An introduction is overrated, let me tell you why I would recommend going to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread.
The best way to describe where I’m coming from with this film is that it’s less of an affection towards this film but a deep admiration. I find this film very comparable to Amadeus (Forman, 1984) if you haven’t seen it, I understand there’s a lot of films out there but if you enjoy an Oscar drama that’s one that certainly should be on your list. When it comes to that affection, I feel that personally not knowing much about music for Amadeus and not knowing much about fashion limits my personal connection to Phantom Thread. The character and their dynamics are interesting enough that you do get invested in their predicament, but I feel that someone with a more personal relation with the subject, could easily call these one of their favorite films. That’s because I would argue that both films are masterpieces.
The major complaint of both of these films are valid, and that would be runtime. Phantom Thread is 2hr 10 min long, and there’s no Iron Man in it. Amadeus is 2hr 40 min and there’s no Iron Man in it. The films are fine as they are, I’m not certainly going to play editor and say that scenes were unnecessary and should have been cut, however they’re slow paced internal conflict driven narratives that can be challenging to sit through. With this sort of film literature, I always find the sort of inspection and reflection upon themes and discussion after the fact the reasons to appreciate these films rather than a momentary enjoyment of sitting down and watching it. Sometimes a great film might not entice your interest that much, I’m not going to deny Lawrence of Arabia has some beautiful cinematography and fine acting but still I’d consider it a tedious three-hour watch of some of the most beautiful desert vacation slides.
In terms of production and composition Phantom Thread is quite the elegant piece of cinema. Cinematography, this film could be called the close-up movie. Much of the shot composition is close-up shot-reverse shot coverage, it’s not the most appealing but I appreciate the school of thought behind the camera. Phantom Thread is concentrated on the meticulous details and the subtle nuances that exist in our psyche. Paul Thomas Anderson takes full advantage of actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps who give detailed performances and it just doesn’t turn into them constantly mugging the camera. Some other shots are interesting, how they decide to show the forest outside the car as its moving seemed absurdly fast, more style over realism but intriguing none the less. The best shots are when Anderson takes full advantage of the frame assembling a great balance in the foreground, midground, and background.
The academy award winning costume design was well-deserved. Sound Design is undervalued in this film as scenes amplified some sound effects to certain purposes and it works well with what was trying to be achieved. The set designers, actors, and director all work well to ultimately bring this world into existence. What earns Phantom Thread its comparison to Amadeus is how rich thematic the narratives are woven. Amadeus explores an interesting dichotomy between the perceived gifted and those not so fortunate. Amadeus created a complex narrative that challenged the visage of a musical god and displayed him as the posh immature shithead that he was believed to be but finding admirability in his humanity. It was a story of: mediocracy, jealousy, admiration, legacy, fear, death, and among other things (I list this out and it hits me that Amadeus is a less fun version of Hamilton). Phantom Thread holds many overlapping themes and is equally as well constructed. I don’t want to spoil this work of art but point that I found interesting when digesting the film is:
- Relationships and love existing because of your fondness of that person and their personality versus being in love with how someone makes you feel, lifts your spirit or ego.
- Obsession and what lengths should one go to performing master craftsmanship.
- The necessity of turmoil to strengthen or improve character
- Necessity of change, vulnerability, protected image, self-confidence, and love.
- The unachievable lust for perfection.
Phantom Thread is strange to the fact that there’s really nothing contemporary about this film. If this film was made about a decade ago, probably much of it would remain intact. Being honest, I think Phantom Thread got no favors in being released in 2017 and probably would have been better off a decade ago. I’m almost glad that this film wasn’t considered a legitimate contender for Best Picture as I’m sure people would complain that Anderson’s vision of 1950’s UK doesn’t look like the cast of Black Panther. Same with Dunkirk, I’m surprised that someone would be under the impression that a country who in 2001 had a 91% “White British/Irish/White Gypsy/Other population wouldn’t look like the United Nations in a film about it. Paul Thomas Anderson, not an inclusion rider I see. I feel that some people completely lose the fact a movie can have unlikable characters… intentionally. The film’s characters are so fluid and ill-defined by simple labels of protagonist and antagonist that it’s interesting to figure out what they will do next. There’s a good reason that Tom Hanks isn’t playing Reynolds Woodcock, because he’s supposed to be a jerk, you’re supposed to hate him in some aspect but commend the good passion he holds. Woodcock is a toxic character, featuring isn’t the same as promoting, it’s fine to hate the character’s action but still enjoy the movie. Phantom Thread is strangely going to be not what you expected in the end but if you think it’s going to be a pretentious snooze fest you’d be safe in skipping this one. Yet, if your interested in incredible done filmmaking production then I think you’ll enjoy this sophisticated and beautiful cinema work of art.
Let me know what you thought of Phantom Thread down below.
Images is from Phantom Thread Credit: Focus Features