3 Stars – Thought-Provoking
Phantom Thread is a period piece about the life of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a famous fashion designer in London in the 1950’s, who is both brilliant in his sense of style and retarded in his understanding of an emotionally sustaining lifestyle. He presents the classic symptoms of a narcissistic personality, constantly craving approval and adoration, while never feeling fulfilled or loved. Then he meets Alma, a woman of simple tastes and ambition who changes his life.
There is no question that Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greatest actors of his generation, giving depth and character to every person he portrays. Whether it is Abraham Lincoln, the last of the Mohicans, or Reynolds Woodcock, you witness the person’s life at a depth that is well beyond the actor himself. In Phantom Thread, we see a man who is both successful in worldly terms but woefully deprived in human terms.
The three people who influence his life each have their own inadequacies to a fault. His living counterbalance is Cyril (Lesley Manville) who runs his office, his business, and his personal life. Without her, nothing seems to function and when he needs to deal with any emotional issue she coldly calculates the path he should take including sending him off to the country while she informs his girlfriend that he is breaking up with her.
The other long-time influence in his life is his now deceased mother who still is whispering in his ear, or dreams, every night. She is his true love, although she appears to be as cold as his assistant, Cyril. One seems to be an extension of the other.
While hiding in the country, he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps) a simple woman who serves him breakfast in a local hotel. She is decades younger than him and he begins to seduce her. She becomes his muse, his latest model, his love interest in a muddled sort of way, and a person to whom he can turn for brief moments of conversation when he can’t talk to his dead mother.
Through a series of events he gives Alma a new image of herself and he dares to expose his emotions to the point of actually telling her that he loves her. Although he regrets ever having been so bold to make such a daring commitment, he is struck and amazed at her lack of judgement or anger towards him, something he has never experienced in his “love relationship” with his mother, his past girlfriends, or Cyril, his office prison warden.
Although Reynolds can’t put words to it, he knows that there is something special about Alma that gives him a new-found sense of hope. While Phantom Thread doesn’t give a picture of complete redemption, nor does it give any spiritual or emotional pathway for his hoped-for transformation, it paints a picture of the longing of the heart for more than worldly success.
This isn’t a love story that warms the heart and it doesn’t build any affection for the lost man-child that Reynolds represents. However, it does give you a vivid look at the emptiness of a self-absorbed life and a glimpse of what the simple acts of love can do to save a man’s soul.
- Is there a person in your life who is self-absorbed? How do you deal with this person?
- Do you think those who become codependent with a narcissistic person share in the responsibility for the broken lives?