Phantom Thread Review

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread treads through the murkiest waters of morality, and it does so in the full etiquette of its world. Its primary strength lies in the way the tension is handled throughout, in how it builds suspense even if it seems be to be telling us everything we want to know. The emotional bedlam that ensues gradually is the beating heart of the movie, yet its pounding is suppressed in mere whispers as if it to be a nugatory underlining, which causes it to coil inwards. The effect that betides is that every passing frame starts to take on the form of a ticking bomb, due to explode at the slightest misunderstood utterance. So even when nothing remotely wrong is happening in a scene, everything else seems to suggest the very contrary.

This is the textbook example of a director with an unyielding mastery of his craft working here at the top of his form. Consider how Anderson tackles the primary elements of sensuality and tension that emulsify to form the base of Phantom Thread. Rather than the bountiful skin-show that the naïve would have resorted to, Anderson never strays from the suppressed tonality of the world he concocts, choosing to rather resort to the very essence of physical attraction which is the total mobilization of the senses. Lewis and Krieps observe each other intently, scrutinizing every grimace and roll of the eyes and straining to catch every sound of the other. The tension is educed from the subtle lingering between lines and scenes, with this delayed transition giving way for silence to strikingly meander which is then filled henceforth by the mood of the movie, which as aforementioned, never runs for a second without a tinge of tension.

Parts of the movie center themselves on the physical process of the creation of art. The measurements, the tapes and the threads are all unravelled before us, shown here in great detail. Then, a duly focus and patience is given to the very creation of a dress, from the inception circling around the designing process and coming to a denouement with the material fruition. I know all of this sounds pretty boring. Believe me; it is more thrilling than a car chase.

Herein, I also wish to bring attention towards the scrupulous sound mixing which otherwise runs the risk of going unappreciated. So, it is said that artistic processes take place on the right side of the brain, the side that is liberated from the mundane considerations of the verbal left side. Whenever Reynolds gets engrossed in the creative process, Adrian Bell & John Midgley (the sound mixers) draw out all the brouhaha of the external world and immerse us in the world that is Reynolds’ mind. And whenever the external world is perceived from Reynolds’ point of view, every monoscopic sound is incorporated to let the viewer comprehend the incertitude of the relationship between the creative and the external.

The chunk of the runtime deals with shifting power dynamics within Reynolds, Cyril and Alma. Both Cyril and Alma are strong and Reynolds is weak and both want him to feed off their kindness. Alma however fears that Reynolds sees here merely as an object, while Cyril knows that Reynolds sees not Alma’s outside, but the insides. Reynolds is left in a state of stupefaction between this shifting power dynamics dubiety, and in the midst of all this, Anderson subtly masks the crux over which he weaves the entire movie around – the relationship between Reynolds and his mother. The notion of love, dear reader, is a strange paradox. As the fictional philosopher Richard Levy puts it in Allen’s Crimes & Misdemeanours ‘The paradox consists of the fact that when we fall in love we are seeking to refind all or some of the people to whom we were attached as children. On the other hand, we ask of our beloved to correct all of the wrongs that these early parents or siblings inflicted on us. So that love contains in it a contradiction, the attempt to return to the past and the attempt to undo the past’. As we can infer from the sparse information that Anderson treats us to, Reynolds life seems to be a mere continuation of his mother’s, much as the course of a ball on the billboard table is merely the continuation of the player’s arm movement. In the midst of the women in his life, Reynolds intently becomes weak and infirm, so as to compensate in their affection the tutelage from his mother for which he was never privy to. Or is the other way round?

I haven’t the faintest idea, and Phantom Thread isn’t a movie that gives answers. When Anderson pulls the rug out from under Phantom Thread, it raises even more questions. To try to answer them is to miss the point. These are ambiguities which are meant to get under your skin and stay there.

There will be detractors of course, as there should be. But do ignore the ones which say ‘nothing happens’ in the movie. I say so because whether you like it or not, it is indubitable that ‘so much is happening’ beneath what we see. As Milan Kundera once succinctly put it ‘On the surface, an intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth’.

Magnolia Review

I am sure that all those who write about movies have an inherent hesitancy about writing about their absolute favorites as I am sure that ten dimes make a dollar. It emanates from an n number of factors, ranging from the fear of not doing justice to their love for that work of art to not being able to delve into the technicalities while keeping emotions at bay. But most importantly, it is that dread of giving away too much of yourself to the reader, for in the imperfections of one’s favorite songs or movies or books lies the hard-hitting truth to the base of one’s own existence. It is this very trepidation that has delayed this post long overdue as well, but I realize I cannot go through a single more day without my conscience haunting me for not talking about Magnolia. My movie.

Clocking in at 188 minutes, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, like all great movies seems too short. It is a mosaic of a plethora of characters suffering from Capgras delusions with their own identities, with emotions building up in a whirlwind to a point where they all seem like a full cup that the least motion might overbrim.

A more conventional director might have assigned these endlessly fascinating characters at his disposal with a hard-lined plot, confining them to a cumbersome narrative with all their motives laid out and their behavior explained. Paul Thomas Anderson, who is one of the greatest directors to have ever lived, is a breath of fresh air. He knows how fast audience thinks and how emotions contain their own explanations. Here Anderson appears almost naked before his audience, a man unable to conceal the depth of his own vision.

The structure furthermore contributes to our lack of satisfaction in whatever answers we think we encounter. But the hint at a snap solution is too broad and juxtaposition too obvious. We instantaneously reject any easy putting together of two and two and suspect a five. But time and time, Magnolia makes a gesture to itself as a source of discovery and meaning. The response of the audience is a suspicion of an invitation to start figuring out and putting together the enigma with the camera’s collaboration. Yet can one possibly attribute a final meaning to it, or is the very absurdity of a rain of frogs a shout-out to the human mystery that can never be solved ?

The world of Magnolia and the characters which firmly inhabit it are an illusion of their own. Most would find it hard to appreciate it in their first viewing, being misled from the crux of it by the facade of coincidences and chance and rain of frogs and what not. Dissatisfied by a movie that would rather evoke than supply. But what Anderson does here, and does only to the knowledge of those who see through the act he is putting up and destroying simultaneously, is an attempt to reach more deeply than that: to reach beneath the surface, and find the soul in need. I have always understood the elusiveness, and over the years even come to respect it as well, for there is an evident semi-autobiographical vein here. It is no secret that the frames belong to the storyteller and one would only want the most understanding to be held worthy of having a pert of oneself. When it draws towards commencement, Anderson’s world seems complete, and all the viewer can bring to it is his admiration.

At the end of the day, it is a movie about pain. About a bunch of souls trying to convince themselves over and over about the identities the world has imposed on them, yet breaking away from it as they do so and being understandably, petrified of the thought of finding themselves. It is about parents for whom the children are the abusers and they, the victims and about children who know better. It is about those who live without love and how it devastates them. It is thankfully also about a few who thank God for their good lives and forgiveness if they ever happen to not love it enough. It is about the entirety of ‘life’ and all that the word encompasses.

Love stories are about those who find love in happy times. Tragedies are about those who find love in unhappy times. Magnolia belongs to the latter, yet when it ends, it leaves me exhilarated about my existence, greedy for living it for it so bluntly reinforces the truth that we try to evade – that all that we take with us when we die is the regret for all that we could have done when we were alive.

There are very few times when the vision of a director works on the same wavelength as yours, striking a chord which leaves you with an out-of-body experience at the theater. When Magnolia came to its denouement, it was the closest I had ever been to knowing what a complete stranger truly feels, as if Paul Thomas Anderson was an individual I had once acquainted and then long forgotten. I believe it is primarily why it is my favorite movie of all time, and will continue to be in the future as well. The moment it ended, with that heartbreaking smile of Claudia’s, was the closest I had ever come to a communion with God. I was aware of his existence then, of his presence in every human being, and such a moment has evaded me long since then. I look for it every time I watch a movie, finding traces of it in some, yet the entirety of that experience still remains alien to me. If I was ever given the choice of carrying a moment of my life to the grave, I would most probably choose the very one which has found its way in the above lines.

It is the general belief, and a correct one too, that writing works which end with a quote work better. Whatever you have to say in closure, almost all the times someone else has said it better. Here, I quote Francois Truffaut, who while talking about Jules & Jim said all that I think Paul Thomas Anderson could have about Magnolia – “I begin a film believing it will be amusing — and along the way I notice that only sadness can save it.”

RATING :- 10 / 10


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