Phantom Thread

Sometimes timing is everything. Had I seen Phantom Thread (2017) last weekend, it would have been an entirely different movie. I had intended to go to a movie after breakfast at a local cafe where I accidentally ingested some form of a wheat product, and since I'm gluten-intolerant, a few hours later, at the time I would have been at the movie, I was suddenly overcome with the clammy, cold sweats, turned white as a shroud, and was endowed with that primal knowledge that this spell was not going to pass until the contents of my stomach, and then some, were forcibly and unceremoniously removed. I can think of worse places for such a ceremony than the cinema men's room, but not many. Had this transpired, I probably would have understood, if not quite applauded, Danial Day-Lewis's alleged retirement from acting, and I might have suspected something about director Paul Thomas Anderson as well—like the use of witchcraft or subliminal images. Fortunately, for all involved, I didn't go to see this movie until today, while in excellent physical health. Still, I'm a little concerned about what this movie has done to me. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about, and if you haven't, I don't think we need to throw up a spoiler alert. I think it was Chekhov who said, if your protagonist goes foraging for toadstools, make sure the prop department is equipped with cream of mushroom soup and plenty of paper towels.

If you are a dress designer, this is your movie! I think—maybe it's too close—but really, if you're an artist of any kind, I think you might relate to the portrait of the ups and downs of being a creative person. The good and the bad and the weird. I related a little too much, at times, in certain scenes, with this guy (Day-Lewis), and it wasn't always a good feeling. (I felt that sudden, flushed embarrassment of regret, with the compulsion to write letters of apology to everyone I've ever gone out with—but it passed.) And really, I think this portrait goes beyond the arts and creativity. I was thinking, during the movie, that this character could represent, to a lesser degree, any person who is passionate about what they are doing—in that way that your work is your life. It's not always sunny. Sometimes I think that the key to happiness is to make your work your work, suffer through it, and then leave it behind when you are in relaxation and enjoyment time. Because, often, for people whose work and passion are the same, there is no relaxation and enjoyment time. But, oh well, I suppose for most of us, we are just the way we are, and there is no choosing.

The other people who will relate to this movie are the ones who live with an artist—and it doesn't have to be a good artist—or an artist necessarily. Anyone who lives with someone who is driven, temperamental, obsessed, self-centered, possessed, cranky in the morning, or highly successful at the cost of those around them—they might relate to the wife of the dressmaker. Really, this movie is more about the two women—the sister/business partner of (Lesley Manville), and the new girlfriend of (Vicky Krieps) (later, wife of) the dressmaker. The scenes with the sister, who has a complex relationship with the dressmaker, are delightful—full of mystery and complexity—very believable, while being something we, as the moviegoer, feel privileged to witness. The scenes with the new girlfriend (later wife) are exhilarating, then painful and sad, and eventually maddening and disturbing. And I'm not sure I even understand it all, inside and out—and I'm not so sure that repeat viewings wouldn't have more to tell me—along with time, and thinking—and I will enjoy thinking about this film.

Something that happened last weekend when I was sick might have told me more about this movie (in advance!) than any other explanation (again, timing!). I was cat sitting, actually, as I don't currently live with an animal, and so I was very alert to the cat's presence. As I lay on the floor (and I'm sick, remember), visiting with the cat, it reminded me of how animals have this instinctive knowledge of when their human friend is sad or sick, and their empathy is palpable. How that relates to the humans in this movie, you're going to have to see for yourself. I know I said I wasn't going to give a damn about giving things away, but this is a movie I feel strongly about, and it would be a horrible disservice for me to clumsily try to explain it when I don't fully understand it. You must see it for yourself. To some extent, it's a movie about the most basic subject there is—human relationships—which is also the most complex. It's a beautiful movie, I can say that, and it's exhilarating at times, and depressing at times, and sad, and maddening, and mysterious. And did I say funny? (It was the most I've laughed in quite a while.) If you want to be told how to feel, maybe choose another move—even the musical score puts you off balance. But if you are open to it, you might really feel something, even if those feelings are upsetting. Can I end a positive movie review with the word “upsetting?” I guess I just did.

Randy Russell 1.28.18