Phantom Thread’s other worldly appeal
The movie Phantom Thread did not take place in 2018. There was not an underlying political charge nor a sense of exigency. There wasn’t even a relevant historical context underscoring the significance of western liberal values and a comprehensive outline to defend its merits. Indeed, in Phantom Thread we were not bearing witness to a seismic shift in power and with it the flagrant disregard for ideals which serve as the basis of our freedom and framework for our life.
Works of art which deal with these subject matters seem to garner the most attention today, but Phantom Thread seems to be a throwback from some optimistic genre of film during a time when we didn’t necessarily concern ourselves with the vagaries of politics. The incongruity of the movie’s central themes with today’s cultural mood is perhaps one of the reasons why I imagine it had a lukewarm reception.
Critics are respectful of it but I have yet to come across any raves. However, I found that for the aesthete, keen on preserving territories of work and life uncorrupted by the volatility and daily dramas of politics, it was a departure to another time, a feast of ideas surrounding aesthetics and the organizing principle it played in one master couturier’s life.
Reynolds Woodcock treats fashion as though it were an ontology unto itself: the fabric he chooses is not merely beautiful because of his personal taste for it. He explains to Alma—his model/muse— that it simply is beautiful which explains why women adore the design.
His sense for beauty is unwavering and steadfast informing the entire contents of his day, down to what he ate (asparagus and oil, jam and scones) to the way he dressed (pristine overcoats, perfectly coiffed hair) and how he worked (quiet, before breakfast or in the middle of the night, during parties and holidays).
Which isn’t to say that we should burrow ourselves in a fantasyland of another time. In 2018, we have the hard task of metabolizing occurrences external to our personal lives as well the daily dramas immediately at hand. But by taking a cue from this movie, we might give more thought to the details and standards by which we conduct our affairs and find ourselves uncompromising in where these convictions lead us. We may in turn be surprised how our life might unfold when guided by a sense of what is beautiful and not, what is right and wrong, just and unjust.