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‘Phantom Thread’ provides exquisite cinematography, falls short with strange message

phantom thread
Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps gaze at each other fondly in Paul Anderson’s “Phantom Thread.” “Phantom Thread” has been nominated for six Oscar awards, including best picture. Photo: Focus Features

Paul Anderson’s film “Phantom Thread” is a vivid medley of an imperfect romance with a strong misogynistic layer paired with a dreamy score and exquisite cinematography. Set in postwar London, in the bubble of 50s haute couture, “Phantom Thread” is filled with crisp visuals and sharp performances centered around the twisted man at the center. “Phantom Thread” is nominated for best film at the 2018 Oscars ceremony. 

Daniel Day-Lewis, in what he claims to be his final performance, plays fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock, an obsessed workaholic who sees through no other lens except fashion. He sews secrets into the lining of his dresses, hidden words that only he knows about and that connect him to his late mother. Reynolds’ company is managed by his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who is able to work with his particular tastes, control his temper and even dismiss the muses that no longer have a place in his house.

On a trip to the English countryside, Reynolds meets a lowly servant named Alma (Vicky Krieps), who is his polar opposite. Alma is depicted as sweet, gentle and nurturing and is seen as another muse by Cyril. However, as the two fall in love in this cracked romance, Alma is portrayed as more than a muse and instead as someone Reynolds actually needs.

Anderson guides the audience through narrow corridors, up and down creaking stairs and into spacious rooms filled with women sewing, measuring and cutting fabric for beautiful dress designs. The swooning score keeps the audience entranced with muted piano melodies that crescendo into illustrious orchestras creating a sense of nostalgia for this past era.

Out of all these elements, the most impressive is the elegant yet extravagant costume design. The costumes were designed by Mark Bridges, who has a history of creating excellent costumes for other Anderson films. The dresses are a perfect balance between subtlety and beauty, as they manage to attract the attention of viewers without distracting from the plot. Each ensemble acts as an emotional guidepost, leading the viewer through Reynolds’ complex and confusing feelings for Alma.

While the film contains brilliant displays of cinematography and costumes, as well as strong performances, all of these elements are outweighed by the bizarre plot and the message it sends. With strong misogynistic implications in Reynolds’ actions toward Alma, the film exhibits an inaccurate and therefore harmful representation of a happy relationship. 

“Phantom Thread”

2 hours, 10 minutes

Rated R for language

Directed by Paul Anderson

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville.

About the Contributors
Annika Behal, Author
Ankita Amberkar, Author