She’s broad-shouldered, has wide hips and small breasts, she’s sorry for her physical attributes, He finds her Perfect. She’s dazzled, not just by his “Charm”, but him being charmed by her charm, for her, he’s like a mirror to her inner beauty, she’s under the spell, she feels significant, and as the charm begins to fade and the muse turns into a mistress, she’s ready to give him” Every Piece of Her” to keep living this dream.
As I was watching Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, I was reminded of a play by GB Shaw, Pygmalion, it might not be intentional but there’s a distinct similarity between Pygmalion’s lead pair, Eliza, and Higgins and the way PTA has threaded his characters, Higgins was a middle aged bachelor from upper class, he was married to his art and adored his mother, Daniel Day Lewis is also a middle aged bachelor from the upper echelons of society, married to his art, Alma quizzes him about his bachelorhood, he replies with nonchalance, “I make dresses”, he likes to keep his mother close to his heart as she taught him his craft; both are cantankerous and charming at the same time, Eliza was a flower girl from the lower strata of society, in her, Higgins spotted a duchess, and transforms her from a Girl from The Gutters, to a Royal Magyar Princess, Alma was a waiter and wasn’t aware of her beauty till Reynolds’s makes her his muse, as in the play, He likes her, but finds her mannerism irritable; she’s besotted by him but can’t deal with his narcissistic personality. There’s also a 3rd stand to this triangle, a man of reason called Colonel Pickering, in this film that role is played by his sister Cyril, she’s her protector and guide, and the one person he can’t intimidate or “ he will be on the floors”.
It seems they’re a perfect fit, he’s mild-mannered, classy, and desirable, she’s beautiful and smells nice, but not everything is perfect in Paradise, with time, she raises questions, she doesn’t like the fabric of a dress, he shuts her down, what’s right is right, it doesn’t matter what the customer thinks. At this point, one has a feeling is Anderson voicing his own opinion about the films he makes? – She’s a naive audience, people who appreciate his work, are the film critics and he himself is the man who creates those baroque symphonies, we call films.
Their relation transforms from lovers to more of a master-slave, he finds the sound of her buttering the toast unbearable; she finds his single-minded approach, fussy, he considers any desire for attention, a confrontation, she likes her presence to be recognized, he likes to be Strong and she likes him tender.
Their relationship, isn’t as a much a tango, as it’s a war, in one of the scenes he calls his home a “battlefield” with her having a “Gun” to shoot him, they don’t as much compliment, as they compete, she ignores all warnings and wants to love him in her own way, he hates surprises and change.
It’s a fascinating contest between the strong man who isn’t ready to let his guard down and make space for anything, but the love for his work, and a women who is willing to go the distance to break through his impregnable defence and love him the way she likes, tender, vulnerable, like a baby.
As a film shot mostly in a mansion with three main characters, the film derives its strength from its actors, Daniel Day-Lewis is in top form, he’s one of those rare actors who can make every part of his body act, he makes the muscles of his body dance in perfect symmetry to the emotion being explored, he’s sardonic, gooey-eyed, demanding, dominating, bitter, irascible and helpless, he doesn’t miss a beat. There are couple of scenes that deserve special mention, the scene when he comes back home irritated at Alma’s surprise, he tries hard to be appreciative of her efforts, but he can’t hold on to his boiling rage at the sight of the delicacy, also the scene when after getting married he still can’t tolerate the sound of her eating food but tries to act all calm is brilliant.
While Day-Lewis is a seasoned professional, It’s VICKY KRIEPS who is the revelation, she stands her ground and doesn’t get intimidated by her fellow actor’s towering personality, it’s a pity that she didn’t get an acting nomination for the best actress.
The costumes by Mark Bridges are a treat to eyes, the film’s sartorial splendor is unmistakable, the resplendently designed dresses give a feeling of Royalty, it would have the betrayed the vision of House Woodcock if the dresses couldn’t reflect a certain class. In one of the scenes, he scorns at the idea of “Chic”, once again showing his disdain towards the popular culture. The background score and the camerawork are in perfect harmony, the symphonies are in sync with the mood of the film; look at Alma as she’s so engrossed by her man that her eyes are fixed at him.
Anderson has created a romantic tale for the ages, it’s ingenious, darkly funny, deviant, and puzzling, it doesn’t follow any template of romance served by others, unlike most films his lovers aren’t ready to sacrifice and fit, they aren’t ready to converge and make things work, they don’t even like each other, but there’s a Phantom Thread that binds them together and in spite of the fact that he finds her an irritant intrusion, and she finds him a grumpy old man, there’s a Phantom Thread that binds them together and keeps them floating together, Day Lewis sews personalised hidden messages in his dresses, maybe Anderson’s message through this film is to Love is too personal an emotion to follow any standard clichés, maybe it starts mushrooming when the guy says “ Kiss me, Girl, before I fall sick”
What a swan song for the Legend!