enjoyment from what Alenka Zupancic describes as the “fundamental antagonism” ( What is Sex? , 41) that both founds and exceeds the Symbolic Order. The differentiality of the realm of signification is not a pure differentiality secured by a Big Other, but instead is produced precisely as the means to master the contradictions inherent to the Symbolic, which lacks the binary signifier that can immediately secure meaning. Alma and Reynolds, in the Event of their “agreement,” settle on their constant Symbolic miscommunication and different ways of desiring, all of which is internal to the Symbolic itself. This settlement is an attempt of suturing structural lack, but is symptomatically a failure: it exudes the ambiguity of sexuality, that which is “placeholder of the missing signifier” (42), by providing both partners the enjoyment of fluctuating in the realm of sexual/gendered positionality. The lack persists, and Alma brings Reynolds closer to the Real, that which lacks nothing, by way of the stasis of illness, while Reynolds encounters the Real of being near death, being “open” to a radical alterity, enjoying it all the same.
Slavoj Zizek has effectively demonstrated, by way of Lacan, how the Marquis de Sade figures the torturer/executioner as the absent subject of enuncation in the Kantian Moral Law. Thus, “the phantasmic ‘truth’ of the [Kantian] immortality of the soul [is] its exact opposite, the immortality of the body, its ability to sustain endless pain and humiliation” (“Kant and Sade: The Ideal Couple”). But the ethical implications of Lacanian analysis do not endorse the Sadian perversity of assuming the externally imposed duty of the Other, nor do they endorse the Kantian determination of Moral Law being separated from all “pathology.” So, does Alma and Reynolds’ “agreement” adhere to the incoherent and impossible ethical position of Lacan? Alma can be figured as the Sadian executioner, immortalizing the love of her relationship through infinitely poisoning Reynolds’ body. What is clear about Alma is that this is a role that she adheres to deeply, but not in the sense of a Kantian duty, but as something she recognizes as and embraces as pathological. But what about Reynolds? Does Reynolds perform his role as a duty that assumes a perversity that derives enjoyment from situating himself as the object of the Other’s drive? There is no obvious way of telling how Reynolds affectively feels about his new role produced by the “agreement” – after willingly poisoning himself and consummating the “agreement,” the film ends without a single other spoken word from Reynolds. But if this is the only assumption we can make about Reynolds’ reasoning for becoming the infinitely-tortured, then it would contrast to Lacan’s late conception of the end of analysis as the singular identification of the analysand with the sinthome . As the “outrageous kernel of  mindless enjoyment” (Zizek, “The Undergrowth of Enjoyment,” 27), the sinthome gives credence to Lacan’s often misinterpreted aphorism “[t]here is no sexual relation,” an aphorism that could be aptly refigured as “[t]here is no relation.” The sinthome has no space in relationality, or the phantasm love as such – it is an ex nihilo production by the analysand that has nothing to do with anyone but the analysand. Reynolds becomes “open” to Alma, and for Alma, and this is a jouissance that is only coherent in the Symbolic as a response to a presupposed Big Other. So, if Reynolds is able to identify with the Mother, the only means by which the illusory category of Woman could ever be conceived of in the unconscious, this does not mean that he escapes phallic authority, the structural lack of the Symbolic. In contradistinction, the Lacanian end of analysis, escaping the cycle between Kant and Sade, promotes the impossible task, a radical identification of the analysand with the lack itself . This necessitates an opening of the subject to radical Otherness, no doubt, but the opening of Reynolds to and for Alma, restraining itself to the realm of relations, is an impossible opening up to, and for, the Other, without recognition of the lack in the Other.
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Love, Power, Fashion, Butter: ‘Phantom Thread’ and The Façade of Male Genius
By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | March 23, 2018 |
As this year’s Oscar nominations were announced, most of us awards prognosticators predicted that Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest drama, Phantom Thread , would be lucky to pick up more than one nomination. Sure, Daniel Day-Lewis was a dead cert, but the film itself just didn’t seem to be on their radar, if the lack of preceding awards was anything to go by. Much to the shock and delight of critics and the industry, the film received greater representation across various categories than anyone could have hoped for in their wildest dreams. Anderson found a way into Best Director in an especially competitive year, and the film stands alongside lofty competition in Best Picture. Having now seen the film myself, I’m more stunned than ever that they pulled it off.
Phantom Thread is a deceptive tale of power, one whose force sneaks up on you through micro-aggressions and extended foreplay. Easily one of the best movies of the year, it’s not hard to see why so many would find the film baffling, off-putting, or even worse. This is no ordinary costume drama (although every dress is a feast for the eyes), nor is it a mere battle of the sexes. Some may see it as yet another tortured male genius story, which is understandable, but this is a story far more concerned with pitying such creatures than inflating their egos. Without the emotional, sexual and economic sacrifices of those women, said men simply cannot cope, and Phantom Thread knows that so very well.
Centred on the groan-inducingly named Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis, controlled and childish and seldom better), a celebrated fashion designer whose work has made him a star in post-war Britain. His stern sister Cyril (the criminally underrated Lesley Manville) keeps the home running and sees to his private affairs when he grows bored of them. During a quick country break, he meets the eager young Alma (Vicky Krieps, the true star of the film) and immediately finds his latest muse in her. Yet muses are fleeting, and Alma is painfully aware of her short shelf life.
It’s easy to get caught up in the admittedly enthralling aesthetics of the film: The clothes are sumptuous, the breakfasts indulgent, Day-Lewis has never looked hotter, and the House of Woodcock will inspire many a case of property envy. Alma, a young European immigrant who we first see working as a somewhat clumsy waitress, is both dazzled and overwhelmed by the opulence of her new surroundings. Dressed in only the finest, she is paraded around more as an accessory than Reynolds’s lover, and everyone around her seems to be waiting for the inevitable moment when Cyril asks her to leave. It weighs heavily on her mind and emphasizes how disposable women seem to be to this genius, especially if they’re outside of his class. Much of the film’s most striking moments come when Alma challenges Reynolds over his set routine, that reeks of childishness to her. The mere awareness of her presence, be it from the buttering of her toast to her dismissed kindness in bringing some tea to the studio, seems to prickle him. Alma’s frustration is further exacerbated by how quickly his dictatorial tendencies are accepted by others. She seems to be the only person willing to call a spade a spade, which only disturbs him more.
Reading this review so far, I’m sure many will be dismissing the film as another peacock-strutting festival of adored male egos. We’ve spent the past few months furiously digging ourselves out of the hole created by bowing down unreservedly to men who are deemed to be geniuses, and it will take much longer for us to reach the surface. Phantom Thread is about a male genius, but it is no love letter to Reynolds or his archetype. Anderson, who wrote the film as well, has much more interest in dissecting the power structure that surrounds such figures, and how easily something so fragile can be disrupted.
To understand this dynamic further, I’m going to have to go into spoiler territory. So, if you don’t want to be spoiled - and believe me, you don’t - then just skip past all this, and go straight to the cinema to see Phantom Tread .
. . . . . . . . . .
Reynolds Woodcock is a genius - although I believe that sentiment to be debatable - but he is also an emotionally stunted man-child with severe mother issues who relies on the selflessness of women to keep him afloat. Without Alma, without Cyril, without his customers, and without the many seamstresses who make his ideas reality, Reynolds would be nothing. His genius is limited, and often only justified by the women around him doing the real labour. He cloaks himself in luxurious confidence to get through the day and prays that nobody reveals the emperor is wearing no clothes. Every woman around him sees his reality, but it is Alma who cements the dynamic in her favour.
Being a muse is fun for a while, but it demands nothing of Alma beyond her ability to stand still for many hours. To talk back, talk to Reynolds or even prepare her breakfast is too unruly. Eventually, she wants power back.
She wants to be his one and only for just a little while longer, so she poisons him with mushrooms.
With the focus Reynolds reserves for sewing gowns, she chops and crushes them into his tea, and quickly becomes his adoring nurse once he becomes too ill to even move. As a patient, Reynolds’s infantile tendencies become more potent. You can imagine him calling Alma ‘mother’ in a moment of delirium. He is helpless when he is sick, immediately reverting to the childlike state he pretends isn’t his default mode. Alma, of course, loves it.
Eventually they marry, and he expectedly reverts to his old ways. He wants rid of the woman who won’t shut up, even as his sister, for once, sides with her. Reynolds lacks the emotional maturity to talk to his wife like a human being, and he can’t bring himself to admit how pathetically he needs her. Alma returns to her mushroom game, but this time he is savvy to her plans. Still, he goes along with it, because he needs it. When Alma tells him that she wants him to be utterly helpless and in his care, on his back and waiting for her aid, it is like a light has turned on in his mind. Sickness returns but he is ready for the fallout and prepared to give everything over to her. It is accepted that this will be a new addition to the routine, his new method of catharsis and his admittance that Alma is his world.
Twisted? Sure. Adoring of male genius? Ha.
Without the women in his life, Reynolds will crumble. As stubborn as he is, and as beloved as his work is now, even he seems to understand that his future in uncertain. The 1960s are around the corner, and his seemingly timeless designs will hold no sway for the women who want to look cool or chic or swinging. Cyril may remain by his side, and she will salve his ego when need be, but she’s not above telling him to shut up. Both know that she will win in any fight, because she is the only one willing to be mother in those situations. Without the skilled hands of the seamstresses who work overtime to fix his mistakes, his reputation would be meaningless. Without the customers he quietly scorns, often to their faces, there would be no House of Woodcock.
And without Alma, he is more pathetic a creature than he already is. She tells him, so sweetly but with that icy edge, that their future will be a good one together. She will bear his children, join him as head of the company - keeping it young where he refuses to - and wiping his brow when the mushrooms set in. This is a classic story of an artist and his muse, but with an acidic bite that reminds us of how pitiable that stereotype really. Alma is what Billy Wilder would have referred to as the vinegar in the cocktail - the necessary sharpness to a traditional tale that keeps the dream alive.
Kayleigh is a features writer and editor for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read .
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The needle and the damage done: Paul Thomas Anderson on Phantom Thread
In this piece from our February 2018 issue, Paul Thomas Anderson discusses Phantom Thread, his gothic romance set in 1950s London, and reflects on the rigid world of haute couture, the English class system and working with Daniel Day-Lewis.
31 December 2020
By James Bell
▶︎ Phantom Thread is widely available on digital platforms, 4K UHD , Blu-ray and DVD .
The ‘phantom thread’ in the title of Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth feature refers to a term that seamstresses working in the East End of Victorian London used to describe the sensation they felt after emerging from long, repetitive hours in the workshop. After returning home exhausted, the women would find their hands moving involuntarily, their fingers clasped as though sewing invisible, ‘phantom’ threads.
It’s a title that offers hints of the gothic undercurrents that drive Anderson’s film, the first the California-native has made outside the US . Phantom Thread is a claustrophobic chamber drama about the balance between giving and taking, conceding and resisting in relationships, and one as singularly unconventional as any he has made since 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love signalled his move away from the dazzlingly orchestrated Scorsese/Altman-isms of Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999) to the more distinctive signature felt in There Will Be Blood (2007), The Master (2012) and Inherent Vice (2014).
The film introduces the forbidding, immaculately presented figure of Reynolds Woodcock, an obsessive, perfectionist couturier in fashionable mid-1950s London, played by Daniel Day-Lewis in what the actor has said will be his final performance. Woodcock lives and works in an elegant Georgian townhouse in Mayfair, the ‘House of Woodcock’, as it’s known, where royalty and ladies of high society come to be fitted for bespoke dresses each new season, and where a team of backroom seamstresses toil under the watchful eye of Reynolds’s implacably loyal sister Cyril – his very own Mrs Danvers (Rebecca was a key influence) – played with relishably purse-lipped disdain by Lesley Manville.
Everything is ‘just so’ in this world, precisely ordered to facilitate the unencumbered creativity of the great man at its centre. “It’s right because it’s right,” as Reynolds says. Romances with women only last while they’re useful for the work – once the muse is used up, Cyril steps in to usher the ladies out the door (“What do you want to do about Johanna?” Cyril asks Reynolds over breakfast early in the film. “She’s lovely, but the time has come”).
The bodies of Bluebeard’s former wives were locked away in the forbidden room in the old fable, but Reynolds’s women simply vanish from the house once they are no longer needed, living on only as phantoms in the exquisite dresses they once inspired and wore.
That is until, as with Bluebeard’s eighth wife, Reynolds meets a woman who can’t be cast aside so easily – an orphaned Eastern European immigrant named Alma (Vicky Krieps) whom he meets when she’s working as a waitress in a seaside hotel, seduces (over breakfast) with the promise of glamour and high society, and who is soon living in the Mayfair house and spending weekends in his country manor (a family inheritance with more than a passing resemblance to a modest Manderley).
Like the heroines of so many gothic romances, from Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights to those of the films made in the genre’s heyday in 1940s Hollywood, such as Gaslight (1944), Experiment Perilous (1944) Dragonwyck (1946) and Secret Beyond the Door (1947) – not to mention any number of Hitchcock heroines imperilled by potentially murderous spouses – Alma finds Reynolds’s initial seductive interest gives way to a chilling distance.
However, Alma refuses simply to bend to Reynolds’s will as so many of her predecessors have. As she tells him on their first evening together: “If you want to have a staring contest with me, you’ll lose.” When later Reynolds is seized suddenly by a mysterious, violent sickness, it’s he who becomes the vulnerable one.
“The idea of doing something in the genre of the gothic romance had interested me for a long time,” says a very jet-lagged Anderson when I meet him a few days before Christmas, coincidentally in the same Covent Garden hotel room in which he, Day-Lewis and Krieps had their only brief meeting together before shooting began. “I had an idea to do a story of a man and a woman based upon a character who, unless he is ill, is unable to show how much he needs someone.”
Anderson has spoken of how one moment of inspiration came when he was laid up sick in bed, his wife tending to him with loving patience, but the theme is of course one that reaches back into the tradition of the gothic romance – in Jane Eyre, it’s only when Rochester is blinded and maimed that he and Jane finally marry. Love is brutal in these stories.
There was also the desire to work again with Day-Lewis, after their Oscar-winning collaboration on There Will Be Blood, and to bring the actor back to England. As Anderson describes the process of writing and conceiving the film, he unfailingly refers to “we” or “us”, and it’s clear that the collaboration was unusually close, even to the point of co-authorship. Was this a new way of working for him? “I had worked a bit in that way with Phil [Seymour Hoffman] on The Master,” Anderson says. “But yes, this was really from the ground up. I had less than I had ever had before when coming to Daniel, which I found to be a really good way of working, actually. We had the seed of the story and the character, but it had to grow. I’m never very strict on outlines going in. There’s a central premise, on which we can hang things as we discover them.”
That hanging of details accelerated as Anderson became increasingly interested in fashion, and mid-century haute couture in particular – in part prompted when composer and Radiohead member Jonny Greenwood, who has scored each of Anderson’s features since There Will Be Blood, including Phantom Thread, complimented him on a suit: “He said something sarcastic to the effect of ‘Look at you, Beau Brummell’,” Anderson says. “I had to look the name up, then wanted to know more.
“I discovered [Spanish designer] Cristóbal Balenciaga, and just became fascinated by his life and his work,” he continues. “As I looked at other designers, I would keep seeing pictures of these couture houses, and it was always a man with dozens of women behind him, in lab coats, doing his work. That lent itself to a gothic story, I felt. There was also something so cinematic about staircases and doors and workspaces leading into other workspaces, with women in those gowns and dresses. It all fit.”
That period of research led Anderson and Day-Lewis, as well as costume designer Mark Bridges, to English designers of the period – men like Norman Hartnell (designer of Elizabeth II ’s 1947 wedding gown, as well as her 1953 Coronation dress), Hardy Amies (who also designed dresses for Elizabeth) and Charles James, all exacting men who were drawn upon during the creation of the character of Reynolds Woodcock.
Paris and London were twin centres of European dressmaking in the 50s, but the latter appealed for its formal tradition, tied in to the rituals and occasions of upper-class society, as opposed to the fashionable ‘New Look’ developed over the channel by the likes of Christian Dior (at one point, Reynolds spits invective in disgust on hearing a client use the word ‘chic’ – “Fucking ‘chic’. Whoever invented that should be spanked in public. I don’t even know what that little word means!”).
The bringing together of the obsessive world of couture with the stifling rules governing manners and behaviour in fashionable English society of the period, where politesse might barely mask barbed hostility, revealed itself as prime gothic terrain. “That, and being from America. There’s always that old Anglo-fascination,” says Anderson. “I’d always loved the idea of post-war London, probably from all those movies I love: David Lean’s Brief Encounter  and The Passionate Friends , Michael Powell’s I Know Where I’m Going! . These are food and drink to me. The Passionate Friends always seems to suffer in comparison to Brief Encounter, but I love it.”
Less celebrated it may be, but The Passionate Friends feels a particularly key reference, dealing as it does with explosive secrets and emotional duplicity between three figures (in Lean’s film it’s Ann Todd, Trevor Howard as her former love, and Claude Rains as her mistrustful husband). More obviously still, it also has a scene set at a raucous New Year’s Eve party at the infamous Chelsea Arts Club Ball, as well as showing its characters holidaying in Switzerland – both also found in Phantom Thread.
“A straight lift!” laughs Anderson. “No. Whether it’s a wholesale steal from The Passionate Friends or not, I don’t know. Most of those kind of details came through the historical research. Switzerland was where society figures used to vacation at that time – Balenciaga, for example – so it fits that they would go there in The Passionate Friends.
“We were pulling from everywhere,” he continues. “Here we really counted on old Pathé footage. I found amazing material shot at the Chelsea Arts Club Ball, footage of fashion shows from the 50s, news footage of [American heiress] Barbara Hutton’s marriage to [Puerto Rican diplomat and renowned playboy] Porfirio Rubirosa, which we have paralleled in our film [with a story involving the House of Woodcock’s wealthy American investor Barbara Rose, played by Harriet Sansom Harris, marrying a Dominican businessman; Reynolds has to hold his nose and attend the wedding]. You can go on to YouTube and watch Pathé reports of the Chelsea Arts Club balls between 1947 to ’57. They were so much more violent and scandalous than we portray them in the film. It’s following those paths. So, the dressing of the Belgian princess [in the film] was inspired by a real story of Balenciaga dressing a Belgian princess – but it’s a story from the 60s that we’ve transplanted to the 50s. Historians will wag their fingers, but all those inspirations get pooled.”
Nonetheless, he did look to contemporary fiction and cinema for tone. I ask him if he looked at Jacques Becker’s 1945 film Falbalas, a story about, yes, an obsessive, womanising designer in Paris whose ways are disrupted by an affair – the scenes of seamstresses at work feel very reminiscent of Phantom Thread. Anderson says, “Yes. It’s not one of Becker’s best. I thought it would be a goldmine to steal from but it turned out just OK . The gowns are by Marcel Rochas, who was a famous designer at the time and quite a ladies’ man. But we were well on our way with the idea and of course, started searching for anything that might inform or present us with a problem of the ‘it’s been done before’ kind.”
A key influence on conveying the claustrophobic atmosphere of London’s grand houses of the time, and the scathing, darkly comic tone the film takes towards them, were the sharply observed novels by the writer and heiress to the Guinness fortune Lady Caroline Blackwood, a celebrated beauty, muse and fixture in bohemian London circles in the 50s, when she was married to artist Lucian Freud – Anderson cites in particular Blackwood’s short stories and her novel Great Granny Webster. Blackwood’s third husband, the poet Robert Lowell, memorably described her as “a mermaid who dines upon the bones of her winded lovers” – an image that feels perfectly of a piece with Phantom Thread.
And in British cinema of the period, as well as Lean, he inevitably looked to The Archers: “Powell and Pressburger films were a great reminder to me of the need to put theatrics in,” he says. “For instance, the theatrics that come with a fashion house like that – the grand entrances, the rituals of walking into such a house, of walking up the stairs to meet the great man… trying to film that with a bravura theatricality. Ramping it all up, certainly with the music, because that must have been the impression they all wanted to give – that display of power. ‘I’ll let you walk up the stairs to me, and I’ll greet you from above.’ And that hasn’t changed today.”
The Red Shoes (1948) was a particular touchstone, its tale of an obsessively committed man at the head of a creative enterprise – and the exploration of the personal toll of that commitment – an obvious parallel. Day-Lewis also borrows unmistakably from the look and poise of Anton Walbrook’s ballet director Boris Lermontov for Reynolds, and just as Lermontov calls the ambitious young composer Julian Craster to a meeting over breakfast, Phantom Thread is punctuated by several excruciatingly funny breakfast-table scenes, with Reynolds showing mounting irritation as his invaluable thinking time is disrupted by the simply unbearable clink of a teaspoon against a cup, or the intolerable sound of a knife buttering toast.
As Cyril tells Alma: “If breakfast isn’t right it’s very hard for him to recover for the rest of the day.” Was Anderson lampooning the scenes of the great man at breakfast familiar from earlier films? (In Rebecca too, Olivier’s Maxim de Winter is at breakfast when he suddenly proposes to Joan Fontaine’s “little fool”, instructing her that he has “two lumps of sugar in my coffee – now don’t forget!”) “Actually I come to it from a very personal place,” Anderson laughs. “Daniel has teased me about my obsession with breakfast. When we were getting together to make There Will Be Blood he would always point out that I was ordering five times the normal amount.”
If this is really to be Day-Lewis’s final role, it’s another entirely distinctive performance on which to bow out. Not as obviously bravura as, say, his turns as Bill the Butcher in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2000), or his oilman Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, his Reynolds Woodcock is still every bit as memorable as his character’s name demands.
Despite his reputation among royalty and London’s elite, he’s a brusque, fabulously rude figure (“Didn’t I tell you to fuck off?” he says at one point to the young doctor who examined him during his sudden sickness, and with whom Alma has a tentative flirtation; on another that he “doesn’t give a tinker’s fucking curse” whether or not a client is satisfied with her dress). Reynolds doesn’t really fit at all in high society, which he views with a scathing disregard – all those entitled, useless people lacking in the grand talent and purpose only he possesses.
He’s an odd, self-centred man with a fixation on his dead mother (he keeps a lock of her hair sewn into the lining of his jackets, just above his breast “to keep her close to me always… I try to never be without her”), and trusts no one but Cyril. “Daniel and I always imagined that Reynolds would be a person who ran in his own lane – he wouldn’t socialise with anyone else who did what he did,” says Anderson. “He would have had a belief that he was the only real designer in England. I always found myself wondering what Reynolds would have made of someone like Norman Hartnell. He probably would have been slightly dismissive – he would have said that Hartnell used too many gemstones or something. We talked about the fact that Reynolds’s mother would have been an immigrant, an outsider herself – like Alma. With a character like Reynolds there’s so often a preoccupation with his mother, and Reynolds’s mother would have made sure that her child’s feet never touched the ground; he was the golden child, whose gift for sewing was cultivated, at the expense of Cyril.”
That sense of his own uniqueness and disdain for the entitlement of the idle upper classes is something that ultimately he shares with Alma. We’re given little direct information about Alma’s background (of the fact that she shares her name with Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville, Anderson says, “I promise you, it was a complete accident. I probably would have avoided it if I had thought of it”), other than that she is an orphan (material showing her with her brother was cut from the final edit of the film); but we’re given clues, such as her reaction to a scene in which a Daily Mail reporter asks Woodcock benefactor Barbara Rose at the press conference to mark her wedding to playboy Rubio Gurrerro, about rumours of him selling visas to Jews during the war.
The camera holds on her expression as she reacts, and the line echoes in her ears – are we to read that she’s a Jewish war orphan? “Yes. I would say so,” Anderson says. “We tried to point it in that direction. We actually wanted several things to be captured in her expression in that scene: her disgust that Reynolds’s beautiful dress is being worn at such an occasion; visas and Jews – this is triggering a lot in her. And also, if this is what love is meant to look like [a cynical, financial arrangement], she doesn’t want a piece of it. It’s the classic thing, you get to a point in editing where you decide that you’ve retained material that points to a backstory, and if the audience are swift they will catch it, but if they don’t, it’s not important for their enjoyment.”
Gradually, Alma emerges as someone as complex and difficult as Reynolds, her initial exasperation that he resists her attempts at a more conventional intimacy giving way to a conspiratorial understanding of his difficult nature – something abetted by Cyril, who comes to see Alma as an ally. In her first major English-language role, Luxembourg-born actor Vicky Krieps is a revelation, and more than holds her own alongside Day-Lewis.
I ask Anderson if he was concerned that working with Day-Lewis could be intimidating, and if he used that to impact on the film: “I’ve no doubt that Daniel is aware of it. But he is very good about putting people at ease, even if there is supposed to be an uneasy relationship in the film. I would hesitate to say that I used it to help any performances. He even came to me two weeks into the shoot to say he was nervous at just how good Vicky was, and that he was on the back foot.”
The fact that Reynolds and Alma are both outsiders is a detail Anderson uses to probe the snobberies and ugly prejudices of the English upper class. “I was fascinated by the rules of the British class system,” Anderson says. “But I relied on Daniel to guide me in that area.” Most of the film is set in the claustrophobic confines of the House of Woodcock, or away at the weekend house in the country, or occasionally at dinner in the same restaurant – a world within the wider world of London society of the period. But there is a telling sequence of Alma and Reynolds out at a party hosted by Lady Baltimore (played by Julia Davis – “She’s a national treasure. I love Nighty Night, Camping, Jam and all that Chris Morris stuff, and especially Human Remains”), whose snobbery towards Alma is vicious – a comment on the well-documented anti-Semitism of much of the English aristocracy of the time? “Yes,” says Anderson. “Julia Davis said of Lady Baltimore that she was the type of person who might say, ‘I don’t mean to be racist, but…’ As her character says of Alma: ‘Is she up there stealing things, or attacking people, or howling at the moon?’”
The film was all shot on location – a seaside town near Whitby in Yorkshire standing in for the seaside village where Reynolds meets Alma, a large Elizabethan cottage in the Cotswolds for his weekend retreat, and an elegant Georgian terrace on Fitzroy Square in central London for the House of Woodcock. The decision brought challenges, but Anderson wouldn’t have had it any other way. “The idea of going to a set seemed like I could have just stayed in Burbank, which would have been wrong. I look at London as a tourist, it all seems so cinematic to me. It can be frustrating shooting a period piece on location, you sometimes have to resort to digital effects to take things out or put things in. But I try to avoid it.”
Similarly, all the main dresses seen in the film were designed and made bespoke by costume designer Mark Bridges, rather than bought in from museum collections. “That was an idea early on, but they’re museum pieces, they can’t go out. Plus they’re 70 years old now, and we needed them to be brand new. Also, it just would have been wrong to make a film about a dressmaker and not build the dresses. That said, there are many dresses in the background that are vintage, and to make all of them would have been way beyond the scope of what we could afford. So you focus on the ones that are really front and centre.”
That sense of authenticity is stitched into the film in other, more surprising ways too. Bridges accompanied Anderson and Day-Lewis on research trips to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, where they happened to meet two long-time volunteers, Joan Brown and Sue Clark, who were so helpful they ended up not only being creative advisers on set, but also appearing in the film as seamstresses Biddy and Nana. “Joan had even worked for Hardy Amies for many, many years from the 1950s, so working with them was one of the great, great pleasures of making this,” says Anderson.
In formal terms, what’s striking about Phantom Thread is not the ostentatious stylistic audacity that characterised Boogie Nights and Magnolia, and led to claims of Anderson as a new Kubrick (though many will note the way the filming of Reynolds and Alma’s high-speed night-time drive through country lanes recalls a similar scene in A Clockwork Orange); nor even the daring choices of later films like There Will Be Blood, whose first 20 minutes took place entirely without dialogue. Instead there’s a restrained classicism to the look and editing of the film (which Anderson shot himself – no cinematographer is credited) that is appropriate to the theme.
There’s also a trust in the power of transitions between scenes to affect the uneasy disquiet that is the heart of the story – elisions that express what is not necessarily seen or verbalised. Subtle dissolves to a new scene indicate a change in the emotional temperature in the house; a cut to a new morning bringing with it the realisation that the balance of power in the relationship has shifted almost imperceptibly overnight in Alma’s favour. Anderson credits editor Dylan Tichenor with much of the crafting of that effect, and also Jonny Greenwood’s score, which winds around pieces by Nelson Riddle, Oscar Peterson, Debussy, Schubert, Brahms and others and wonderfully suggests the ebbing and flowing of otherwise disguised emotions.
Did Anderson have notes for Greenwood on the music? “I actually showed Jonny The Passionate Friends,” he says. “Interestingly, Richard Addinsell, the composer of that score, was the lover of Victor Stiebel, a popular couture designer in London, so again there were those unexpected connections. Jonny would say that he would write music he imagined Reynolds would listen to. ‘Romance’ was my only direction to him.”
Swooning romance? Or romance of the dangerous, masochistic kind? “Well… in the end, what’s the difference?”
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10 Fascinating Facts About Phantom Thread
By rebecca pahle | mar 1, 2018.
Auteur Paul Thomas Anderson turned his eye toward fashion—and, for the first time in his career, away from California—in Phantom Thread , the Oscar-nominated film that stars Daniel Day-Lewis (in his reportedly final role ) as a fastidious 1950s fashion designer who finds himself locked in a battle of wills—and mushrooms—with a new paramour (Vicky Krieps). Buckle in for these 10 decidedly not chic facts about Phantom Thread .
1. DANIEL DAY-LEWIS CAME UP WITH HIS CHARACTER’S NAME.
It was Daniel Day-Lewis who came up with the name “Reynolds Woodcock”—and yes, it is supposed to be a penis joke. Before Day-Lewis’s stroke of brilliance, Paul Thomas Anderson was using the decidedly less anatomical-sounding moniker “Arthur Dapple, Jr." as a placeholder.
2. IT WAS (IN A SMALL WAY) INSPIRED BY PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON AND MAYA RUDOLPH’S RELATIONSHIP.
Inspiration for the integral subplot where Alma (Vicky Krieps) must nurse Reynolds through a debilitating illness comes in part from an occurrence in Anderson’s own life. The director came down with something, and his wife (actress/comedian Maya Rudolph) took care of him. “My imagination just took over at some point, where I had this thought: 'Oh, she is looking at me with such care and tenderness ... wouldn't it suit her to keep me sick in this state?'" Anderson recalled . "[That moment] gave me an idea that such a thing could be served up with some spark of mischievousness and humor that might, in a larger picture, lend itself to what it means to be in a long-term relationship, you know. And the balance of power that can happen in that.”
3. DAY-LEWIS CONTRIBUTED TO THE COSTUME DESIGN.
Day-Lewis was involved in the design of Reynolds Woodcock’s clothes—both those he wore and those he designed. For the gowns, Day-Lewis would sometimes choose color or fabric swatches for costume designer Mark Bridges. Woodcock’s own outfits were assembled in the normal, everyday manner of real people: An assortment of clothes was purchased and, per Bridges , Day-Lewis would select from it outfits that matched what he “was feeling at that given time for the scene.” (The blazer-over-lavender-PJs look is a Day-Lewis original.)
4. ONE OF THE CHARACTERS IS A BASED ON A REAL WOMAN WITH A TRAGIC STORY.
The character of Barbara Rose (Harriet Sansom Harris)—the drunken customer whose dress Reynolds and Alma steal off her body in one memorable scene—is based on real-life Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton . The recipient of a $50 million inheritance on her 21st birthday, Hutton married seven times (once to Cary Grant ). The marriage depicted in Phantom Thread , to playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, lasted two months.
5. IT’S DEDICATED TO JONATHAN DEMME .
Phantom Thread is dedicated to late director Jonathan Demme, friend and mentor to Anderson. Demme died on April 26, 2017, which also happened to be the last day of shooting on Phantom’s Thread .
6. VICKY KRIEPS DIDN’T REALIZE WHO SHE WAS AUDITIONING FOR.
Anderson discovered actress Vicky Krieps when he rented a German movie she’d been in on iTunes. (“I couldn’t believe anyone saw it,” Krieps said . “It was on iTunes for one week. But he clicked on it!”) Failing to read an email from her agent properly, Krieps thought it was a student director who was interested in working with her—not Paul Thomas Anderson. She didn't realize the error until after she’d already sent in her audition tape.
7. YOU CAN DRESS LIKE REYNOLDS AND CYRIL WOODCOCK—IF YOU HAVE THE MONEY.
Reynolds Woodcock’s suits come from Anderson & Sheppard , a Savile Row clothing house that has dressed Prince Charles, Cary Grant, and Day-Lewis’s father, former UK poet laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, during its 112-year history. Woodcock’s magenta socks come from Rome-based designer Gammarelli, which is famed for dressing bishops and popes. The socks retail for about $25 a pair. Those who want to dress like his sister Cyril Woodcock can pay a visit to London tailor/designer Thomas von Nordheim .
8. DAY-LEWIS RECREATED A BALENCIAGA DRESS TO PREPARE FOR HIS ROLE.
Day-Lewis, famous for his Method acting zeal, prepared to play Woodcock by studying archival footage of mid-century fashion shows, learning to sew, and recreating a Balenciaga sheath dress from scratch. Day-Lewis’s wife, director Rebecca Miller, “has worn the dress,” he said. “It’s very pretty.”
9. THE FILM TOOK ITS FASHION VERY SERIOUSLY.
Some of the seamstresses who work for Woodcock are played by real seamstresses. One of the dresses they work on, the wedding dress Woodcock designed for Princess Mona Braganza (Lujza Richter), was actually made to the actress’s measurements , even though she’s never filmed wearing it.
10. YOU CAN BUY REYNOLDS WOODCOCK’S HOUSE.
The scenes in Woodcock’s London townhouse were filmed in a house in Fitzroy Square that was designed by famed neoclassical architect Robert Adam. Any Paul Thomas Anderson superfans with a hefty bit of cash to spare are in luck: As of January, the five-story, seven-bedroom house was on the market for just over $20 million .
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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Phantom Thread’ on Netflix, a Low-Key Paul Thomas Anderson Classic
Where to stream:.
- Phantom Thread
- Paul Thomas Anderson
Ryan Reynolds Begs "Please Don't F*** With TCM" Amidst Layoffs at Classic Movie Network
From sherlock holmes to 'the kid detective,' a brief 4-20 exploration into why so many detectives turn to drugs, heather graham opens up about filming her first-ever nude scene in 'boogie nights': "it was terrifying", stream it or skip it: 'licorice pizza' on amazon prime video, paul thomas anderson's ode to verboten love (and early '70s los angeles).
With Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza chugging its way through the endless 2021-22 awards season, Netflix adds his previous film, 2017’s Phantom Thread , to its menu morass. The film marked Daniel Day-Lewis’ final performance prior to his retirement, newfound prominence for Lesley Manville and the emergence of Vicky Krieps, the latter of the three being, quite criminally, the one who didn’t get an Oscar nomination. That may be the opposite of recency bias for you, because a few years’ distance and additional viewings reveal the depth of mischief Krieps brings to the film, revealing her as its true dynamic fulcrum.
PHANTOM THREAD : STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: “I cannot begin my day with a confrontation, please.” Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) will have none of that, “that” being anything, no matter how miniscule, a light sniff or half-blink of an eye, that might disrupt his focus and routine. His woman, girlfriend, companion, lover, muse, showpiece, whatever she may be, anonymous to us, is discarded, rubber-stamped out the door by Cyril (Manville), Reynolds’ sister/handler/manager/silent dictator, who he calls “my old so-and-so” just so we won’t know the boundaries of their relationship. He is a dress designer for socialites and Royals, the best of the best, and one can imagine it’s a high-pressure gig. He is fastidious because of this, or he is this because he is fastidious. No, he’s not fastidious. Sociopathic? I don’t know, but that might be closer. It’s the 1950s.
Cyril suggests that Reynolds visit the countryside, so off he drives, too fast in his sporting motorcar, alone. He finds a restaurant and a waitress catches his eye and she stumbles and blushes and he orders Welsh rarebit, with a poached egg, scones, butter, cream, jam (not strawberry), a pot of lapchang souchong tea and some sausages from her, and she hands him a note calling him a “hungry boy” and telling him her name, Alma (Krieps). We don’t see him eat it, so if he ate any of it or all of it, who knows, but we definitely know he ordered it, and there was a lot of it. There is romance. He stares lovingly, quietly at her and she smiles warmly and playfully and says, “If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.” Reynolds takes Alma back to his country house, shows her around, shows her a picture of his mother in a wedding dress he sewed for her, shows her his lair, with its tape measure and mannequin and fabric samples, and what begins as a sensual sizing takes a turn when Cyril wordlessly emerges from the shadows and Reynolds begins dictating the numbers to her. Alma frowns. She’s being processed.
And yet, Alma moves into the room adjacent to Reynolds, in his London home, where Cyril also lives of course, and which is also his design studio, office and workshop for his team of seamstresses. The three of them have breakfast and Reynolds sketches and Alma scrapes and crunches her toast and he bristles and Cyril saw it coming. He snaps at Alma and she snaps back and he snaps again as he leaves the room and she gets the last word. “I think he’s being too fussy,” she tells Cyril. It begins. A duel between microaggression gladiators. Alma becomes his woman, girlfriend, companion, lover, muse, showpiece and combatant, and she can hold her own with the highly competitive and quite obviously oh so jealous Cyril, too. Next thing you know, she’s making him asparagus with BUTTER when she damn well knows he takes his asparagus with oil and SALT, and you know she knows this but did it anyway.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: When Alma reads up on mushrooms, poisonous and non-, and chops one up, and finely mortar-and-pestles it, and takes a tiny spoon and fills a thimble with it, and tap-tap-taps it into the pot as the camera looks up through the water in the pot, it is so, so very Hitchcock – Suspicion , Rebecca , Notorious .
Performance Worth Watching: We have preconceived notions of what a character like Alma is in typical movies – the meek lower-class girl swept into a prestige lifestyle with beck-and-call servants and the like. Anderson toys with that assumption and yanks the rug out from under us – Krieps’ performance places assumptive naivete atop ruthless calculation. We know nothing about Alma, her upbringing, her stature, her education, her past lovers, her experience with anything at all. A lowly waitress falling in with the man who frocks up princesses for their weddings? This isn’t a rom-com, and, more shockingly, it’s not Day-Lewis’ movie. Once our expectations are upended and we watch Phantom Thread a second (or third, or fourth) time, it’s clear it belongs to Krieps.
Memorable Dialogue: Everyone loves “Kiss me, my girl, before I am sick” – it’s the movie’s signature line for good reason. But I’m quite partial to “I think it’s clear. He wants you to f— off.”
Sex and Skin: None, but we can only imagine .
Our Take: Anderson not only shatters the dynamic of the mainstream romance, but also upends the stereotypical portrait of a great artist or craftsman who sacrifices his personal life on the altar of professional achievement. But Anderson is no reactionary; his intent, I believe, is to push a love story into a new, tantalizingly understated realm of nonsexual (as far as we know, anyway!) perversion. Phantom Thread falls in with the filmmaker’s other vice-grip character studies, There Will Be Blood and The Master , and therefore his best work; it has more in common with the latter, in its ambiguity and twisted psychology.
What emerges from Phantom Thread on a second or third watch is its rich comedy, rooted in schadenfreude for the Reynolds character, an immoderately uptight, high-class Londoner, oft-lavished with praise, surrounded by underlings, catering to the detestable rich and enabled by his sister, who’s the pragmatic brain of their operation, and with whom he has a codependent relationship that seems, if not quite incestuous, then just plain unhealthy . Reynolds can’t function without Cyril, and seeing Alma wedge herself between them, almost mischievously, is downright hilarious.
It’s necessary, though. Reynolds doesn’t recognize it immediately, but he needs the challenge. His previous romantic relationships fizzled because the women tried to ingratiate themselves into his rigid routine, a fatal error. Alma is a catalyst, a strong woman and a feminist, perhaps. His perfect, well-oiled, dispassionate, mechanical status-quo rut is showing signs of deterioration: Contrary to his personal and professional method, the couture business is about motion and progress, and new fashions are beginning to nudge his classic designs out of vogue.
He rarely compromises, but when he does, it’s painful, inspiring one of the film’s funniest sequences: One of Reynolds’ major benefactors, the repulsive Barbara Rose (played with sumptuously grotesque self-loathing by Harriet Sansom Harris), demands a new Woodcock dress for an upper-crusty endeavor, then proceeds to get sloppy-intoxicated; Alma insists they retrieve the dress from this unworthy woman, so she and Reynolds invade her hotel room and strip it from her torpid body. That sequence is a formative bonding moment in Alma and Reynolds’ relationship, which subsequently blooms into a thing of strange near-horror, albeit one mutually agreed upon, so hey, whatever works, as long as it’s consensual, right?
Anderson’s attention to detail is unmatched in modern film. Although Phantom Thread stretches past two hours, no moment is wasted, each one enriching the overall narrative. Its meticulous art direction, its period-specific costumes, set design and score, contribute to our engrossment in this boundary-pushing romance, which is endlessly rewarding, a feast of subtle eccentricity and enticing manipulation. Hitchcock would’ve loved it.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Phantom Thread is a low-key PTA classic. Seen it already? Well, watch it again.
Will you stream or skip Paul Thomas Anderson's #PhantomThread on @netflix ? #SIOSI — Decider (@decider) January 17, 2022
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com .
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About that ending of 'Phantom Thread': Paul Thomas Anderson and Vicky Krieps discuss the climactic power play
Warning: this post contains spoilers for the third act of phantom thread.
Power is the phantom force affecting the relationships at the center of Paul Thomas Anderson’s acclaimed period drama Phantom Thread , which last week received six Oscar nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture. Each of the three points that constitute the movie’s odd love triangle — esteemed London fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis, a Best Actor nominee for what he’s said will be his final screen performance ), his stern sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville, who picked up a surprise Best Supporting Actress nod ), and the interloper in their midst, Alma ( breakout star Vicky Krieps ) — is locked in a subtle, but no less serious struggle to be the one in control of their collective destiny.
And Anderson gracefully depicts how this power dynamic shifts as the story unfolds; early on in the film, Reynolds seems to wield ultimate authority, choosing which dresses, and people, he wants to share his home and workspace with. He’s the one, for instance, who opens the door for Alma to leave her former job waitressing at a rural restaurant and enter the world of ’50s haute couture as his latest muse and model. But no sooner is she inside his luxurious townhouse that she realizes Cyril has the real run of the place, keeping the Woodcock production line humming along and quietly managing her brother’s whims and mood swings, not to mention the revolving door of young women who hope to become the keepers of Reynolds’s heart.
For much of the film, Alma is at a serious disadvantage in trying to influence a sibling relationship that has outlasted any conventional love affair. Which is why, rather than be meekly dismissed like so many of the women before her, she makes an unconventional power play of her own. Late in the movie, Alma harvests some poisonous mushrooms that are growing nearby the Woodcock estate and stirs them into her lover’s tea, creating a brew that’s strong enough to put him flat on his back, but stops short of ending his life. During his convalescence, she remains a constant presence by his bedside, effectively supplanting Cyril has his guardian. She even appears to receive the posthumous approval of his long-dead mother in that regard; in his fungi-induced hallucinatory state, Reynolds sees mommy dearest’s phantom in the room, silently observing as Alma bustles about in the foreground. When he recovers, Woodcock approaches his poisoner with a remarkable (for him) proposal: marriage.
“That idea came to me early on,” Anderson tells Yahoo Entertainment about Alma’s poison mushroom stunt and how it tips the household’s balance of power in her direction. “This notion of a powerful man becoming weak — how does that happen? It happens through acts of God or exertions of other forces outside of his own. He’s certainly not going to put himself in a vulnerable position! It’s only when some outside force that’s stronger than him is able to dismantle it that he recognizes his need and the fact that, if he can’t find it, he’s going to die a cold, black death.”
Funnily enough, Anderson wasn’t the only 2017 filmmaker to use deadly mushrooms as a third-act plot device . Sofia Coppola’s Civil War-set drama, The Beguiled , ends with the women at a Virginia boarding school poisoning the Union soldier they’ve been protecting (Colin Farrell) at a dinner thrown in his ostensible honor. (It’s an ending that Coppola preserved from the original Thomas P. Cullinan novel, as well as the 1971 film version starring Clint Eastwood.) “I haven’t seen The Beguiled ,” Anderson admits when we tell him about the coincidental relationship between Coppola’s movie and his own. “I saw the original film a million years ago, but didn’t even remember there was a mushroom poisoning in that. It has a long history in movies and books; there’s a great Shirley Jackson book, We Have Always Lived in the Castle , that’s got some mushroom poisoning in it. And I’ve read some unfortunate stories about real people who accidentally poisoned themselves. It can really mess you up if you pick the wrong kind of mushrooms!”
And Alma’s use of poison isn’t a one-and-done situation, either. In the film’s closing moments, she cooks up a mushroom omelet dinner for her husband — who has been chafing under her attempts to tweak his rigid sense of routine — and presents it to him. This time around, though, Woodcock is in on the joke, an impish grin serving as his signal that he knows all about the meal’s secret ingredient. According to Anderson, that smile is Day-Lewis’s direct answer to Daniel Plainview’s immortal “I drink your milkshake” moment from There Will Be Blood, the role that won the actor the second of his three Oscar statues. “They speak to the differences between the two movies,” he explains. “The milkshake moment is a big ending moment to a big performance. Here, it’s a smile that we get at a dinner table — a small look between two lovers. It also speaks to the exterior versus interior aspect of the two movies. Blood was wide open spaces with oil derricks blowing up and things gushing all over the place; Phantom Thread is all small spaces, corners, and staircases.”
Day-Lewis himself had the smile written into the script after a memorable story meeting his director. “I had been writing and presenting the script to Daniel as we went along, and when I reached the end, I presented that last scene to him as Alma presents it to Reynolds: ‘I’m serving you a poisonous mushroom omelet: What are you going to do?’ And he smiled just like he did in the movie! I think what we created was this situation of a staring contest between two lovers each saying, ‘I dare you.’ He’s saying, ‘You know that I know that you just poisoned me, and I’m daring you to say, ‘Please don’t swallow it.’ And when she doesn’t say anything, there’s this joy in his tapping out first. He’s met his match, and there’s a release for him in admitting, ‘I’ve been beaten. This is the woman I love.’”
In a separate interview, Krieps reveals that she and Day-Lewis filmed Alma and Reynolds’s climactic “staring contest” early on in production without any advanced rehearsal. “We never talked about it,” she remembers. “It was completely clear what was going on. I was just being Alma being in front of Reynolds, and it happened in the moment. You know how when you love someone so much, you say, ‘I could eat you’? You’re combining passion with food. And the images I had! Saying those lines, it felt so passionate and almost sexual, even though I was talking about mushrooms and eating.”
Phantom Thread is playing in theaters now. Watch the trailer:
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10 behind-the-scenes facts about phantom thread.
Daniel Day-Lewis studied dressmaking for one year before filming Phantom Thread. This is just one of the many behind-the-scenes facts about the movie.
Paul Thomas Anderson makes well-crafted and detailed period dramas, whether it's it's the 19th century-based There Will Be Blood or the several groovy movies based during the decade of disco. But he also makes beautifully heartfelt and uniquely romantic films, such as Punch-Drunk Love and Magnolia . Phantom Thread brilliantly combines both styles.
RELATED: 10 PTA Characters Who Would Be Good Filmmakers
The 1950s-based movie is about a dressmaker who falls in love with a waitress in London, and it features a leading role from Daniel Day-Lewis, which also happened to be his final role before retiring. As the actor is notorious for his extreme method acting and there are tons of bizarre stories from the production, whether it's people too scared to speak with Day-Lewis or him becoming a real-life dressmaker himself.
Vicky Krieps Avoided Day-Lewis At All Costs
It is well-documented that Daniel Day-Lewis is a very serious actor, and the three-time Academy Award winning-performer can be extremely intimidating on set. Vicky Krieps, who plays Alma in the 2017 movie, witnessed this first hand.
Alma is one of P.T. Anderson's best female characters , thanks to her chemistry with Reynolds Woodcock, but off-screen, Krieps avoided Day-Lewis whenever she could. According to The Guardian , when everybody was on location and it was a day before shooting began, Krieps "spent a whole day staring into greenery to avoid him" and going on long walks by the sea just to stay out of his peripheral vision.
Anderson's Writing Process Was More Collaborative With Day-Lewis
So many lead actors have writing credits on movies that viewers wouldn't expect, whether it's Tom Hardy on Venom: Let There Be Carnage or Paul on Ant-Man . And while Day-Lewis's contributions to the writing of Phantom Thread didn't earn him a writing credit, it reportedly came pretty close.
Where most writer-directors will complete the screenplay before handing it over to actors for them to read, according to Entertainment Weekly , Anderson didn't feel comfortable doing that with Day-Lewis. Anderson would constantly update the actor with every new page of action and dialogue, just to get his feedback and his criticisms, even when it came to the smallest changes.
Day-Lewis Came Up With His Character's Name
While most of Day-Lewis' help writing the movie was in thoughts and ideas, not actually putting pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard, there is one clear part of the movie that was wholly invented by the actor.
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In an interview on Jimmy Kimmel , when trying to convince the host that the stoic actor does have a sense of humor, Anderson confessed that it was Day-Lewis who came up with his character's surname, Woodcock. It's such an unusual name and outrageous joke, especially in the contest of a romantic '50s period drama, but it's still hilarious.
Day-Lewis Hated The Isolated Filming
The beginning of the movie takes place in the countryside of England, where Reynolds resides in his private country house. It's light, airy, and open, and there are so many great opportunities for shots without any of the cast and crew getting in anybody's way.
However, when the character moves back to the House of Reynolds, a cramped Georgian London townhouse, according to Indiewire , it was so difficult to shoot and Day-Lewis called the experience "awful." It's such a tight space so full of people, and the actor even referred to the isolated, crowded rooms as "termite nests." As Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting after filming wrapped, Anderson assures people that his experience on set wasn't the cause. However, audiences may see the actor again, as Day-Lewis has come out of retirement before .
The Movie Was Inspired By Maya Rudolph Caring For Anderson When He Was Ill
In the movie, Alma and Reynolds' relationship is almost toxic, quite literally, as Alma intentionally poisons Reynolds to the point where he is completely bedridden. Some Redditors think Phantom Thread is boring , but when Alma's intentions to poison her other half are revealed, it becomes more exciting than a P.T. Anderson film has been for a long time.
But it turns out that it's with good intentions, kind of, as she does it simply because she wants to take care of him. According to the New York Times , Anderson was inspired by his wife, comedian and actor Maya Rudolph, who took care of him when he was ill, and he noticed that she looked at him in a way that she hadn't looked at him in years.
Charles James Inspired Woodcock's Personality
Though the relationship between Alma and Reynolds was influenced by a very personal moment in Anderson's life, the same can't be said for the character's personality. While many directors have Reynolds' obsessive and controlling behavior, it isn't based on the filmmaker's own working methods.
According to Interview Magazine , the characteristics of Reynolds Woodcock are mostly based on Charles James, a dressmaker who was at the height of his career in the 1950s. Just like Woodcock, the designer was a complex genius with a mean streak, and his ego often got the best of him.
Day-Lewis Learned Dressmaking For One Year To Prepare For The Role
There have been so many stories of Day-Lewis' ambitious method acting over the decades, as he generally prefers to stay in character for months, even when the cameras aren't rolling, and will only live like how the character would. That habit was taken to extremes for the preparation of Phantom Thread .
According to Slash Film , before principal photography for the movie took place, Day-Lewis studied dressmaking for two years. He worked as an apprentice under Marc Happel, who was the head of New York City Ballet's costume department at the time. And after that, he designed and made a Balenciaga dress from scratch.
Anderson Served As His Own Cinematographer
Every movie has a cinematographer, and they're responsible way the film looks, whether it's down to the lighting or the angle of the shot. Anderson's movies are best known for their unique and beautiful photography, and that's thanks to Robert Elswit, who was the cinematographer on every Anderson-directed movie except for The Master .
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But, as Elswit's schedule was full, according to Collider , Anderson preferred to do the job himself rather than trust anyone else with it. When asked about it, Anderson quickly explained that it was a very collaborative effort with the whole crew to get the specific look that he wanted, and there isn't a director of photography credit.
Between Takes, Krieps And Day-Lewis Would Have Tea Together In Character
While Krieps was originally intimidated by Day-Lewis' on-set presence, she quickly got over it, and that was thanks to overcoming her fear by facing it head-on. According to The Playlist , though every crew member advised against it, Krieps broke through to Day-Lewis in a way that few other actors ever could.
The actress visited his green room and, surprisingly, the actor greeted her with her character name, screaming "Alma!" Krieps mentioned that they had tea together and a conversation about Virginia Woolf. And from that point on, it became a regular thing.
The Scene Where Krieps Trips Up When She Meets Woodcock Wasn't Staged
Early in the movie, Reynolds and Alma first meet in a cafe where Alma is a waitress. And knowing that Reynolds is a wealthy and supremely talented dressmaker, it gets all of the waitresses whispering. As Alma heads over to take his order she trips up, clearly nervous around Reynolds, and it seems like a great little detail that Anderson added in.
However, according to IndieWire , that wasn't the case, and Krieps actually tripped up in real life, nervous about her first scene with Day-Lewis. The actress then blushes and goes completely red, which looks like some kind of lighting trickery, but it was all real.
NEXT: Daniel Day-Lewis - 10 Best Movies (According To Rotten Tomatoes)
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Phantom Thread review – a deftly spun yarn
In what could be his final film role, Daniel Day-Lewis is a perfect fit as a celebrated dress designer in Paul Thomas Anderson’s beautifully realised tale of 50s haute couture
P aul Thomas Anderson ’s best film since Punch-Drunk Love is another cracked romance with a masochistic streak and a strong fairytale underpinning. Set in postwar London, amid the insular world of 50s haute couture, Phantom Thread is an oedipal gothic romance, a tale of lost mothers and broken spells, with secret messages (“never cursed”) sewn into its gorgeously cinematic cloth. A swooning score, crisp visuals and paper-cut-sharp performances combine to conjure a poisoned rose of a movie, inviting you to prick your finger on its thorns and succumb to its weird, dark magic.
Daniel Day-Lewis, in what the actor has claimed is his final performance , plays fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock, an artist with an obsessive streak, in the mould of Anton Walbrook’s Lermontov from The Red Shoes . Reynolds’s sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), tends to his peculiarly picky needs – running the family business, facilitating his creative rituals and politely dismissing the disposable muses who have outstayed their welcome.
When Reynolds meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a lowly serving maid, Cyril thinks she’s just the next in a long line of passing fancies, to be catalogued, dressed, then tossed aside. But is Alma actually a match for the Bluebeard-like Reynolds, the beauty who will break his beastly spell and perhaps stave off the inevitable fall of the House of Woodcock? As Reynolds tells his unexpected inspiration: “I feel as if I’ve been looking for you for a very long time.”
Tipping his hat in equal measure toward Hitchcock , Powell and Pressburger and the Brothers Grimm, Anderson swaps the heady, Stateside fug of Inherent Vice for a sharp Euro-vision as clear and pristine as alpine snow. Leading his own collaborative camera team (no director of photography is credited), the writer-director waltzes us through the doors, corridors and staircases of this strange land – from ivory towers to woodland retreats, where magic mushrooms lurk in the undergrowth, tempting and tasty.
Through this kingdom prowls Reynolds, as predatory as he is pernickety. With his insect-like limbs and ghoulishly handsome face, he has more than a touch of the vampire about him, a quality enhanced by a trembling vocal inflection that is part cloistered-Brit, part timeless-Transylvanian. Moreover, he’s hungry like the wolf (Alma calls him her “hungry boy”), displaying a voracious appetite when aroused. A scene of Reynolds appreciating a hearty breakfast recalls Michael Hordern in Whistle and I’ll Come to You , Jonathan Miller’s 1968 adaptation of MR James ’s classic ghost story. And make no mistake, this is a ghost story too, replete with fevered apparitions of the departed returning to possess the living.
It’s also very funny, thanks in no small part to Manville’s withering delivery of zingers such as: “I don’t want to hear it because it hurts my ears.” If Reynolds is the eyes and mouth of this house, Cyril is its nose, sniffing Alma like fresh prey, smelling “sandalwood and rosewater, sherry and lemon juice” as she sizes up the new arrival.
As for the phantom thread of the title, the phrase apparently refers to the ghostly yarn that would haunt Victorian seamstresses, their exhausted fingers compulsively repeating sewing motions long after their work was done. But it could also invoke the lock of his mother’s hair that Reynolds has sewn into the canvas of his coat, keeping her always close to his heart. She taught him his trade and, aged just 16, he created a wedding dress for her. It’s a task Reynolds appears to have been repeating ever since – making dresses fit for his mother, waiting for someone to fill them and to take her place.
Pulsing through this celluloid swirl is a superb score by Jonny Greenwood which has earned him a long overdue Oscar nomination (he was deemed technically ineligible for his brilliant work on There Will Be Blood ). From its looping, muted piano themes to lush orchestrations that recall a bygone age, the score is the golden thread that stitches the pieces of Anderson’s bewitching garment together. Gesturing toward Richard Addinsell ’s music for David Lean’s The Passio nate Friends, alongside Rachmaninov-esque echoes of Brief Encounter , Greenwood’s work is note-perfect, capturing the delicate balance between creation and destruction that Anderson’s script maintains.
Plaudits, too, to costume designer Mark Bridges, production designer Mark Tildesley and editor Dylan Tichenor, whose craftsmanship helps bring this exotic vision to life. I’ve seen Phantom Thread three times now, and each time I have been gripped ever tighter in its sublimely eerie and immaculately constructed web.
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Phantom Thread Ending Explained
- UPDATED: July 23, 2023
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Phantom Thread Ending Explained: A Masterpiece of Ambiguity and Complexity
Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” is a film that leaves audiences in a state of bewilderment and contemplation long after the credits roll. The enigmatic ending of the movie has sparked countless debates and interpretations, with viewers trying to unravel the layers of symbolism and meaning embedded within the narrative. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of the “Phantom Thread” ending and attempt to shed light on its elusive nature.
The film follows the life of Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned dressmaker in 1950s London, and his tumultuous relationship with Alma, a young waitress who becomes his muse and lover. Throughout the story, we witness the power dynamics and psychological games that unfold between the two characters, as Alma tries to assert her own identity and challenge Reynolds’ controlling nature.
As the film progresses, tensions rise, and the relationship between Reynolds and Alma becomes increasingly strained. Alma’s attempts to gain control over Reynolds are met with resistance, leading to a series of confrontations and power struggles. However, it is in the film’s final act that the true nature of their relationship is revealed, culminating in a shocking twist that leaves audiences questioning everything they thought they knew.
In the climactic scene, Alma prepares a poisonous mushroom omelet for Reynolds, fully aware of its potentially lethal consequences. As he consumes the dish, Reynolds initially appears to be in agony, writhing in pain and gasping for breath. However, instead of succumbing to the poison, he miraculously survives, and the couple reconciles in a bizarre and twisted way.
This ending has left many viewers puzzled, as it defies conventional expectations and challenges our understanding of love and relationships. Some interpret the scene as a metaphorical representation of the power dynamics within their relationship, with Alma’s act of poisoning symbolizing her desire to gain control over Reynolds. By defying death, Reynolds is forced to confront his own vulnerability and dependence on Alma.
Others see the ending as a commentary on the destructive nature of love and the lengths people will go to maintain a relationship. Reynolds’ survival could be seen as a testament to the resilience of love, even in the face of toxicity and manipulation. It suggests that love can endure, even when it seems impossible or unhealthy.
Furthermore, the ending raises questions about the nature of art and the sacrifices artists make for their craft. Reynolds’ obsession with his work and his need for control mirror the struggles of many artists who prioritize their art above all else. Alma’s act of poisoning can be seen as a desperate attempt to break through Reynolds’ artistic façade and force him to confront his own humanity.
The ambiguity of the ending is what makes “Phantom Thread” such a thought-provoking and memorable film. It refuses to provide easy answers or neatly tie up loose ends, leaving room for interpretation and discussion. This open-endedness allows viewers to project their own experiences and emotions onto the characters, making the film a deeply personal and resonant experience.
In addition to the ending, “Phantom Thread” is also notable for its stunning cinematography and meticulous attention to detail. Anderson’s direction, combined with the exquisite costume design and haunting score, creates a visually captivating and immersive world. Every frame is meticulously composed, reflecting the precision and artistry of Reynolds’ work.
The performances in “Phantom Thread” are equally remarkable, with Daniel Day-Lewis delivering a masterful portrayal of Reynolds Woodcock. His nuanced performance captures the complexity of the character, from his icy demeanor to his vulnerability and eventual surrender to Alma’s influence. Vicky Krieps shines as Alma, bringing a quiet strength and determination to her role that perfectly complements Day-Lewis’ intensity.
In conclusion, the ending of “Phantom Thread” is a testament to Paul Thomas Anderson’s skill as a filmmaker. By leaving the audience with more questions than answers, he invites us to engage with the film on a deeper level and explore the themes of love, power, and artistry. The enigmatic nature of the ending ensures that “Phantom Thread” will continue to be discussed and analyzed for years to come, solidifying its status as a modern masterpiece.
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Phantom Thread Ending Explained: What It All Means
- The Phantom Thread ending explained how Reynolds and Alma’s toxic relationship finds a twisted harmony through their cyclical pattern of love and sacrifice.
- Reynolds willingly accepts Alma’s poison, as it not only evokes memories of his beloved mother but also allows him to become the caring person he wants to be for those he loves.
- Despite their dysfunctional dynamic, Reynolds and Alma seem to have finally understood each other, envisioning a path of harmony ahead as they continue their wicked cycle.
The Phantom Thread ending explained the surprising conclusion of the controversial love story. With his eighth feature, Paul Thomas Anderson delivers another sophisticated period drama, again bringing life to nuanced characters who aren’t exactly good or bad but rather deeply flawed in a refined way. Set in the 1950s, the movie follows Reynolds Woodcock, an acclaimed dressmaker who finds in Alma the muse he always dreamed of. The two become romantically involved and complete each other professionally, but Reynolds’s stubbornness in the face of Alma’s caring, yet possessive love soon gives rise to a clash of obsessions. The Phantom Thread ending explained how such a couple find a way to work.
Like every Paul Thomas Anderson movie, Phantom Thread was an event. The movie marked the retirement of a legend, Daniel Day-Lewis , who bid farewell to the big screen with a memorable performance alongside Vicky Krieps, and their onscreen chemistry as Reynolds and Alma remains one of the biggest cinematic highlights of the 2010s. Phantom Thread was nominated for six Academy Awards and received a 91% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes despite its controversial representation of a toxic relationship.
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What Happens In The Phantom Thread Ending
In order to effectively have the Phantom Thread ending explained, the audience must look back at the first instance of Reynolds falling ill in the Paul Thomas Anderson movie . It comes following a fight between him and Alma in which he once again puts his creative process above her as she attempts to strengthen their relationship with some quality time together. While Reynolds was able to simply push aside his past partners who interrupted his routine, Alma will not be dealt with in such a way and poisons him.
The violent illness nearly kills Reynolds but he is nursed back to help with Alma by his side, falling in love with her all over again as a result. Inevitably, Reynolds returns to his selfish nature over time and once again grows tired of Alma’s perceived intrusiveness in his life. While Reynolds contemplates leaving her, Alma tries the same method once again. She prepares the poisonous mushrooms for him again, this time right in front of him which Reynolds voluntarily eats.
Why Does Alma Poison Reynolds?
Although Reynolds seems to be the focus of the story, Phantom Thread ending explained why the movie is seen almost entirely from Alma’s POV. She’s the thread that enables Reynolds to sew seams and hem his life and his work. Alma soothes Reynolds’s restlessness; she’s the pause and the breath of relief in his incessant mind, although he’ll never admit it. But Alma knows it, and understands him well, which makes her just as dangerous as she is helpful.
Alma breaks the stereotype of “the good wife” from the 1950s, which makes her Paul Thomas Anderson’s best female character ; she cooks Reynolds careful meals, complies with his demands, and works for him — to a certain extent. She also knows how to make Reynolds jealous, goes out by herself, and tames her husband, or his love. An idea strikes her after Reynolds makes a fuss about the lovely dinner she prepared for him, claiming he won’t tolerate Alma disrupting his meticulously crafted routine. The argument prompts her to poison him with mushrooms and brutally force him out of his routine. He gets bed sick, delirious, and most importantly, amiable.
Reynolds gets out of his stupor consumed by a warm love for Alma and caring, which prompts him to finally ask her to marry him. The incident makes Alma realize that their relationship can only work through these intervals, in sickness, and in health, as they will say at the altar, but quite literally. An interesting behind-the-scenes fact about Phantom Thread is that the movie was inspired by Anderson’s wife, Maya Rudolph, caring for him. By poisoning Reynolds, Alma executes her part of their power play, enforcing her place in their house and reanimating Reynolds’ love by mothering him.
Did Reynolds Know He Was Being Poisoned?
The Phantom Thread ending explained that when it came to the second poisoning, Reynolds was not only aware he was being poisoned but willing to submit to it. There’s a threatening suspense in the final breakfast scene, which features Reynolds watching Alma prepare him a poisoned omelet. The score and sharp editing indicate that the film is getting near its climax, and anything could happen in case Reynolds finds out he is being poisoned. It comes as a huge surprise when he contentedly eats and digests the omelet, embracing his sickness and Alma’s intentions.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s revelations about Reynolds’s past and obsessions can be found in tiny details, more specifically in the hidden messages that Reynold sews into the linings of his dresses. It’s a blessing that Reynolds wasn’t among the roles Daniel Day-Lewis turned down , as it’s a perfect final part; Reynolds is a self-contained man obsessed with his routine to the point he forces everyone around him into his method. The truth is the death of his mother broke him entirely. Cyril and Alma are the only ones who can see through him.
His obsessive routine and dominant manners hide behind a mask, while all he really wants is to be taken care of. That’s why his feelings toward Alma endure, and he willingly accepts being poisoned; the sickness not only “brings back” his beloved mother but also forces him to take off his mask. The caring person he is after these episodes might not be who he truly is, but is the person he wants to be for the ones he loves, thus he embraces and craves his sickness.
Do Reynolds & Alma Have A Happy Ending?
The Phantom Thread ending explained the twisted relationship these two would have going forward. “ Kiss me, my girl, before I’m sick “, says Reynolds, delivering one of the best quotes of any Paul Thomas Anderson movie , signing an armistice in his tumultuous relationship with Alma. By the end of Phantom Thread , Reynolds and Alma seem to have finally understood each other, and they both see a clear path of harmony ahead. It’s revealed that Alma was speaking to Dr. Robert Hardy this whole time, and she can vividly see Reynolds and her dancing and embracing on the next New Year’s Eve, in contrast with the previous one’s fiasco.
While Reynolds and Alma presumably live happily as a couple resuming their wicked cycle over and over again, there’s no denying that their relationship is toxic. What makes it so controversial and complex is how, in the end, Reynolds and Alma might seem like a dysfunctional movie couple , but their love is just as toxic as it is honest and surprisingly flawless. Everyone loves in their own way and such sentiment can be a selfish process: Reynolds and Alma are looking for themselves in each other. By finally acknowledging this, they seem to be free of judgment, with Cyril watching closely as a mediator.
The Meaning Of Phantom Thread’s Title
Phantom Thread isn’t a title easy to dissect by taking its literal meaning, but it makes total sense when compared to a popular term used by seamstresses working in the East End of Victorian London. “ Phantom thread ” is used to describe the feeling of going home after exhaustive hours of sewing and seaming, and finding themselves involuntarily sewing invisible, or better, phantom threads in the air.
The term makes perfect sense when compared to Reynolds’s restlessness, almost as if he was the embodiment of a “ phantom thread .” One of the best Paul Thomas Anderson movies , Phantom Thread offers plenty of hidden details and its title just adds up to the experience. The hidden messages that Reynolds sews into his dresses seem to be his way to deal with his endless, involuntarily sewing, until Alma shows up and takes him out of his misery.
The True Meaning Of Phantom Thread’s Ending
Phantom Thread doesn’t hide its connections with the renowned Oedipus complex theory, established by Sigmund Freud, as well as other insightful references to psychoanalysis. The movie is a perfect example of how much people project themselves on the ones they love, and how there’s no right way to love. Reynolds and Alma’s relationship is far from being a good example, but they acknowledge the sacrifices their love requires. They embrace their painful cycle and, in exchange, find harmony and texture, and work as models for each other, both in life and at work.
Who Tells the Story Better?
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X Races to Contain Damage After Elon Musk Endorses Antisemitic Post
IBM, a major advertiser on X, has pulled its spending from the social media platform, whose employees are grappling with what to tell its other advertisers, according to internal messages.
By Ryan Mac
Reporting from Los Angeles
Less than 24 hours after Elon Musk endorsed an antisemitic post on X as “the actual truth” of what Jewish people were doing, IBM paused its advertising on the social media platform as X’s chief executive, Linda Yaccarino, and others at the company scrambled on Thursday to contain the fallout.
X employees said on Thursday that they had gotten calls from advertisers wondering why Mr. Musk was making comments seen as antisemitic and why their ads were showing up next to white nationalist and Nazi content, according to internal messages that were viewed by The New York Times. IBM cut off about $1 million in advertising spending that it had committed to the platform for the last three months of the year, the messages said.
In a note to employees on Thursday morning, Ms. Yaccarino said that “X is a platform for everyone” and that “discrimination by everyone should STOP across the board.” She said the company had been clear about its work to fight antisemitism and discrimination, and later shared a similar message on X.
In a statement, IBM said it “has zero tolerance for hate speech and discrimination, and we have immediately suspended all advertising on X while we investigate this entirely unacceptable situation.”
The Financial Times earlier reported on IBM’s pause in advertising on X.
Mr. Musk, who bought Twitter last year and renamed it X, has faced increasing criticism that he has tolerated and even encouraged antisemitic abuse on his social media platform. He has attacked George Soros, the financier who is a frequent target of antisemitic abuse, and threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League, a rights group that has highlighted the rise in antisemitism on X.
On Wednesday, Mr. Musk went further when he agreed with a post from an X account accusing Jewish communities of pushing “hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.” Jewish people are now “coming to the disturbing realization that those hordes of minorities that support flooding their country don’t exactly like them too much,” the account added.
“You have said the actual truth,” Mr. Musk replied to the post.
Jewish groups have compared the statement that Mr. Musk endorsed to the “ Great Replacement Theory ,” the far-right idea that minorities are replacing white European populations.
“It is the deadliest antisemitic conspiracy theory in modern U.S. history,” the American Jewish Committee, a U.S.-based Israel advocacy group, wrote on X on Thursday. “To amplify it on @X is incredibly dangerous.”
Social media platforms in general have faced rising scrutiny since Hamas attacked Israel last month and Israel retaliated. Antisemitic and Islamophobic hate speech has surged across the sites and has been especially prominent on X , according to the Anti-Defamation League and researchers. On Wednesday night, more than a dozen Jewish creators and celebrities also confronted TikTok executives in a private meeting, urging them to do more to address a rise in antisemitism and harassment on the video service.
In September, Mr. Musk met with Benjamin Netanyahu , the Israeli prime minister, at a Tesla factory in the San Francisco Bay Area after facing accusations of antisemitism.
“It’s not an easy thing to be maligned — I know you’ve never seen that, right?” Mr. Netanyahu asked Mr. Musk at one point.
“Me, maligned?” Mr. Musk said, laughing. “Never.”
At X, Ms. Yaccarino has previously intervened in situations involving antisemitic content on the platform. This month, a sales employee flagged apparent antisemitic posts that the site had not removed, leading Ms. Yaccarino to ask that the posts be reviewed, two people with knowledge of the situation said. The employee who flagged the posts is no longer with the company, the people said.
An X representative said the employee was terminated for sharing confidential information externally. The Information earlier reported Ms. Yaccarino’s actions on those posts.
On Thursday morning, X sales employees asked about Mr. Musk’s posts and what they could relay to their clients, according to messages seen by The Times. They also cited an article from Media Matters for America, a left-wing advocacy group, which showed that ads from major brands were appearing on X next to posts promoting white nationalist and Nazi perspectives.
“A lot of large advertisers have been called out in this article,” one employee wrote.
Another employee wrote that she was concerned because she worked with Apple, a major advertiser that was mentioned in the Media Matters piece, and asked if some of the posts “were manipulated.” An employee responded that the company’s trust and safety team, which has experienced layoffs and resignations, was “actively looking into this.”
Mike Isaac and Kate Conger contributed reporting.
Ryan Mac is a technology reporter focused on corporate accountability across the global tech industry. He won a 2020 George Polk award for his coverage of Facebook and is based in Los Angeles. More about Ryan Mac
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