Being in love with him makes life no great mystery

Being in love with him makes life no great mystery

 

There are some in the world consumed less with “who” than with “what”. People are not beings, not souls, not fellow travellers deserving of true love or understanding. Some look at the souls that surround them with calculation and adjudication. They are fixated less on who the person is than what they can do for them. The object of affection can be the hunter or the hunted, it matters not. What matters is what can be gained by winning or being won.

It’s a dangerous game, both for hunter and hunted.

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a top London fashion designer in 1950’s London. His works are worn by socialites, nobility, debutantes and royalty. He works with precision that would make a Swiss watch blush, and runs his studio to perfection with the help of his sister Cyril (Leslie Manville).

While on a weekend getaway, he stops for breakfast at an inn and becomes smitten with his waitress, a young lass named Alma (Vicky Krieps). He invites her to dinner, and dinner soon leads to “more”. While generally keeping a respectful distance, Reynolds is consumed with Alma to a curious degree. Upon bringing her to his country workshop, the truth becomes clear – she is just his type…as a model. Her measurements are perfect for showing off his work. He wants to have her as a companion, lavish her with delights, but primarily have her at the ready as an outlet for his own creative endeavours.

At first, Alma seems pleased to go along, even as the blush appears to fade from the rose. Soon, Reynolds is snapping at her mannerisms, and belittling her for even making a romantic effort. For many, this would be more than they bargained for, and they’d be packing for the next bus home.

Not Alma.

Enticed by her lover’s creations, and ambitious to become a greater part of the process, she burrows under his skin and into his very consciousness…refusing to be kept on a shelf or in a corner.

The mercurial nature of Reynolds’ relationship with Alma comes to a head during a particularly high-profile commission, threatening not just their understanding, but Reynolds’ entire reputation and legacy.

 

Daniel Day Lewis in Phantom Thread

 

 

As is often the case with the films of Paul Thomas Anderson, PHANTOM THREAD wants us to ponder the cost of obsession. Whether it’s a career or a person, the continuous preoccupation that defines obsession comes with so many costs. It fits us with blinders, and dulls our sense of empathy. Whether it’s about doing more, creating more, growing a reputation, or simply having something – obsession is not without cost. It can cast a shadow over what we have worked so hard for, and turn the people we wanted so dearly against us in every way.

This is the fatal flaw in Reynolds – the loose thread that threatens to unravel his whole life. Where once he was the rascal who would hide secrets inside his creation, he now has no time for sharing anymore secrets with the world…instead wanting the truth to be in plain sight, and the truth being “look how great I am!”

Watching Alma come to understand that and counteract it is deeply fascinating. It doesn’t take her very long to understand how she is “one more obsession”, but she doesn’t want to put her entire story in plain sight. She wants to stitch a few secrets into the very fabric of her being…and decide for herself if she’ll ever tell Reynolds that they’re there.

PHANTOM THREAD forces us to watch how Reynolds interacts with the women in his life. Whether it’s his sister, his lover, his staff, or his clients. It’s fascinating to watch how he interacts with each. Some are met with passive aggression, some with humility and admiration. It seems to matter less about standing than it does the inner workings of Reynolds’ ever-turning brain.

It’s  likewise fascinating to see how Alma observes and navigates those interactions. She is, at first, just pleased to be desired by someone so splendid. However, it doesn’t take much for her to want more. She doesn’t long for bigger baubles, or lusher luxuries. Alma, instead, wants to be a part of the process; a contemporary with Cyril, and muscle for The House of Woodcock. She sees how the seamstresses collaborate and how Cyril directs – and the response they draw from Reynolds. She quickly loses interest in being a model, instead wanting to be a part of the process.

After all, no women would want to be just an object in the eyes of their partner.

In the 21st Century, we are seldom precious about objects anymore. Our clothes, our tools, our accessories; so much of what we own and use is disposable and given no thought. PHANTOM THREAD has a deep fascination with these sorts of items, and reminds us of a time when they were an extension of the self. You could tell something about a person by what sort of notebook they wrote in, or what sort of teacup they drank from. These things developed personalities of their own as years went by, and this film goes out of its way to illustrate that.

The danger with an attachment to objects is that eventually one begins to see people as objects too. Siblings, staff, significant others – the temptation can be high to see all of these souls as an extension of the self and a way to tell the world whatever one wants about oneself.  The people we seat at our table, the company we keep as we walk through an event, there are many amongst us who see these people as little more than a Rolex watch or an Hermes scarf. It leads one to wonder if we covet the people we surround ourselves with in the same way we covet pretty objects.

There’s a danger in that, and it goes far beyond the object losing its lustre from neglect. After  all, an Hermes scarf seldom threatens to kill you at the dinner table.

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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