“Phantom Thread, no matter it’s, appears to be an embodiment of Samuel Beckett’s concept that love is a type of deadly glue.” – Errol Morris
Phantom Thread is an beautiful interval piece set in London within the 1950s that options nuanced and mesmerizing performances from Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock, Vicky Krieps as Alma Elson, and Lesley Manville as Cyril Woodcock. Reynolds is an eminent determine within the trend business and works alongside his sister Cyril underneath the “Home of Woodcock” designing outfits for the wealthy and highly effective. Those that fee Reynolds don’t achieve this simply as soon as. Every shopper we see within the movie carries a historical past of being dressed by the Home of Woodcock. For Reynolds, a person who thrives on routine as an anchor for the turbulent waters of his thoughts, this isn’t an accident.
In a DGA interview between Rian Johnson and Paul Thomas Anderson, Anderson revealed his muse for the film was David Lean‘s The Passionate Associates (1949), a drama whereby we comply with the nuanced story between lovers Mary (Ann Todd) and Steven (Trevor Howard) whose paths attain a bifurcation. It’s a tragic and multi-faceted story that unfolds in a non-linear method. Circumstances change, individuals change, however our emotions don’t essentially change. It’s a tragic, multi-faceted story that unfolds in a non-linear approach, and captures the character of reminiscences. To do The Passionate Associates justice would require exploring it in a separate essay, however I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out it as a result of each it and Phantom Thread praise one another.
With a lifetime comes a gamut of feelings and experiences with love, and that is mirrored within the relationship between Alma and Reynolds, however there’s a facet of Reynolds that stands as a seemingly impenetrable barrier between them. Within the 2003 movie Matchstick Males, Nicolas Cage performs Roy Waller, a con artist scuffling with obsessive-compulsive dysfunction. Cage’s efficiency is extra animated, decidedly so, though it does have its nuances. Daniel Day-Lewis takes a special strategy in that his efficiency as Reynolds is reticent and chilly. Each Cage and Day-Lewis are enjoying characters stricken with the identical dysfunction; their personalities and the best way through which they deal with it are totally different.
I’ve obsessive-compulsive dysfunction (OCD). It’s troublesome to convey how painful and debilitating OCD is to individuals who don’t have it. Schooling and expertise in psychological well being care most assuredly may also help one perceive, however it isn’t the identical as experiencing the dysfunction first-hand. Public understanding and media illustration of the dysfunction might be higher. In fact, my understanding of OCD was missing, and I didn’t acknowledge it in myself till I used to be nicely into my 20s. The dysfunction is multi-dimensional and may manifest in several methods. That is true for different psychological sicknesses, however the nature of OCD appears to be elusive to the general public consciousness.
OCD is having ideas you can’t elude (obsessions) and behaviors you could’t cease doing (compulsions). OCD just isn’t having a “choice” for one thing or somebody being “anal-retentive.” Compulsions fall into 4 classes: counting, checking, cleansing, and avoidance. There are totally different sorts of ideas, however they’re all intrusive, and our brains will be apt to get caught up in them. It triggers your sympathetic nervous system (“battle or flight” response), so that you’re vexed with nervousness and melancholy. You carry out rituals as a response to the ideas. They’re a useless try and alleviate the signs. It’s a depressing cycle of doubt, guilt, nervousness, and melancholy, and these signs can manifest in another way in every individual with OCD.
It’s necessary to notice that everybody has ideas, however individuals who have OCD fixate on their ideas and get caught in recursive loops. The mind can’t transfer on. It’s a thunderous mess of ideas that repeat time and again and again and again. It doesn’t matter what you do or the place you’re or what’s happening round you, they’re nonetheless there. The more durable you attempt to not take into consideration them, the “stickier” that makes them, to borrow the phrasing from “Overcoming Undesirable Intrusive Ideas” by Sally M. Winston and Martin N. Seif.
Individuals with OCD sometimes can rationalize their conduct and ideas. It’s absurd, and we KNOW it’s absurd. It’s the toughest factor to mentally be current inside the precise second you bodily reside in. We hate that it occurs. We will’t assist it. Nobody chooses to have OCD, and the unlucky actuality is that the dysfunction can’t be cured. Remedy consists of drugs and psychotherapy, however they mitigate the dysfunction, not resolve it solely. Enchancment isn’t a binary course of; there shall be setbacks, and there’s no actual timeline for easy methods to enhance one’s OCD.
As Alma and Reynolds’ infatuation blossoms into love, she cautions him, “No matter do you do… do it rigorously.” And it’s with nice care that I’ve collected and assembled my ideas. In speaking concerning the whys and wherefores of Reynolds’ conduct, I don’t need to give the impression that I’m excusing it. Nor am I condoning an unhealthy relationship. The aim of artwork is to discover totally different factors of view and in flip, engender thought that impacts our personal views. To interact with what plagues Reynolds doesn’t imply his maltreatment of Alma is okay, for it’s nonetheless incumbent on these with psychological sickness to get assist as a result of the individuals round them cannot do it for them.
Phantom Thread is a romantic drama with sharp comedic beats to it—a seriocomic film in fact. The story is dipped in several shades of grey as an alternative of a black and white distinction. It begins in media res with Alma in close-up speaking about Reynolds with Dr. Robert Hardy (Brian Gleeson). Whereas Reynolds is a pivotal a part of the movie, it’s Alma who grounds the story and connects with the viewers.
Alma says to Dr. Hardy, “Reynolds has made my goals come true. And I’ve given him what he wishes most in return.” “And what’s that?” the physician inquires off digital camera. “Each piece of me,” she solutions. A second passes and Dr. Hardy observes, “He’s a really demanding man, isn’t he? Have to be fairly a problem to be with him.” A pause. “Sure. Perhaps he’s probably the most demanding man,” she says.
It’s by way of Alma that we see Reynolds. Our minds are worlds, and we will’t expertise these worlds first-hand, solely glimpses. Reynolds’ thoughts is particularly ensconced. Guarded. Alma’s dialog with Dr. Hardy serves as a primer not only for her understanding of Reynolds, but in addition to border Reynolds by means of a selected lens for us. Our formal introduction to Reynolds is a montage of his morning routine. Watching Reynolds put together makes it obvious that that is his routine each morning. It’s ingrained in him. If Reynolds diverged from this regiment, he’d be misplaced. Regardless that we solely see the montage as soon as, we will sense its familiarity via the specificity. It’s what makes it ritualistic conduct.
The subsequent picture we see is Cyril getting ready for the Home of Woodcock and its personnel to start out their day. The routine of it seeps into the way during which they carry themselves. They’ve achieved this many occasions earlier than, and it’s innate to them. It’s all methodical; they don’t give it some thought, they only do it. Very similar to a bespoke gown designed and sewn by the Home of Woodcock, the place through which Reynolds lives and works is methodically designed right down to probably the most minute element. It’s seamless. Reynolds has, in essence, created a world of routine as a result of it’s the one means he is aware of how you can perform with the signs of his OCD.
Earlier than Reynolds and Alma meet, we see a morning routine with him, Cyril, and Johanna (Camilla Rutherford)—Reynolds’ vital different earlier than Alma. There’s a pressure current from the beginning. Johanna presents Reynolds a pastry. “Keep in mind I informed you no extra stodgy issues?” Reynolds presents as a barb with out a lot as a look. Johanna doesn’t recall. She suggests he should have advised another person. A second passes. It’s deflating, and we will really feel her ache and befuddlement. “The place have you ever gone, Reynolds?” Johanna asks him. Reynolds is distant. Chilly. It’s as if he’s in one other metropolis or maybe nation regardless of bodily sitting throughout the desk from Johanna. Cyril watches the 2 with nothing greater than an intense stare. The strain is heightened. Reynolds pauses and says “I can’t start my day with a confrontation, please. I’m delivering the gown right now. And I can’t take up area with a confrontation. I merely don’t have time for confrontations.” It’s a frigid response to a honest attraction.
We transition to decorate becoming and meet Reynolds’ shopper Countess Henrietta Harding (Gina McKee). There’s a palpable historical past obvious from the second she walks in to border. We see Reynolds pacing as he waits for Henrietta to don the gown. The extreme, distant look alongside together with his arms in his pockets and guarded posture makes it clear: this activity is ennervating for him. Even after he inspects Henrietta within the beautiful gown and garners approval from everybody within the room—together with Cyril—Reynolds appears drained. Not even the smile he gives Henrietta can masks it.
Afterward, Cyril and Reynolds meet at a restaurant to decompress. Cyril asks about Johanna and posits that it’s time for issues to finish between her and Reynolds. His eyes avert. He holds his glasses in his proper hand methodically fidgets with them. “I’ve an unsettled feeling. Based mostly on… nothing I can put my finger on. Simply butterflies.” This a glimpse into what’s plaguing Reynolds. It’s nervousness. It is probably not what individuals usually perceive nervousness to be, however the symptomology of it varies for every case. The set off for Reynolds nervousness, on this case, seems to be from Cyril’s mentioning of Johanna, however Reynolds provides us extra about what’s bothering him. He shares that the demise of their mom years prior nonetheless weighs on him. He finds consolation within the lifeless watching over the dwelling, and maybe that’s a coping mechanism. He’s caught up prior to now. Their mom’s dying was tragic and past their management, and but Reynolds can’t assist however ruminate about it. The fixed urge to regulate issues and mitigate uncertainty are hallmarks to OCD.
By Cyril’s urging, Reynolds goes away to the nation to get away for a bit whereas she tends to issues on the Home of Woodcock and handles Johanna. It’s whereas on vacation that Reynolds and Alma first meet. After a playful scene of Reynolds putting an inordinately lengthy and particular breakfast order and Alma recalling all of it with out preserving the slip she wrote it on, Reynolds asks Alma out to dinner. It’s on this date we study extra of Reynolds previous. His mom taught his sister and him the commerce of stitching. Reynolds shares with Alma that he sewed his mom’s wedding ceremony gown when he was 16 for what can be her second wedding ceremony ceremony—his father handed when he was younger. Reynolds struggled to finish the gown, and the household nanny refused to assist him as a result of superstitions about wedding ceremony clothes. There are superstitions that may manifest within the ideas and ritualistic behaviors of OCD. Reynolds was in over his head, and Cyril intervened and accomplished the gown for him simply in time. He admits to Alma that he couldn’t have executed it with out her.
Reynolds and Alma’s relationship blossoms and in a voice-over, she shares that she by no means cared for her physique and describes intimately why she doesn’t like every a part of her. And she or he loses herself in Reynolds work. She feels good. However Reynolds’ OCD is a barrier and we see this manifest as a battle between them in several methods.
Alma and Reynolds hold separate quarters — their moments of intimacy are few and much between. OCD most assuredly can impression one’s intercourse life, relying on the way it manifests. Reynolds’ aversion to intimacy is left ambiguous, and we will solely speculate. Maybe it’s a results of a low intercourse drive because of nervousness and melancholy. Maybe there are particular obsessions which might be a barrier. Reynolds doesn’t talk any of this with Alma, leaving her to marvel on her personal.
Cyril, Alma, and Reynolds go about consuming breakfast, and Alma is seated the place we beforehand noticed Johanna originally of the movie. Alma goes about consuming her meals as she usually would, Reynolds balks on the noise she makes, “It’s as in the event you simply rode a horse throughout the room,” and walks out in a fuss. Cyril posits to Alma, “His routine when he’s in it, is greatest not shaken. If breakfast isn’t proper, it’s very exhausting for him to get well for the remainder of the day.” Reynolds can’t focus if he diverges from his routine. It’s not Alma’s fault.
On one other event, Alma brings Reynolds tea whereas he’s engaged on a gown. He rebuffs Alma’s variety gesture, “I didn’t ask for tea.” Reynolds calls for she take the tea again. Alma does so, and he says, “It’s a bit late now, isn’t it?” Alma interjects “However I’m taking it out.” “The tea goes out. The interruption is staying proper right here with me.” Alma isn’t doing something mistaken, however what Reynolds labels as a “distraction” sends him right into a recursive loop. This dysfunction is what differentiates an individual who has OCD from somebody who doesn’t have the dysfunction.
Alma longs for spontaneity. The barrier she senses between her and Reynolds, his “guidelines,” and the sensation of monotony. It’s all an excessive amount of. In an try and rekindle issues, Alma prepares a shock dinner for Reynolds and sends Cyril and the employees house early for the night. Cyril tries to dissuade Alma from doing this, however finally relents and needs her the most effective earlier than departing. Reynolds arrives house and instantly intuits one thing is totally different concerning the Home of Woodcock. This pressure brews all through the night till it erupts in an argument that finally results in a vituperative rebuttal from Reynolds. What was meant as a honest gesture by Alma finally ends up being nastily rebuked by him, which echoes the sooner tea scene between them.
Publicity and Response Prevention (ERP) remedy is one modality of remedy for OCD. It consists of exposing somebody to the supply of their nervousness—the “set off” in a managed setting underneath supervision from a therapist—and permitting the sympathetic response to happen till the “feed or breed” parasympathetic response takes over and calms the individual. In Reynolds’ case, a “set off” can be falling ailing, ruining a gown, and being unable to do something however lie in mattress. Alma finds wild toxic mushrooms and decides to have Reynolds unknowingly ingest them in a “particular” cup of tea she brews for him. This leads to the aforementioned “set off,” leaving Reynolds incapacitated and within the care of Alma.
This places the Home of Woodcock into overdrive, leaving the employees and Cyril to fix the gown Reynolds by accident broken and full it in time for Princess Mona Braganza’s (Lujza Richter) wedding ceremony. From Reynolds POV whereas mendacity in mattress, we see his mom (performed by Emma Clandon) within the wedding ceremony gown sewed by Cyril and him. Alma walks into the room, and we see Reynolds POV shift. His mom disappears. Alma supersedes the hallucination, and the implications of it make one marvel if Reynolds is processing his grief or as an alternative changing one obsession with one other. The gown is accomplished simply in time and Reynolds recovers. Within the wake of this type of “publicity remedy,” he asks Alma to marry him. They betroth, and issues appear nice till the connection slides again right into a bitter state.
Whereas in the midst of one other gown becoming, Reynolds appears misplaced in thought. One thing is vexing him. He excuses himself and walks inside Cyril’s workplace. He learns from Cyril that Countess Henrietta Harding—the shopper seen firstly of the movie—has sought out the providers from one other home for her clothes. We see Reynolds’ nervousness boil over right into a vituperative outburst. Processing change with OCD might be extremely troublesome, and Reynolds understands one thing is totally different, however he attributes Henrietta’s departure as an act of “betrayal” and as a direct results of Alma “altering” the Home of Woodcock. Alma walks into the room as this outburst unfolds. Cyril rebukes Reynolds as she’s come to love and belief Alma. ERP remedy can require multiple session, and it’s on this second that we will’t assist however understand what will occur subsequent.
Alma prepares an omelet for Reynolds with the identical toxic mushrooms she beforehand positioned in his tea. This time, she does so brazenly, and Reynolds can’t assist however discover what she is doing. We watch Alma end the meal and serve it to Reynolds. He takes his first chew and ornaments it, chewing it slowly. Alma stares into Reynolds’ eyes and says, “I would like you flat in your again. Helpless. Tender. Open. With solely me to assist. After which I would like you robust once more. You aren’t going to die. You may want you’re going to die, however you aren’t going to. You should quiet down a bit.” Reynolds swallows, and Alma smiles. “Kiss me, my woman, earlier than I’m sick,” he says, they usually embrace.
Phantom Thread ends on a observe of uncertainty. We see a montage of a future Alma envisions with Reynolds that’s sweeping and poetic. Reynolds acknowledges her hopes for the longer term however anchors them with, “Sure, however proper now we’re right here.” Alma holds his head in her lap. “Sure, in fact, we’re.” Dealing with OCD requires one to deal with uncertainty. To simply accept imperfection. To have the ability to keep on with what’s within the now, even when your mind is a torrential storm of ideas concerning the previous and future. We will’t cease the ideas we’ve got, solely handle the best way we reply to them. For a life spent ensconced in a fortress of routine shouldn’t be as fulfilling as one spent experiencing new issues. We will’t do that with out taking dangers and being aware of the current. Maybe Alma and Reynolds do create that future she envisions. Maybe not. We don’t know, and that’s okay.