Phantom Thread Review
The film Phantom Thread presents us with the story of a marriage between two people who live out their relationship with tactics that most people use to fight wars. Reynolds Woodcock is rude, insufferably controlling, and narcissistic while she is soft, gentle, and yet ruthlessly intractable. It seems clear that Reynolds cares about his work about 99% of the time and he cares about the woman in his life about 1% of the time. I gather that Alma loves his dedication to his work but is not about to let him get away with seeing her as his toy.
“If you want to have a staring contest with me,” Alma says early in their relationship, “you will lose.” As the movie unfolds, you realize that he should have taken her far more seriously than he did at the time.
Reynolds is a widely acclaimed dress –maker who produces work for British royalty and women if significant wealth. His work involves making dresses for singular people for their singularly important occasions and we are given to understand that he is well paid for his work. He is, as they say, “at the top of his game” and he is used to be regarded as royalty himself (“The House of Woodcock” is how people refer to his boutique and he is not above taking your dress back from you if you act in some low-brow way while wearing it).
Reynolds invites Alma to stay in his home and work with him as a sort of one tenth girl-friend – nine tenths dressmaker’s assistant. She is allowed to sit at the breakfast table but she is not allowed to butter her toast loudly, move, make noise, or ask for conversation. Everything she makes for him has to be made to exact specifications and he refuses to make adjustments without making his displeasure about doing so clear.
“Reynolds: As I think you know, Alma, I prefer my asparagus with oil and salt. And knowing this, you've prepared the asparagus with butter. Now, I can imagine in certain circumstances being able to pretend that I like it made this way. Right now, I'm just admiring my own gallantry for eating it the way you've prepared it.”
“If it’s my life you don’t agree with, then you don’t have to share it,” he says. “I cannot start my day with a confrontation. I simply have no time for confrontations.”
As he is with his clients, he is with her (“The fabric is right because it’s right. Maybe one day you’ll change your taste.”)
Her response is what makes the movie so thought provoking. “If you want to have a staring contest with me,” she had warned him, “you will lose.”
And she meant it.
Question for Comment: What is the best response to a controlling person in your life? To fight with them for control or a share of it? Or to simply evacuate and let them live in their own loneliness?