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Phantom Thread stars Daniel Day-Lewis. | films of world.

Like all Paul Thomas Anderson films, “Phantom Thread” is a study of a family and the love its members share.

At the center of the film, which was nom­i­nated for a Best Picture Oscar, lies the rela­tionship between Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a couture dress­maker in 1950s London, and his muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps). All about them flits the bombast that marks nearly every Anderson film — the hys­terical realism of char­acter-spe­cific acces­sories, an inten­tionally unsteady camera, and the unpre­dictable beauty of a Jonny Greenwood sound­track.

Anderson is up to the same project as his two mas­ter­pieces “Mag­nolia” and “There Will Be Blood”: the study of family, specif­i­cally the phe­nomenon of gift — true gift, dis­pensed only with the con­tin­gency that all love is an exercise in com­ple­men­tarity. In Anderson movies, real love is a cir­cular motion where giving is receiving and receiving is allowing the fruits of gift to return back into the self. 

In “Phantom Thread,” Anderson draws the audience close to Reynolds, inside his eyes, inside his ears. We follow him through his morning routine, where every crumpet’s crunch crumples his entire day. We learn of his rou­tines, and how every­thing that is not dress designing dis­sat­isfies him.

Reynolds has a right to brood about everyday life. Although he loves designing dresses, the drudgery of his cus­tomers and bills irks him. His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) can handle the bills, but Reynolds must engage the cus­tomers — aging husks of aris­to­crats, con­cerned only with appear­ances, appear­ances, appear­ances. Reynolds truly loves his work — the way an artist obsesses over his craft — so he sol­diers through his frus­tra­tions. His is an ordered life, with few sur­prises.

Until Alma.

Reynolds picks her up in a seaside village, intending to keep her as a dress model, but she quickly becomes his lover, over­taking Cyril and the memory of his mother as Reynold’s sole female com­plement. When he attempts to rebel against Alma’s care, (spoiler alert) she poisons his food with mush­rooms, reducing him to a weak and needy old man.

By the end of the movie, Reynolds and Alma have developed a mutually aggressive — and yet mutually tender — rela­tionship, each caring for the other by damp­ening the other’s pride. Reynolds uses his acidic wit. Alma employs deadly fungi.

In its adver­tise­ments, the movie was billed as Daniel Day-Lewis’ retirement act, but really, it’s  about the vital impor­tance of women in the world. For perhaps more than men, women rec­ognize the whole human person, because they see persons with their hearts. It’s no coin­ci­dence that Alma’s name puns on the Latin word for “nour­ishing.” 

Alma under­stand Reynolds in a way he could never under­stand himself alone. She sees him with all of his greatness and lim­i­ta­tions, but instead of standing in cold judgement, she tries to help him become a fuller artist. As her name indi­cates, Alma’s exis­tence is marked from the outset by the prin­ciple of help: a help which (once Reynolds accepts it) is not one-sided but mutual. 

Alma com­ple­ments Reynolds, just as Reynolds com­ple­ments Alma; all men and women are com­ple­mentary. Alma’s wom­anhood expresses the “human” as much as Reynold’s manhood does, but in a dif­ferent and com­ple­mentary way. But through that holistic insight which is so much a part of her wom­anhood, Alma enriches Reynold’s under­standing of himself and helps to make his rela­tions with others — espe­cially his sister — more honest and authentic.

Ideally, at least.

While Alma and Reynolds agree that their rela­tionship operates under the prin­ciple of help, their actions seem to dis­agree. There’s some­thing mutually masochistic about the prepa­ration and indul­gence in poi­soned mush­rooms. It speaks not so much to the pun on Alma’s name, but to the equally important innuendo in Reynold’s surname: Woodcock.

Because if not in love, the film’s res­o­lution hedges into love’s near-image parody — lust. And maybe that’s fitting. The phrase “phantom thread” refers to the symptoms of a factory worker who has sewn one too many dresses. Even when not working, the hands invol­un­tarily move, thinking they’re doing some­thing they’re not.