About half-way through Phantom Thread, Alma (Vicky Krieps) exclaims “I don’t know what I’m doing here” and I heard myself muttering under my breath “No, love, I’m sure I don’t know either”.
And that was the beginning of the end for me as far as this movie was concerned.
Reynolds Woodstock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is one of those privileged man-baby geniuses for whom change to routine is intolerable. He is enabled by his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who not only supports his tantrums but runs the home in which they live, and the couture house which bears their name. Reynolds is also a coward. When he tires of whichever muse he has picked up, his sister will ask her to leave. He does none of his own dirty work and is a deeply unlikeable character.
Which makes it very difficult to understand why Alma is intent upon staying with him. I can see why she may have been attracted to him in the first instance, but if someone is abusive to you because of the way you butter your toast, then it’s just not worth the hassle. And it’s definitely not love.
I can’t even agree with the takes on the power dynamic which I’ve been reading. Perhaps because I have difficulty in seeing the sense in a relationship which is about constant abuse and struggle for attention. The truth is that at the end, the power hasn’t switched from him to her. He is complicit in her actions; she has some element of power only because he allows her to do so.
The other major disappointment – and I believe this is more to do with the quality of the actual screen I was watching, is that there was no trace of the sumptuousness I had been expecting. I’m not an expert, but I think the actual screen was dirty, and the colours seemed dull.
So this may be a contrarian view, but I don’t view this as a masterpiece. I find it to be a very masculine idea of what it is like to cede control in a relationship – but only by still retaining that control at a fundamental level. It wasn’t ever obvious to me why Alma would want to stay once she learned his true character – there were inklings of something peppered throughout, but never enough for me to understand. And I think that’s deliberate – because the story is about him not her, and he always wins in the end.