Phantom Thread Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

London in the fifties of the last century. Couturier Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is the king of British fashion: representatives of the highest aristocracy, and not only British ones, order dresses from him. Reynolds is an extremely sensitive, vulnerable, nervous and extremely selfish creature. He should be surrounded only by those people who give themselves without reserve to the service of the maestro, his genius. And Woodcock, in turn, gives everything to his profession: he is a perfectionist to the marrow of his bones.

Reynolds is a convinced bachelor, despite the fact that he is surrounded only by women and female society as such, he does not shun at all. It’s just that few people can get along with Reynolds, because any of his regular girlfriends should know their place next to the great couturier. And this place is in the social network of the Woodcock fashion house – below the plinth. Need a girlfriend for love pleasures – go to bed. The rest of the time it just doesn’t exist. Of course, not everyone is satisfied with such a role, so the maestro’s girlfriends change quite often.

Woodcock has one very close assistant, whom he trusts one hundred percent, is his sister Cyril (Leslie Manville). Cyril knows that Reynolds is still terribly worried about the death of his beloved mother, for whom he sewed the first dress in his life, and as a result, Cyril, to some extent, replaced her brother with a mother: she manages all his affairs and strictly monitors that to make Reynolds as comfortable as possible in everyday life.

Once the maestro went for the weekend to unwind in a hotel in nature. There, in a restaurant, he met a waitress, Alma (Vicky Crips), a foreigner who had come to the UK from some Eastern European country. Alma somehow interested Woodcock, despite the fact that she is not particularly beautiful. However, her physique and some features – small breasts, a small tummy – are great for the maestro as a model, so Alma becomes a muse for a while, and then Reynolds’ lover.

But when Alma is faced with the maestro’s usual attitude towards his models and mistresses, she decides that she will not tolerate it.


A somewhat unusual film for director Paul Thomas Anderson, creator of Oil, Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Heady Love and The Master. By the way, Anderson also directed several video clips for famous artists – in particular, for Radiohead, Joanna Newsom, Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann and Michael Penn.

And here – the world of high fashion, and even among the pompous British nobility, where outwardly everything looks extremely cold, and passions boil only inside. But, on the other hand, Anderson has always shown himself to be a brilliant and ruthless explorer of the various facets of powerful human nature, so why can a sophisticated couturier be less interesting than the creator of a religious cult (“The Master”) or the soulless and cruel tycoon Plainview from “Oil”, whom played by the same Daniel Day-Lewis?

It’s all captured flawlessly. Superb combination of costumes, sets, acting, staging and musical accompaniment (composer – Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead).

Briton Daniel Day-Lewis is, in my opinion, the greatest actor of modern English-speaking actors (I mean, first of all, Americans, British and Australians of British origin). He is very picky in choosing roles and is removed quite rarely – once every three to five years. In addition, from time to time, he generally disappears from the public eye and the press for several years to do either woodworking or creating designer leather shoes.

At the same time, he is the same perfectionist as his couturier in this film: before each picture, Day-Lewis prepares for filming for a long time in order to get used to his character as much as possible, and during filming he does not allow himself to leave the desired image at all. For example, during the filming of the film “My Left Leg”, where he played a patient with cerebral palsy, he did not get out of a wheelchair during the filming. For the role of Hawkeye from The Last of the Mohicans, Daniel learned to live in the forest and skin animals, during filming he did not part with a gun, and carved a canoe for his character himself.

During the filming of the drama “In the Name of the Father”, which told about an Irishman who was unjustly accused of bombings in the city of Galford, Daniel spoke with an Irish accent throughout the filming period, and spent time outside of filming in a prison cell.

For filming in “Gangs of New York” Day-Lewis worked for several months as a butcher in a London butcher’s shop.

I note that all this is done not at all for PR and not for the sake of outrageousness, so that press agents and the media trumpeted about it. On the contrary, in a few interviews, he always denied everything, and journalists received information about his preparation for the role and what happened during the filming from members of the film crews.

And this is the only actor who has three “Oscars” for the best male role at once (in the films “My Left Foot”, “Oil” and “Lincoln”). At the same time, I note that his role in Gangs of New York, with all the certain shortcomings of the picture as such, was absolutely a masterpiece, and the cat Bagel and I do not understand how it was possible not to give him an Oscar (the main award that year received Adrien Brody for The Pianist).

For the role in “Phantom Thread” Daniel prepared as scrupulously as for previous roles. I read that he spent two years studying dressmaking with a costume designer from the New York City Ballet. I don’t really understand why this was necessary for a film that is in no way a guide to beginners or advanced fashion designers, but the result that Day-Lewis achieves in his films shows that such an approach makes perfect sense.

Reynolds turned out to be a very interesting character. Inexhaustible complexes, extreme egoism and narcissism, pedantry, fanatical commitment to the smallest trifles that make up his way of life – played, of course, simply brilliant!

Very good is Vicki Krips, who played Alma: a woman with a difficult fate, who refused to play the role of a companion of a genius and tried to stir up this genius somehow, and she succeeded. And the genius was horrified by how Alma does not fit into his well-established very monolithic world and destroys it all from the inside, but he could no longer drive her out.

Lesley Manvil was great as Cyril, Reynolds’ sister, in fact, his guardian angel. Strong-willed, sensitive, caring – she devoted her life to her brother: she has no family, lives in his house and deals exclusively with his affairs.

Reynolds, despite all his selfishness, Cyril also loves and appreciates very much: he understands that, apart from her, he cannot trust anyone, and without her his creative life would never have been so comfortable.

Well, what did Paul Thomas Anderson do in this case, how much am I delighted with this new work? So, the problem is that this is the first film of this director, which, let’s say, I practically did not like.

No, the production is excellent, the costumes and interiors are wonderful, the picture is amazing, the musical accompaniment is magnificent, the actors are wonderful. But the further I went, the more perplexed the script led me. Because this psychological confrontation between the maestro and the wayward Alma at some point took me into such amazing jungle that at first I was perplexed, but in the finale, sorry, I frankly went nuts.

We’ll talk about what caused me such an emotional reaction in the postscript to this review in order to avoid spoilers for those who didn’t watch the picture, but here I didn’t recognize Anderson for the first time: this film reminded me more and more of Youth by Paolo Sorrentino, where also a stunningly beautiful picture, wonderful actors, and the script was bewildering.

But, apparently, I’m the only one like that, because criticism, with very rare exceptions, extols the picture and all sorts of “brilliant”, “amazing”, “incredibly amazingly beautiful” shake the pages of the publications for which they write.

And right after watching it, I said that, apparently, Paul Thomas Anderson shot his “Old Nags” – at one time this picture simply shocked me. However, having calmed down, I came to the conclusion that this is an extremely incorrect analogy, because Old Horses is a terrible film from all sides, and Phantom Thread is an outstanding film in any case, but to the script that Paul Thomas Anderson himself and wrote, there are serious questions here, which the cat Bublik and I will ask with our usual merciless grace.

That’s it. I did not expect at all that the new film of this director would cause such a reaction in me, but what is, that is, what is already there.

PS Well, now let’s talk about what I saw in the plot of this film. (Attention: there will be continuous spoilers below!) There is a couturier – all of himself is such a genius, terribly fashionable and popular. As befits a genius, his character is very difficult, just as a hysteria and a narcissist are supposed to, the maestro starts quite wild orders at home, where during breakfast no one is allowed to either gurgle tea, or crunch toast, or throw butter on bread, no sigh, no fart – in general, there must be a ringing silence, otherwise, you see, the maestro will have his whole working day ruined.

In a village restaurant, he meets a girl who attracted him precisely as a model. And on the very first date, he unceremoniously undresses Alma to underwear and begins to figure out a dress project for her.

Alma settles in the maestro’s house. Learn about these habits. At breakfast, she tries to noisily spread toast, and they explain to her that then she will have breakfast in her room. At some point, Alma tries to kick everyone out of the mansion and cook a romantic dinner for the couturier. The maestro is shocked, and then it turned out that Alma became so insolent that she flavored his favorite asparagus with butter, not olive oil. In general, nothing came of a romantic dinner.

But Alma was helped by chance. Once the maestro created a dress for a certain countess who pays for his mansion, and was forced to accept an invitation to the wedding of the countess with some kind of gigolo. At the wedding, the countess drank in the smoke, fell face down on the plate, and she was dragged off to sleep like a log. Alma told the couturier that this creature was not worthy of his dress, and they ran to the countess to rip off the dress for which she paid crazy money from the insensitive aristocrat and take it away. All this maestro so excited that they deigned to sleep with Alma.

However, in the morning, even after that, you still don’t blurt out, don’t utter a word. And do not dare to talk, the maestro is busy with his ideas. And then Alma realized that she could only cope with the situation in the only way: to become a mother for the maestro. After that, Alma collected poisoned mushrooms, and added the maestro to food.

He swam all over, while viewing the already finished costume for the Belgian princess, the maestro said that it was all ugly, after which they fell on the costume and tore it in several places, so that the workshop workers would have to stay all night to fix everything.

The maestro was taken to his room, where he began to vomit terribly and get sick. But they refused to see a doctor, sir – categorically. And Alma began to look after him. And Cyril put him out because Cyril didn’t know how to take care of him. It so happened that the maestro vomited and survived. Leaving the room in the morning, he saw Alma sleeping on the sofa, kissed her on the leg and asked her to become his wife. They got married. Alma was not accepted by the world – well, of course, this is some kind of Balkan hooligan. Who is her, Balkan, knows what’s on her mind.

In addition, here the maestro realized that his whole familiar world was collapsing, and began to complain to his sister. But Alma overheard everything and again went for mushrooms. Moreover, the maestro already knew that she had poisoned him with mushrooms. Therefore, he calmly watched Alma prepare another poisonous omelet for him, and voluntarily ate it – because after he vomited at night, he would receive a catharsis of cleansing and everything would be all right again. Moreover, Alma says that even if he does not survive, then there is nothing to worry about: firstly, she will inherit the house and all its fortune, and secondly, they will still meet in heaven.

But this time, too, the maestro vomited, but survived, and now everything is fine with them: the maestro is cheerful and happy, Alma gave birth to a child for him, she became friends with Cyril, and now there is complete harmony in their friendly family. But Alma keeps the mushrooms at the ready just in case: what if the maestro gets pissed off again, right?

Here is such a curious plot that aroused my keenest interest. Listen, how can this madhouse be taken seriously? With all, I repeat, the beauty of the picture, excellent acting and excellent musical accompaniment?

Phantom Thread movie meaning


Paul Thomas Anderson


Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicki Krieps, Lesley Manville, Julie Vollono, Sue Clarke, Joan Brown, Harriet Leitch, Deanna Nicholson, Julie Duck, Marianne Frost

Budget: $35 million,
International box office:
$47 million
Melodrama, USA-UK, 2017, 130 min.

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