"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Phantom Thread




PHANTOM THREAD (no “THE”) is the latest from P.T. Anderson. I think we always figured he was gonna keep on being a great filmmaker, but back when he did BOOGIE NIGHTS I doubt I was thinking “In 20 years this guy will do a weird relationship drama about a dress designer with poor social skills and we’ll all go see it because it’s Paul Thomas Anderson.” If I was then I’m impressed with myself because that was an uncanny prediction.

They have advertised it as “Daniel Day-Lewis’s final performance,” as if he’s dead, but really he just says he’s retiring, like Jay-Z five albums ago or Steven Soderbergh before The Knick, LOGAN LUCKY, Mosaic and UNSANE. It’s not my place to tell him what to do with his life, but still I’d like to encourage him to hold off on retiring until doing one more film, a remake of ENTER THE NINJA. Then he would end on the greatest performance of his career by a country mile before heading off to the mountains to humbly cobble shoes, design dresses and live as a Mohican while leading a ninja clan in character as Abraham Lincoln.

Before we continue, I have some suggested background music for this review:

Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a fancypants asshole guy who makes expensive dresses. I heard Anderson say in an interview that the genesis of the movie was wanting to work with Day-Lewis again after THERE WILL BE BLOOD, and wanting him to play a romantic lead, which he admits is not what it turned out to be. But I think that gives you an idea of how little this is about plot and how much it’s about just watching this character and the minute details of his behavior, as intensely portrayed by the champeen of acting. Anderson is very keen on how much Day-Lewis can just brush his hair or some shit and make it worth watching. It’s not just that he lives the character in every tiny gesture, but that he’s a strange looking dude. There was one point when it was showing his giant hands and I remembered “oh yeah, he was Abraham Lincoln.”

It’s a story about a man whose success has allowed him to create an unusual lifestyle and stubbornly cling to it even at the peril of all relationships. Woodcock goes to a tiny cafe in the countryside where he meets a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps, HANNA). They flirt a little and she impresses him by remembering his absurdly long and detailed order after he takes away the paper she wrote it down on. She seems to take it as a fun challenge rather than what it actually is: an urgent warning of what a nightmare it would be to spend any time at all with this demanding weirdo.

He brings her on a date and dazzles her with the riches of the House of Woodcock. He lives and works in a mansion, has an all female staff, welcomes high society clients paying top dollar for the finest ball gowns and wedding dresses and shit. He just assumes everybody considers him a god, and I don’t think Alma was aware of or gives much of a shit about this world, but it’s gotta be kind of impressive to meet somebody like that and feel wanted by them. Also the frequent staring and smiling at each other conveys an authentic smitten-ness that does make him seem pretty charming, even though I kind of hated him

A crucial scene is when, on the first date I believe, he takes her measurements, dictating them to his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville, MALEFICENT), who has not been friendly to her. Cyril is cold and intimidating and seems to do alot of the harder work running the company and babying her dumb brother because it’s so important for him to have full concentration while sucking on a pin and pulling fabric around while squinting intensely with his glasses pulled down his nose because of he’s an artiste. I’m sure part of Alma is flattered to be treated like one of his high society VIPs, to have Mr. Hotshot King of the Dresses excited to use her as a canvas for his art. But the look on her face indicates she feels demeaned as she’s dissected, literally broken down into a series of numbers that describe her body shape, and then has to discuss with this guy’s sister whether or not those numbers equal “his type.”

And that’s Woodcock on a good day. He’s so convinced of his greatness that he feels he can weaponize it against any tiny thing in the world that’s not exactly how he wants it. A huge problem in the relationship is that he likes to sketch at breakfast and believes that hearing the sound of Alma buttering her toast destroys his focus, cruelly denying the mortal world of his greatness. It’s one kind of person who would be bothered by something like that, and another who would feel the need to say it out loud and make a thing out of it. Woodcock is the worst kind. There are major cringe scenes where he throws tantrums at her for the crimes of 1) bringing him tea and 2) making him a special dinner. He says enough to make it clear that he understands she’s trying to do nice things for him, yet he ends each confrontation believing he’s the good guy and has been horribly wronged by this clueless person bothering him.

Alma at first seems nice and is the audience point-of-view of this world. She’s the one suffering so she’s easy to attach to, especially when she decides to tell him off. For much of the movie the only unsympathetic thing about her is that she doesn’t get the fuck away from this guy. In fact, she (SPOILER?) marries him. I think it’s telling that after we’ve seen how much fretting and mandatory staff overtime goes into making the perfect dress for various rich ladies it just abruptly cuts to the wedding with no mention of Alma’s modest dress.

The sign that she is (or is becoming) a total fucking Woodcock is when she eggs him on to be outraged at a client for being drunk while wearing his dress. Any empathetic person could see this poor woman is terrified about her new marriage and would want to help her out, instead they try to take the dress off of her. The scene torments us by flipping standard stick-it-to-the-Man protocol on its head. Normally, a high society lady breaking the rules and causing people to gasp and say “Why, I never!” at a hoity-toity formal occasion is portrayed as glorious rebellion and wacky slapstick. Here we see it from the perspective of the uptight pearl clutchers, and their elitist retaliation is treated as the puckish mischief. We’re implicated in their snobbishness.

Anderson’s movies are pretty different from what most other directors these days are offering or are capable of. He always has off the charts acting performances – not just Day-Lewis here, but also Krieps and Oscar-nominated Manville – and intoxicatingly good filmatistic craft (this one was released in 70mm, but hasn’t played that way here). And they always feel like they’re “about” something, but not in the obvious, quantifiable ways some of us (including me) instinctively look for. They are explorations of ideas and themes and if you’re so inclined you can try to examine them and find ways to interpret them, but I don’t think you’ll find a definitive answer.

I guess these days I expect all PTA pictures to be great, but a type of greatness that fits into one of two categories:

THE MASTER is the type that’s an amazing experience to have let wash over me once and now I don’t think I’ll necessarily ever watch it again.

INHERENT VICE is one that left me puzzled but also it was so entertaining I intend to watch it again and see if I can make more sense out of it.

PHANTOM THREAD is closer to the THE MASTER category. But I think I had more fun with it, maybe because it’s smaller and simpler than THE MASTER. Ultimately it’s just about this strange, seemingly unhealthy relationship and it ends up in a weird place that I didn’t see coming. TWILIGHT for film studies types.

A couple notes:

1) If you’ve seen the trailer you know that near the beginning Woodcock talks about hiding secrets inside clothes – a name or a word or something sewn into a hem – so it’s no surprise that later in the movie there is a message found sewn in a dress. It’s a nice touch in the movie but if I were a close confidant of Mr. Anderson’s who he trusted to watch the movie early and give him advice I would’ve suggested that when she opens the hem the message sewn inside is just the word “fart” or maybe “butt.” That would be better in my opinion.

2) SPOILER FOR PHANTOM THREAD AND ALSO THE BEGUILED: Of the two 2017 movies by major directors that involved intentionally feeding people poisonous mushrooms, this is my favorite. Sofia Coppola’s THE BEGUILED was beautiful and well acted but it was so simplified from the Siegel/Eastwood movie I’d just seen that it felt underwhelming, and I didn’t even have enough to say about it to write a review. Having seen both recently though it was funny to have poison mushrooms mentioned here and immediately think “Wait, is that really where this is going?” I was totally in favor of her poisoning him, even if it had been done before, so it was a shock when he survived and she took care of him. When she was making the omelette I was scared because I thought her using butter meant it wasn’t for him, it was a suicide omelette. I guess it was more of an S&M thing. If it makes them happy I am in support of it, they aren’t hurting anyone and in fact are making sure fewer poisonous mushrooms are in the forest where a bunny or something could eat them.

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 22nd, 2018 at 1:48 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

78 Responses to “Phantom Thread”

  1. Recently, in a discussion about this film, Dan Prestwich told me “I can’t think of a movie I’d recommend to you less.”

    It was one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received.

  2. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I don’ really like any of Anderson’s movies.

  3. With this and Nicolas Winding Refn’s THE NEON DEMON, what is it lately with arty critic darling writer/director/auteurs fascination with the fashion world recently?

  4. This one is a good rewatch actually. After the second time, I noticed more how sneakily hilarious a lot of it is.

  5. This was probably my favorite theater-going experience of the whole year (with the possible exception of CALL ME BY YOUR NAME) but yeah, I imagine it would be absolutely lethal to Mr. M. Either he or the film –or maybe both– would just spontaneously burst into flame.

    I remember seeing the trailers for it and thinking, “Gosh, that looks beautiful, but man, they don’t tell us much about the plot.” But it turns out they do, in the sense that the movie is about as plotty as the trailer. Obviously plot isn’t exactly the point, but give it credit for a genuinely surprising twist which retroactively makes us reconsider everything we’ve seen in a much more interesting light. It’s a rare film which is both a feast for the senses and offers some real material to chew on and consider, without being self-consciously pretentious or alienating.

    And man, that score is just the most sumptuously lovely thing there ever was, all swoony romantic and conspicuously old-fashioned, but peppered through with disconcerting modernist touches. With Anderson, Greenwood, and Day-Lewis all at the top of their game, filmmaking just doesn’t get much better than this, but also: gigantic credit to Krieps for coming out of fucking nowhere and giving a performance which stands toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis in terms of carefully restrained nuance and never gives an inch. Her performance seems oddly opaque for such a sympathetic, put-upon character… until you realize that she’s not quite the damsel in distress you took her for. And both Krieps and the movie play totally fair with you the whole way through… they don’t hide a single relevant fact, despite it being a “twist”. Anderson just knows the audience is going to make some assumptions about what the conflict here is, and doesn’t bother to correct them until the character does.

  6. I dropped by to make a perfunctory joke about Mr. Maj and costumes, but I got nothin.

    For the anti-PTA faction, do you at least like PUNCH DRUNK LOVE?

  7. Vern, you need to (MILD spoiler) complete the poison-mushroom trilogy and see LADY MACBETH, one of the best portrayals of someone whose environment turns them evil and then they just fucking ROLL WITH THAT SHIT that I’ve ever seen.

  8. burningambulance, i just watched (and hated, but what are ya gonna do) Lady Macbeth the other night and had the same thought about the mushrooms. it’s a bona fide trend.

    PTA is one of my favorite filmmakers, and this one left me with more questions than i’ve ever had after one of his movies, which is really saying something. I thought it was a cool trick to explore some takes on relationship dynamics that are so personal as to be almost inscrutable, and yet give the movie such an intimate feel that it *almost* fools you into believing that you’re relating to the characters. even though they’re acting in fucked up and irrational ways.

    much as i love dude’s recent output though, it would be great if he decided to do another Boogie Nights type movie with a sprawling cast, a straightforward story, and a ton of kinetic energy. i’ve thought for years now that he’d be the perfect person to remake Bonfire Of The Vanities. whaddaya say, Hollywood?

  9. ” I’d like to encourage him to hold off on retiring until doing one more film, a remake of ENTER THE NINJA.”

    Ok that sounds pretty brilliant. Get Soderbergh to direct.

  10. It really is hard to believe that the same guy is Lincoln, Woodcock, and Bill the Butcher. With a lot of actors, even very good ones, I feel like you can see the strings being pulled in their performances eventually (De Niro is a good example or Gary Oldman more recently), but I never do with Day-Lewis. He just disappears completely and some other guy takes over. I’m not quite sure what it is about the guy- does he just work harder at it?

    The only comparable currently-working actor I can think of, weirdly, is Domnhall Gleason, if only because I am *constantly* surprised to learn that he was a main character in a movie I’ve just watched.

  11. I am a Paul Thomas Anderson fan, and I liked this movie a lot.

    One thing that I noticed, that I may not have noticed had I not seen it with a crowd…is it subverted its own genre big time.

    When it goes pretty dark (check Vern’s second spoiler note) all the old ladies in the crowd you could hear muttering “oh my…” and when it gets even darker still, it seemed to warrent the type of moans you get out of a really sick horror movie. Nothing is super gross…but it is a couple of REALLY dark twists along the way. While it looked like a Merchant Ivory type period piece one the surface, and yes, it is one…it gave the crowd for such face much more than they barganed for.

    And the push pull that it turned out to be is really food for thought. Yes, about something…but just out of reach what that something is.

  12. I hope NWR and PT Anderson’s next movies are motion picture biographies about popular musicians and they spend a great deal of time focusing on their first girlfriend.

  13. This movie is very particular but I do think you can universalize things out about relationships in general when interpreting it and relate to it and the characters (or at least i could)—the push and pull power dynamics, working your way into their life and sorting out how to fit in, negotiating your partner’s idiosyncrasies and hang ups, trying to understand and love them, and helping each other out and communicating in ways that probably would strike someone from the outside as very bizarre and possibly perverse (though in this movie no question it’s perverse and gets dark). As much as I enjoyed GONE GIRL, which also contains a twist or two that makes you re-evaluate what you’ve been watching beforehand, but I didnt think worked well at that level.

    It’d be interesting to do a back to back screening of GONE GIRL and this movie. Or this movie and MOTHER! if you’re more into the thing of douchebag artists and their creative process’ relationship with romance. Now I’m wondering if a few years back PTA or DDL rewatched Scorsese’s LIFE LESSONS and thought, hmmm maybe I should do my thing on with a similar subject (and work in that wife giving me soup while I was sick moment I had.)

  14. I’ve also liked the movie, but I’m rather perplexed by your interpretation of its main character dynamic. To you, it is the story of a woman falling in love with an utterly loathsome character. To me, it is about the difficulty to reconcile the demands of obsessive artistic genius with the rather different demands of a romantic relationship. No matter which of our interpretations is correct, it is rather obvious that PTA would not have made the film this way if he leaned towards your interpretation. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that he sympathizes with Woodcock, and at least partly identifies with the character. Here is a New York Times article that alludes to this (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/24/movies/phantom-thread-review-daniel-day-lewis.html).

    PHANTOM THREAD is easily the best film among this year’s Oscar contenders. I’m not going to review it, but I am going to point out several instances in which your political positions do a disservice to your abilities as a critic. I know that your schtick as a film reviewer is to write from a “working-class perspective”, and “sticking it to the man” (whatever that platitude actually means these days) is a theme to which you often return in your work. I suppose it is therefore inevitable that you would be triggered by an old-fashioned upper-class character that moves unashamedly in upper-class circles.

    But it is so glaringly obvious that you dislike Woodcock for his social standing, that it makes your review less interesting than it could have been if you had kept your classist intuitions in check. There’s plenty of assholes in other industries that have treated their spouses far worse than he treated Alma, and that you would happily feign admiration for, presumably because their cultural association places them higher on the oppression hierarchy. One only has to think of certain musicians with histories of domestic abuse (or even child abuse). In fact, you’ve reviewed several biopics on this blog where innocent people have experienced violent abuse at the the hands of the main characters, and where your assessment of their personalities was much more charitable. All Woodcock ever did was being rude to his would-be wife, but because he comes from a tribe that you obviously detest, you’ve failed to evaluate his character at anything but the most obvious and visceral level. This led you to write a much more banal review than you could have if you were being objective. Sorry to put it so bluntly.

    I don’t mind your beliefs, of course. This is your website after all. But what really bothers me is that in describing the main character as a “fancypants asshole guy who makes expensive dresses”, you fundamentally misrepresent the film’s central premise. This is a film about a genius in a particular art form. I freely admit that I don’t know anything about fashion design, but it is not hard to imagine that in the 1950s, when tastes were more classical and less vulgar than today, dressmaking would have been considered as an art form like sculpture or painting. In this sense, this film could easily have been about a painter, a sculptor, a poet or a classical musician (what we used to call Western high culture back when people had the backbone to respect its accomplishments) without altering the core principle on which the plot is based. That this film plays against the decline of high culture is just one of many interesting aspects that a more objective reviewer would have perhaps illuminated.

    Alma’s character starts her relationship with Woodcock as his artistic muse. And since he’s a fashion designer, he sees proportions in her that inspire his sense of aesthetics. Just as the muse of a painter may guide the proportions of color on the canvas, and the muse of a songwriter may lend a beautiful voice to the artist’s melodies. Woodcock’s obsession with her “perfection” is his way of falling in love with her, since he sees her as an extension of his aesthetic sensibilities. Whatever you may think of it, their dynamic is clearly more interesting than your crude comments about “objectification” would apparently convey. Again, your political views are leading you to reduce an intriguing relationship to a knee-jerk reaction stemming from what I can only presume to be a particular ideological orthodoxy.

    But wait, there’s more! Woodcock is being portrayed as the prototypical uncompromising genius. We know from history that many of the people who have left us some of our greatest cultural accomplishments, from art to science, have also been highly complicated and uncompromising personalities with delicate sensibilities and routines. Being so obsessively focused on their field, they often found it difficult to reconcile the dedication that their exacting standards require to the time that is necessary to maintain regular interpersonal relationships. This is obviously what the movie is about. We know from diaries or from accounts of their contemporaries that such people have suffered because of these apparently irreconcilable opposites, and that they have sometimes caused suffering in the people around them. But without such sacrifices, we would not have Michelgangelo’s Pieta, nor Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, nor Tesla’s alternating current.

    These mountains of intellectual achievement were conquered decades before the Wu-Tang clan even existed, so they may not be important to you, but they sure matter to those of us who, in a culture of cinematic universes and pop culture artefacts made for the sensibilities of children, have still not forgotten where the much-despised Western civilization actually came from. It is not our fault that the achievements that are worth remembering centuries after they have been made are essentially elitist in nature, and that they rank low on a leftist’s list of concerns. But they will endure so long as sophisticated culture endures simply because they are right, to paraphrase Woodcock’s own words.

    At its most fundamental level, this film asks the question whether the sacrifices often demanded by genius are worth taking, and what trials and tribulations must be accepted to achieve the extraordinary. Alma finds her own way to legitimize her part in this sacrifice, by possessing Woodcock when he is miserable, for only then she is briefly in control of the oedipal emotions that have driven him forwards for his entire career. None of these implications are mentioned in your review, even in passing, and it this reminds me of why I stopped reading your formerly interesting website.

    I will surely not be missed, but as I reflect on 1 Corinthians 13:11, I am still melancholic when I consider how many of your reviews I’ve read in the past.

  15. For all that talk, it seems like your real point of disagreement is that you think someone being a “genius” absolves them of also being an asshole, whereas the review is a maybe little more ambivalent on that point – though hardly to the hysterical degree you seem to have read into it. I suppose I can’t be surprised that someone named “Red Phil” would be a proponent of the Great Man theory.

  16. Got nothing to say about this movie, but I’m really pissed off that there was apparently a CINEMA IN CONCERT thing on German TV at some point and I didn’t know it until now.

  17. Also I’m super proud of myself for reading the last word of the review right when the background music ended.

  18. I like how in his plea for objectivity Red Phil completely lays bare his own ideological biases. Not sure if the irony was intentional but I appreciated it. Also picking Paul Thomas Anderson’s 50 SHADES OF GREY to make arguments for high culture was kind of amusing too.

    I do agree with some of his criticisms though. I definitely thought it was more about a genius artist than Vern seemed too. For instance, I didn’t find the scene with the wedding dress to be from the perspective of “uptight pearl clutchers” but more from the perspective of an art lover appalled by a philistine. Kind of like Vern’s April Fool’s joke about viewing 2001 on an Apple Watch. If you watch it more from that viewpoint you may find their actions more sympathetic. Woodcock is still pretty insufferable though. But I do find the question of whether genius is worth the misery an interesting one. Like in WHIPLASH.

    Also, I agree with the LADY MACBETH recommendation. I thought that was pretty great. Florence Pugh’s performance is on par with Vicky Krieps.

    Side note: I always find it strange when people have overly rose-colored views of the past as some classical aesthete’s dream. As though the 50s were not awash in Westerns, sci-fi movies, musicals, Vincent Price, Jerry Lewis, Hitchcock, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and all kinds of other “vulgar” and “childish” entertainment that only became respected art with the passing of time. And plenty more stuff that never withstood the test of time. Or that dressmaking would have been considered an art form back then when people were civilized but is not today despite a ton of famous fashion designers that would seem to provide plenty of evidence that it is still a respected art form today. Never really understood that thought process. If you think Shakespeare wasn’t vulgar you should probably read more Shakespeare.

    But, Red Phil, I am interested in what modern filmmakers, if any, you think live up to your high culture ideal. Does Anderson? Any others? What about past filmmakers?

  19. Red Phil, I will try to be grateful to you for “not minding my beliefs,” and not be offended by you using a Bible verse as an insult or using that smack talk about triggering and oppression and lefties, and especially for what I suspect your name is saying about THE MATRIX. But we’ll see if I can pull it off.

    I agree that it was flippant of me to refer to Woodcock as a fancypants asshole dressmaker guy, and consciously so, but maybe that was the wrong choice. I didn’t intend it to be taken as seriously as you took it. I also don’t see any reason to disbelieve your theory that Anderson relates to Woodcock – as I said in my MOTHER! review, it’s hard not to see any movie about an artist as being autobiographical. My review isn’t about who Anderson relates to, though, it’s about who I relate to, and I found Woodcock immediately loathsome, not because of his class but because of the way he treats every single person around him. That doesn’t mean he’s not an interesting character – he absolutely is. But yes, I as a human being react viscerally to somebody who is so casually disrespectful of other human beings, especially girlfriends, wives, service people and employees. You’re right, he’s probly a better person than Miles Davis or James Brown, but they’re not in this movie, and maybe because his cruelty and self absorption is more mundane it’s easier to relate it to people I’ve encountered in life. (Also both of those movies implied a lifetime of abuse with a few scenes, this is a movie almost entirely about him being upset at hearing sounds or having his food prepared the wrong way or being on the receiving end of a nice gesture.)

    If my relating more to Alma is because she’s a waitress, not because she’s less of an asshole, so be it. But it seems to me that your politics – or at least your low opinion of me and my beliefs – are affecting your reading of my review far more than my politics are affecting my reading of the movie. I’m not even using “stick it to the Man” with any kind of sincerity, I’m talking about dumb comedies where we’re supposed to be delighted that a starchy-collared high society stereotype starts beatboxing or something and everybody faints and falls into the wedding cake. It’s a common trope that I believe Anderson is cleverly subverting to make the audience uncomfortable. I guess you could just root for them to humiliate that poor (rich) lady, but that’s not how I read it. Don’t you think all the coverage of her criticizing herself during the fitting and (unnoticed by those around her) deep discomfort during the ceremony were to make us empathize with her?

    Sure, my lack of interest in formal gowns make me less in awe of him than the characters, but I don’t think that’s entirely outside of the intent of the movie. Alma comes into this not really giving a shit about this world, or feeling like she has a place in it, right? Woodcock himself looks down on many of his clients. Cyril implies that he’s not really cutting it anymore. And there is heavy emphasis on how much more work the staff has to do than him, with little credit. I didn’t have your same reading about his dresses standing in for all the achievements of western civilization, I was more interested in it as a story about a relationship. So to me it doesn’t really make a difference whether he’s a true genius or just a dude who considers himself one. Either one works.

    As to “whether the sacrifices often demanded by a genius are worth taking,” obviously my answer is “not for Alma.” But she disagrees, and it seems to work out fine for them. If you’ve decided to stop reading me (again?) because I didn’t bring up the same points you would have in a review, it’s a miracle I’ve kept you here this long, so thanks for your patience up to this point. Your absolute disgust with my very being drips from every paragraph you wrote here, so I’m confident whatever you spend your time reading instead will give you more positive vibes.

    Wu-Tang forever

  20. Also, I have no interest in writing “objective” reviews! If somebody is trying to figure out the science to that it sure as fuck isn’t me. I’m the guy who writes very personal, idiosyncratic reviews with lots of references to BLADE and THE PHANTOM.

  21. Since you brought it up, and costumes seems to be the topic of February, why does The Phantom have a blue outfit in Scandinavia and a purple one elsewhere?

  22. Geez, with such amiable advocates as Red Phil, I can’t imagine why high Western culture is dying out. Don’t you want to be just like this guy, who knows which art is right and which isn’t because he’s always so objective about things? Doesn’t that just make you want to see what great art has influenced a great man like that?

    How many fedoras you think this guy owns? Seven?

    Ha! Trick question. They’re actually trilbies but he doesn’t know the difference.

  23. I’d recast that reading, Red Phil, because I think Alma’s got more going on than what you’re focusing on, as Vern mentioned in his reply, and she’s exerting control at numerous points, not just when Reynolds is bedridden. She and Cyril both check Woodcock at different points and whether it’s Woodcock-Cyril or Woodcock-Alma each party tailors the dynamic of their relationship to be more rewarding for them and him. (E.g. Cyril is perfectly willing to cooly push Reynolds to breakup with his first muse squeeze and go through his usual process to find his new muse, but Cyril is not receptive at all to when Woodcock seemingly starts souring on Alma, and fights back at any hint toward that.)

    And I think the movie is also about what people will allow or tolerate from temperamental MALE geniuses. If you don’t at least chuckle at “It’s no business of ours what Mrs. Rose decides to do with her life but she can no longer behave like this and be dressed by the House of Woodcock!” (sidebar: I read that scene like Jake and see further evidence that Alma actually is very interested in Woodcock’s world) or “It’s like you just rode a horse across the room!” then I think you’re taking the movie too seriously or capital I important.

    Finally, going back to how Alma isn’t just along for the ride but feels out of place in the House of Woodcock, remember the moment where Alma goes right up to the princess who is getting fitted and introduces herself saying, “I’m Alma, I live here.” At first, I read that as her insecurity and confronting a woman who was so attractive and Reynolds had affection for that she wanted to assert herself and claim her man, and while I still suspect that’s part of what’s going on, I do think it’s one example of how she’s confidentially managed to adjust and assert herself into the situation.


    BrianB — yeah, 100% agree, the movie is really about Alma at least as much, and probably more, than it’s about Woodcock. At the very least, it’s definitely a story of two sociopathic egomaniacs battling for control, and finally understanding that they really are kindred spirits in their shared awfulness. The brilliance of it is that Woodcock’s narcissism is simple and upfront, and Alma’s is subtle and focused. He’s a real ass, and he seems to hold all the power, so we’re conditioned to see Alma as a helpless victim, even though she’s anything but, and in fact is interested in him far more for his obsessive need for control than for his rare, more tender moments. (Interesting question: are they even lovers? I don’t think we ever see any actual evidence that they have sex, do we? Both characters seem to locate their sense of intimacy in other places.)

    However, THE INSUFFERABLE MR. WOODCOCK would still be a great title, if for no other reason than we would all rightly assume this was a prequel to the forgotten 2007 Billy Bob Thornton mean gym teacher movie MR. WOODCOCK, instead of a PHANTOM MENACE spin-off.

  25. Holy shit!

  26. (directed at Red Pill, I mean Phil…)

  27. I loved this movie. First time I saw it I found it really tense, like I was never sure if things were going to take a nasty turn. Second time around I found it really funny.

    It is interesting to see an american make a movie about class in Britain and really nail it, as usually they go in a bit if a Downton direction. There’s a lot to this movie I think, but it’ll make a lot of sense to me if PTA had been reading Angela Carter.

    I hated Woodcock, but I liked him as well. I can’t imagine how anyone but DDL would’ve done it and made it work.

  28. Dear Vern,

    I just wanted to briefly let you know how much I enjoyed your two alternate titles. I have a (possibly bad) habit of citing my favorite moments of yours throughout the years, but I felt it was worth letting you know that these amazing jokes reside in a very tender place in my heart alongside “Gene Hackman, that asshole from the movies”.

    Thank you for your good and considerate work, and for deeply influencing my own use of language. It’s nice to know you’re still “out there like a bird flying around”.

    A Longtime Fan

  29. There is nothing I hate more than movies about artists who are pieces of shit but it’s ok, he is a brilliant artist. I like movies about the joy of art but not this bullshit.

  30. Red Phil, I can’t recall ever seeing you comment on anything here before, but I doubt I’m alone when I say your condescending self-owns won’t be missed. maybe Stephen Miller has a blog you can frequent from now on; you guys seem to have a similar prose style and perspective on the issues of day. sorta calls to mind an 11th grader who proudly declares ‘they just proved my point’ when nobody else shows up at the first meeting of his Ayn Rand Club.

  31. I appreciate all the insights into this movie. BrianB and Subtlety and others are making me think I should go back on my claim that I probly wouldn’t watch it again.


    Vern — I’ve only seen it once, but I will definitely see it again because I strongly suspect Krieps’ performance totally changes upon revisiting the same material knowing how it ends. Even the first time around, I remember all these odd moments where it seems like she’s not reacting to Woodcock’s insufferability, quite the way you would expect. Nothing huge, just little facial tics that don’t quite add up to her feeling as persecuted as it seems like she ought to. I think a second viewing, knowing what we learn by the end, would be much more revealing about her character, who seems a little confusing and opaque for much of the first go-round. And I thought it was pretty funny the first time around, but I imagine it would be even more so in a second, when we can laugh a bit at Woodcock being such a preposterous nut without having to worry that he’s persecuting this poor lady (who is more than capable of taking care of herself, should she feel like it).

  33. That Phantom poster mock-up is fantastic. Also Vern’s suggestions for the hidden words.

    Is it possible Alma was disrupting Woodcock on purpose as her power plays?

    Either way, I am fascinated by stories about A-hole geniuses whose behavior I would not tolerate in real life but are very compelling on screen. My favorite and perhaps the exception is Gregory House. He can be as rude as he wants if he saves my life, but I also think his one-liners made House the funniest show on television.

    I don’t need dressses as much as I need a doctor but that’s my contribution to this Phantom thread.

  34. Before we continue, I have some suggested background music for this review:

    am i clueless and never encountered this before?

    has some author said “listen to Grieg’s ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ while reading” and everyone knew about that except me?

    maybe i’m just out of touch

    but Vern this is a great shtick and if this is your pioneering idea, huzzah

  35. BR Baraka — I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not, but the name of that tune is “Duel of the Fates.” If you look up what movie it’s from, I think you’ll understand the joke.

    But you’re right, this should definitely be a thing from now on, like a suggested wine pairing.

  36. I think I might’ve done it before, but not with such a high quality pun. I actually tried to embed the official promo video, but it wasn’t working. I mention it only because it has some dialogue over it and I noticed a Darth Maul line that’s not from the movie. That led me to discover the “tone poem” PHANTOM MENACE TV ads which are poetically narrated, sometimes in first person by the characters (Maul, Anakin, Qui Gonn, Shmi) and there are also a couple that are just an omniscient female voice (Jar Jar couldn’t be trusted I guess). Look them up and be amazed.

  37. Mr. Subtlety – Interesting question. I think they are. Largely due to their passionate kiss after Alma helps Woodcock take back the dress and before that the sequence where they go from Woodcock devouring a bunch of a food, she asks him “have you had enough to eat? You seem thirsty” and then he hurriedly drives back to the house while she’s eyefucking him, and then he finally leads her into his bedroom. Of course, that’s followed up with the “loud” breakfast scene. Throw in all the hunger/food stuff and the musical score, and I think that adds up to them being lovers. It’d be quite ironic for somebody named wood-cock to be totally impotent. But whenever I see the movie again, I’ll actively think about it.

  38. Wait? Are you saying Woodcock was dead this whole time? Or the girl is really a ghost?

  39. BrianB — I mean, I think it’s fair to assume that there is a sexual component there (there’s definitely at least one kiss, and we see them in bed together –though not in a sexual way– at least once) but I think the movie’s almost complete disinterest in that aspect of their relationship is telling. If there is some fucking going on, it’s fairly incidental to both of them, and not important enough that we need to see it. By contrast, the “measurement” scene is almost pornographic, and his rapacious appetite for food is a persistent theme (suggesting insatiable sensual desire of some kind). Since you point it out, I’ll take it one further and say that I think the “wood” of his cock (so to speak) is not suggesting its hardness, but rather artificiality. His intense sexual desire is expressed in ways more complicated than good old fashion’ boning, putting one level remove between him and the object of his desire, not entirely like a prosthetic penis (hopefully one made of silicone instead of wood, which sounds dangerous and unsanitary).

  40. I really loved this flick and found it equally funny the second time I saw it. Having an ex-girlfriend who made (many of) her own clothes, I found much of the dressmaking strangely riveting (Fun Fact That PTA Must Have Known: The famous designer Alexander McQueen once sewed “I am a cunt” into the lining of a handmade suit he made for Prince Charles). One little tidbit that no one seems to have picked up on is Alma’s ethnicity. Her accent definitely isn’t English and there’s a moment during the press conference with the absurd/drunk “poor little rich girl” client (who I had absolutely no sympathy for) whose foolishly marrying the wealthy Dominican playboy (modeled after Porfirio Rubirosa…Google him) and he’s asked something about “selling passports to Jews” while the camera focuses on Alma’s face. Anyway, I definitely got the overwhelming feeling that Alma was a Jewish refugee living in some kind of exile when Woodcock first meets her. Other than that one aspect, I also appreciated seeing a movie that was basically 100% devoid of any politics…utterly “unwoke.”

    At any rate, I thought it was a darkly comic fairy tale and it’s my favorite flick of the year after Brawl in Cell Block 99.

  41. Oh, and as to whether they were or weren’t sexual (SPOILER): the last shot of the film was the two of them with a baby (along with the ever-present sad sister).

  42. @Franchise Fred – Alma is absolutely, 100%, trying to piss him off right from the start with the toast thing.

    One of the things that makes this movie work is that she loves him but it never, really, particularly smitten – if you know what I mean. Right from their first date, in the attic, she realises that it’s gonna be a power struggle to at least some extent and the movie makes it clear (and clearer on rewatch) that she’s going in with open eyes.

  43. Agreed, mr. subtlety. It’d be funny if the blu ray release has some deleted scene of check clapping. A “tasteful” love scene would’ve maybe been too traditional and besides the point for PTA’s priorities, and a graphic sex scene all of a sudden thrown in there probably would’ve thrown off the movie’s mood and tone, and/or provided plenty of unintentional comedy (like John C Reilly’s sex scene in BOOGIE NIGHTS.)

    And good points, Don. Not sure I how forgot that ending. Krieps is from Luxembourg. I don’t have a strong ear for accents but her voice in the movie sounds like her normal speaking voice I’ve heard in interviews.

  44. I think the movie doesn’t have and couldn’t have a sex scene because the whole movie is a metaphor for sub/dom dynamics. It *is* its own sex scene.

  45. did anyone else get the sense that the drunk lady was a long-ago lover of Woodcock’s who’d never let her love for him die?

  46. BrianB – Aghh, so she’s German…that adds up (I suspected that she was Dutch or something but I knew there was no way she was English…which is definitely intentional on PTA’s part).

    steven – “It *is* its own sex scene.” Dude. Duuuuudddeeee. If you had to summarize this flick in two sentences I don’t think you could improve on yours! DAMN!!

  47. steven – Well said. I hadn’t quite thought about it exactly that way, but it’s been curious to me how much many people with different tastes that I know really like this movie (of those who have bothered to see it), not just PTA fans. You’re onto something there.

  48. Your Enter the Ninja movie with a white lead would get massacred in Twitter.

  49. Man I loved this movie and saw it twice and was cracking up the first time and even harder the second. It also hit pretty close to home for me on a lot of levels as I’ve got some OCD tendencies and saw this opening night with my sister and my girlfriend both glancing over at me regularly when recognizing familiar behavior *shrug*.

    Steven, that’s a fantastic observation! Thank you for that.

    Vern, way to handle Red Phil. I couldn’t disagree with him more but appreciate his remarks because it resulted in TWO reviews of this movie from you :D

    Been eatin’ lots of omelettes lately…

  50. Sternshein – Franco Nero will have a torch-passing cameo as Uncle Enter the Ninja.

  51. So you’re saying the character’s name is Enter? And it’s a family name?

    Man, this is blowing my mind more than when I realized the poster in Tracey’s office on 30 ROCK says “Tracey Jordan IS Who Dat Ninja” not “Tracey Jordan IN Who Dat Ninja”.

  52. Did you see Jared Leto is in new Yakuza movie coming to Netflix so obviously Twitter is pissed.

  53. Just caught this one. It’s like some crazy re-envisioning of TWILIGHT where it turns out Bella was an even more dangerous vampire the entire time. Wildly twisted and funny and I would say Omelette joins a special PTA pantheon along with Firecrackers, Milkshake, and Pigfuck.

    Made an exhausting double feature with MUTE insofar as both films are very short on redeemable characters.

  54. Sternshein – Because we all know there are no white people living in Japan, not a single one.

    Those Twitter people are such fucking idiots.

  55. Renfield: “Wildly twisted and funny and I would say Omelette joins a special PTA pantheon along with Firecrackers, Milkshake, and Pigfuck.”

    I LOLed at this…he really, really has a way with very memorable details, doesn’t he?

  56. So I’ve seen this three times now, I swear it isn’t just me but Reynolds becomes more likeable and sympathetic with each viewing, and every time you see it it becomes less his film and more Alma’s. If anyone else here has given this multiple go-rounds please tell me you know what I mean.

    I genuinely think Reynolds is gonna become a bit of a cinema icon tho, it is an all-timer.

  57. Griff: I’d take any of these people more seriously if I thought they had any interest in any of the roughly 50,000 yakuza movies out there starring only Japanese people, but I do question the wisdom of making this film at this time. Not only do they have to know the shitstorm they’re stirring up, it’s still a played out idea that, like GHOST IN THE SHELL, is too generic to convince anybody it’s worth looking past the controversy. Especially with somebody as disliked as Leto in the lead. People are fuckin’ gunning for that guy. They’re already on his ass for stealing a trans actor’s Oscar. But regardless of the lack of wokeness, the movie is unnecessary. Viggo Mortensen made AMERICAN YAKUZA like 20 years ago, and it was pretty good for straight-to-video action. That’s about as much as a reasonable human could expect from a dull premise like “What if a white guy joined the [historically non-white organization]?”

  58. I think it’s cool a bunch of you have gone multiple times to see this movie that I have no interest in. I’m glad PTA exists but after Magnolia I’m out.

  59. I liked MAGNOLIA when I was young and still had a soul but I suspect I’d hate it if I tried watching it now. “Everything is connected” might be cinema’s laziest excuse for A Very Important Theme. Yeah, no shit, asshole. We’re all made of stardust. Great. What exactly does that do for me, exactly?

    PUNCH DRUNK LOVE is still the only PTA film I actually love, though. I think it’s a great film, not just a film full of great filmmaking, the way I feel about his other works. It’s also the only reason I haven’t completely written PTA off even when he wants to make movies about dressmaking assholes. If he makes one with a premise I can describe without rolling my eyes, I’ll give him another shot.

  60. Sternshein — MAGNOLIA is increasing looking like the odd-man-out of PTA’s filmography, so it really might be worth your time checking out, say, THERE WILL BE BLOOD or something to see if the newer stuff is more on your wavelength. I’m not a huge fan of MAGNOLIA myself, but I’m been pretty much head-over-heels in love with everything he’s done lately.* It really seems to me like there’s a pretty stark divide between his work up through PUNCH DRUNK LOVE and everything that came after.

    *Never saw JUNUN or knew of its existence before now, so I can’t speak for that one.

  61. With the jibber jabber overview out of sync it’s hard to know where to put random thoughts, but has anyone seen the trailer for REVENGE?

  62. The French thriller, that is.

  63. MAGNOLIA, to me, was the PTA heat check moment–bigger budget, nice cast, obviously a personal project. And that shot rimmed out
    There’s some stuff to like in MAGNOLIA, but it’s way too fucking long, too many stories, and, you know, the frogs. But I’ve only seen it twice, and the last time was probably 10 years ago. After MAGNOLIA, BOOGIE NIGHTS, and HARD EIGHT, I got more of a sense that PTA started to craft singular projects for feature films as opposed to quite as much young filmmaker stuff like “god damn I’ve been waiting to do this kinda scene or I’ve really wanted to include this shot or thing in one of my movies, here’s my chance!”

  64. I absolutely love MAGNOLIA. Do you remember when she winks at the camera in the very final moment? Shit breaks my heart every time. Sometimes it’s good to be maximalist. Also, Cruise is fucking insane in that film.

  65. Just heard Jennifer Lawrence mocking PHANTOM THREAD on Maron’s podcast based on her assumption that it’s a movie about some eccentric but brilliant artist and the collateral damage his woman endures as a result. Pretty strange take for the star of MOTHER!, which could be likewise dismissed by somebody who didn’t bother to actually see the film.

  66. Yet is a take shared by some regulars on here, so there you go.

  67. Since I was being a total jerk earlier I should say the comments here have pushed me to give this one a try when it comes out on VOD. Especially the comments from those who said they have seen it multiple times. I also feel I should apologize for my two prior comments, so sorry about that. PTA isn’t my preferred Paul Anderson, my opinion kinda leans towards Mr. M’s take. I loved PUNCH DRUNK LOVE but remember not caring for his others I have seen (except THERE WILL BE BLOOD which I also loved). I guess I should make time to revisit his filmography.

  68. I’m too hard on PTA sometimes. I forget that even though he’s been around forever, he hasn’t made that many movies, and most of them I liked at the time, even if I have little desire to revisit. It’s only after THERE WILL BE BLOOD where I started losing interest. I mean, I’ll take your word for if you say that movie is a masterpiece but I only remember the last two minutes of it, and I suspect that’s the experience of 90% of the people who saw it. It’s a movie so focused on being great it forgets to be any good. That’s a recurring problem for me and Anderson. I rewatched BOOGIE NIGHTS for the first time since the 90s recently, and while it’s a movie absolutely stuffed with great scenes and moments, has anyone ever noticed it has no resolution? There’s a rise then a fall then everything is good again and then the movie’s over. That’s not a story. It’s pretty entertaining most of the time but I can’t help thinking it doesn’t amount to anything. I suppose it’s appropriate that he adapted INHERENT VICE, since the not-amounting-to-anything seems to be the entire point of that story.

  69. While I don’t disagree with your ‘When a movie is trying to be great it forgets to be good’ theory, I must admit I am one of those suckers that (sometimes) find ‘great film-making’ hypnotic. I guess it is one of the reason why I mostly depart with you re: Not caring about how a movie looks. I sometimes greatly enjoy a good looking movie even if the movie itself doesn’t really or completely deliver (BLADE RUNNER / GHOST IN THE SHELL). Funnily your comments about PTA is how I felt about Ridley Scott’s HANNIBAL and Shylaman’s SIGNS. Two movies I thought were really dumb and bad but whenever I brought up my issues, I was told to shut up because ‘look how he blocked those shots! OMFG those pans! Cinematography! Costumes!’ That was an issue I also had with Italian horror until I learned to accept them on their own weird flawed terms. This also leads to filmmakers reviewing other filmmakers. I see all the time filmmakers creaming their pants over not terribly good movies and when people are like ‘huh?’ they go that the story and movie quality doesn’t matter, look at how they block their shit!’

    What I’m trying to say is, I guess I do get it sometimes why certain cinephiles get held up on a ‘great filmmaking’ and ignore underwhelming storytelling. My mileage varies but seems to get on that boat way more than you do.
    Glad to see someone else who thought BOOGIE NIGHTS was underwhelming. I always kept that to myself because just about everyone says it is a masterpiece/best of the 90’s/only good American movie since the New Hollywood wave of the 70s/etc.

  70. I mean, it’s not like having a ton of great scenes and classic moments is nothing. I’m not shitting on BOOGIE NIGHTS. But there’s a reason I never want to watch it, and I think the lack of resolution is a big part of it.

  71. As far as I remember, the resolution of BOOGIE NIGHTS was “These guys hit rock bottom, but now they are on the way up again”, which works for me as a resolution.

  72. I find PTA much more entertaining in his later career when he’s not trying as hard to be entertaining. BOOGIE NIGHTS feels like a movie that wants to have satisfying structure and can’t quite pull it off. INHERENT VICE just says, “fuck it, look at all this weird stuff.” Since THERE WILL BE BLOOD onwards, he’s been a journey-not-the-destination guy, which is a more dangerous strategy, but he’s got the goods to pull it off.

  73. PTA is like Radiohead. I love Radiohead but I still prefer to listen to The Bends or OK Computer even though I guess the newer stuff is supposed to be more “brilliant”

  74. I dunno that his filmography divides up that easily. I think PHANTOM THREAD most handily compares to PUNCH DRUNK LOVE among Anderson’s previous works: comparatively brief, direct and narrowly-focused films about two fucked up people accepting one another.

  75. One thing about Phantom Thread is, in the screenings I’ve been to in the UK – it’s been well attended each time and the average age is easily 60 or so, where I live anyway.

    I’ve not seen much marketing for it but they’re really getting the elderly women in, so the marketing and word of mouth somewhere along the line has really resonated. I go to the cinema a lot and don’t see that all that much, so it is nice. Can’t say the same about the Inherent Vice!

  76. In MAGNOLIA, a kid raps the themes of the movie.
    In SHE’S ALL THAT, a kid raps the story of the movie.
    That’s how you know MAGNOLIA is art.

  77. Mark — that’s go good I had to share it with the world. https://twitter.com/CursedJoe/status/969292205536968704

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