Thu, 15 Feb 2018
Phantom Thread (15)
Running time 2hr 10mins
THE films of PT Anderson aren’t for everyone – the outlandish tenor and liberal pacing of 2007’s There Will Be Blood created as many detractors as it did devotees, but the seasoned cinemagoer will find boundless depth and arcane beauty if they only scratch beneath the surface. Though the director’s most eccentric masterpiece continues to haunt and polarise 10 years after its release, Phantom Thread, Anderson’s second collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis, is not content to live in the shadow of its spiritual predecessor; the story of a fashion designer and his volatile relationship with a waitress, it inhabits a visual and thematic universe of its own perverse conception, being a picture both before its time (the film spills blood in its efforts to conjure a sumptuous yesteryear setting) and, embracing as it does an esoteric quality that defies language, gorgeously OUT of time.
The prospect of Anderson ‘doing’ ’50s England makes for a grand sales pitch in itself, and, with the director casting a meticulous eye over a plethora of stately homes, country vistas and magnificent wedding ensembles, Phantom Thread can
only tickle and tantalise the inner aesthete. Yet the darkness and cruelty at its heart is not only inescapable, but UNIVERSAL,
escaping the film’s period pretensions to relate a gloriously modern meditation on the masculine condition, on the chaos of the soul and the brutality of love. Central to this is Day-Lewis, who, in a role he has proclaimed to be his last, delivers a dramatic endeavour every bit as extraordinary and uncanny as Anderson’s transcendental imaginative vision. As Reynolds Woodcock, an esteemed London couturier, Day-Lewis excels in a portrait of creative genius gone agonisingly wrong; here is a refined, private monster, a damaged man who invests all his brilliant energies in a series of doomed, abusive affairs and in a line of work that is slowly, beautifully, killing him. Yet this isn’t merely Woodcock’s tale – it’s that of Alma (Vicky Krieps), a woman he’s determined to reduce to facelessness, but who sees right through the older man’s charming, cultured façade, asserting herself in the face of his wooing and malice. Though their relationship most certainly takes a savage turn, this is a most gothic tragedy, its quieter moments (including some superb look-ins at the dressmaking process) every bit as taut and unbearable as the inevitable outbreaks of interpersonal strife.
Meanwhile, Johnny Greenwood’s exquisitely unhinged score threatens to cannibalise the audience – fittingly enough, for Anderson’s are, after all, films ABOUT cannibalism (that is, the tendency of capital in all its manifestations to blunt and
annihilate the human spirit, be it the ’40s proto-consumerism of The Master, Magnolia’s dead-eyed California or the oil adventurism of There Will Be Blood). The soundtrack is, admittedly, a far more restrained work than its antecedents, though its moments of sheer symphonic violence (mirroring, of course, Woodcock’s own self-destructive odyssey) are no less harrowing and sublime. Phantom Thread is a delicious, calculated work of cinematic art.
Just as Day-Lewis manages a genuinely masterful retirement (something all but unknown to the modern acting profession), Anderson is duly confirmed as among the most splendidly uncompromising filmmakers alive today, here delivering a philosophical and aesthetic treatise that, in terms of its sheer majesty, equals (and, in countless respects, surpasses) the accomplishments of There Will Be Blood.