phantom thread (2017)
Paul Thomas Anderson's film output reaches its apex in Phantom Thread, a career culminates into the first true masterpiece of Anderson's oeuvre. Each element of his filmic tapestry is expertly woven, none living apart or outstanding from the others. What makes the film tick is its steady escalation, a suspense-love story, a delve into the artist/muse relationship, our relationship to the mystery of existence itself. What Anderson achieves is staggering, a film that builds in such structural perfection toward its penultimate sequence that never requires or even flirts with device be it in script, performance, or visual progression. As a work, it is controlled and constructed, letting none of its seams show, none of its architecture apparent from the outside looking in. Anderson's seemingly effortless visual language speaks to us of the complexities lying underneath each look, each gesture, the details in the movements, the frame overflowing with the understated feeling that is just below the surface. Entanglement as individuals who orbit one another, drawn deeper into their bonds, entwining slowly until their every atom is unimaginable without the other. The games we play look as trivialities to those who observe them, and to those who live them they are life and death, they are existence itself. In the face of the mystery of existence we choose interaction with our peers, we choose squabbling, we choose creation, we choose to control. In the life of the artist with their work as their only connection to the existence they live, all life is in its service, all human beings around them are for its ultimate expression, the craft being built up for divine purpose, or perhaps for the purpose of those looking upon us from the afterlife, our dead mothers. Anderson's narrative opens on a glimpse of the film's climax, not as framing device, but to add an air of determinism, to delicately suggest where his tale may lead without ever tipping his hand or surfacing us from the river of emotion that his film flows from and into. The constant marriage of Greenwood's miraculous score with the some of the most devastatingly gorgeous 70mm photography to ever screen powering the film along create a complete and pure cinematic fount of inspiration.
In its elegance and formal appeal, a narrative that spins round a center point of the creation of beauty, the vague and indescribable essence that is the process of creation, the film bears its fruit. As the game turns from the strong against the weak, the established in favor over the novice; we ascend (and it is Anderson's constant narrative ascent that lifts the picture above each pitfall it may encounter) toward the exploration of symbiosis. Where the film eventually leads us is to an ultimately delicious cinematic nirvana of pure destruction of a carefully sewn narrative thread. It is in this moment of destruction that the film elevates to its highest form just moments before the credits roll (in a sequence that is staggering in the tension and perfection of its form) and transcends its tale of two humans into a tale of the human and the abyss. From the abyss springs all manner of inspiration, is it the same place we go when we die that all artistic inspiration and creation comes back to us and is spoken to us through the deepest communion with one who has entered the afterlife? The mystery of the abyss which we all face daily, and most lives are spent trying desperately to ignore, is impossible in Phantom Thread for a single individual to achieve, rather it is only achieved through the bonds of two entangled personas as they volley, destroying and rebuilding each other, leading each other in a game of creation and play to the brink of death and back again. A macabre dance in which the most potent and concentrated of life's nectar is harvested and distilled, flowing forth into a sublime creation of craft. Hierarchies are detailed, the businessperson and their power over the artist, the somewhat symbiotic relation between the two, somewhat vampiric as well, but always used as a tool of navigation through the human construct that is society itself. The artist and the muse become the purest form of necessary navigation for all else, for the essential nature of existence in a realm beyond human construct and into the ethereal plane. The endlessly evolving narrative never stalls its shifting through the final moments. Love becomes meaningless in the face of pure devotion, pure and unspoken understanding as the power of bonds built through an unnamable compulsion and finding the answer to the call our subconscious unwillingly puts out in another human being. The one looking and the one being looked it, here the one who looks is audience surrogate and the one being looked at holds the power, like the screen. Day-Lewis looks, Krieps is looked at.
The ghastly beauty of each sequence, the deepening ascension of narrative, Phantom Thread is a journey through that aspect of life that brings meaning to the chaos, the temperamental chaos of our mind only quieted through creation. The imagery speaks to us through its beauty over all else, the gorgeous candle-lit interiors and the color that sparks the evocative and sensuous era of the 1950's that Anderson emulates. The film bleeds visual harmony and its dialogue reacts to its visual language, not the other way around. The film is led by its elements of pure cinema and the stage play follows after. In the ever-growing complexity of our narrative, Anderson only slows and speeds his pacing as various intervals of impact, a film that is felt out as though it sprang directly form the directors subconscious, it keeps a medium speed for much of its runtime and barely lets up. The thread of its plot is as a whirlpool ever deepening, a vortex ever ascending. In this life we make the eternal into our own version of the finite, we estimate infinity by standards of human limitation, not the other way around. Our private universe becomes as the universe itself, our own experience driving our knowledge of experience itself. How inseparable the two are from one another, how life entangles us with others who become so linked to our idea of experience itself that we shudder to imagine an existence without their presence. How shocking the replacement when one can actually fill a void, it rarely occurs. How terrifying it can be when we realize we can never live without it. Is it abuse or love? Do we dare to ask? Do we dare to answer?