Phantom Thread is a romantic drama, directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson and released in 2017. Although two years old now, it’s a film that continues to be slightly perplexing.
As a romantic drama, it’s part of a genre that tends to repeat itself. That’s an unfortunate aspect of film today. Genres mimic or build upon each other. Romantic dramas seem to be unrealistic or overly serendipitous, overtly dramatic, naïve, and even painfully predictable. In that regard, Phantom Thread, it’s not like other romantic dramas — and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
It’s realistic in the sense that the characters aren’t perfect. They don’t even appear to be in love, so much as they’re living in some kind of possessive dependent infatuation. From the start, Daniel Day-Lewis’ character, Reynolds Woodcock, is like the silver fox at the bar who keeps watching you, while sipping his dry martini. Alma, played by Vicky Krieps, is young and seemingly naïve but is manipulative underneath. Each is using the other for their own purpose, and that’s what keeps them together. Because of that, their love, or infatuation, makes sense.
As far as drama goes, it was in a way not dramatic enough for a romantic drama. The plot is slow and tedious, focusing on mundane details like Reynolds’s painstaking daily routine. The couple’s dependent relationship should have been explained, or at least explored a bit more. In the end, despite the deliberate pacing, the film misses things. This film beautifully focuses on the details but in doing so sacrifices the overall narrative.
The usual innocence of romantic dramas doesn’t appear in this film. The overarching theme has a very dark feel to it, which is in a way refreshing. Director-screenwriter Paul Thomas Anderson takes romance and defines it differently to keep the audience on its toes. In this film, romance isn’t something sweet and tender, or something sensual and driven, or even something dreamy. It’s tender, passionate, obsessed, and distant. Looking at the two as a couple, their romance is almost a metaphor for both sickness and its cure.
The leads are not a typical movie couple. They don’t fight and then makeup while kissing in the rain or fix their relationship by becoming better people. They aren’t a dramatic couple that maliciously try to kill each other. Reynolds and Alma are rather creepy in their own possessive and dependent ways. Fortunately, Phantom Thread takes a different romantic perspective but focuses too much on the narrow perspective and the alternative romance to tell a story. The plot throws a lot of curveballs without fully explaining what those meant or how they fit into the larger narrative.
Phantom Thread leaves the audience confused and slightly concerned for the wellbeing of both parties. This film brings a different take to romantic dramas by way of the plot, and the characters which create more of a haunting warning than a dreamy love story.