Life Through the Lens: Fitting farewell to Hollywood’s finest
“I want you flat on your back. Helpless, tender, open with only me to help.”
Maybe the most uncomfortable feeling you can feel: vulnerability. It is theoretically important but realistically awkward. To need someone else. To recognize that you can’t survive without another person. To know that you aren’t enough or capable in isolation.
I remember the playground — the fun, the yelling, the ballyhoo. Spontaneous games. Tag that lasted for years. Basketball games where none of the players could even shoot hard enough to reach the rim. Playing in the dirt like there was nowhere else I’d rather be. I remember falling one day and scraping my knee. To a child, it was a death-sentence. I stared at it, watching the blood pool and trail down my leg, and thought, “I need my mom!” I didn’t want her — I needed her.
I remember my best-friend’s wedding (not the movie — I am working hard to forget that). After the union, he would transfer colleges to be with his bride … which meant farewell (it did in my brain, at least). Everything was manly and upright until our post-ceremony hug. It was building up in me. Emotions unnamed and uncharted. Once the tears started, they didn’t stop. It was the embarrassing kind of crying, too: shallow breathing and snotty-nose. I didn’t want his friendship — I needed it.
I am reminded of this constantly now in my children. They are unashamed to be vulnerable. In fact, it is a reflex for them — to look at daddy and need me. To recognize they can’t do certain things alone. Each extreme emotion sends them to my pant-leg with their arms outstretched, full of trust and need. There is perhaps nothing so endearing as holding my children at their most vulnerable. Why, then, is it so hard to allow myself to be vulnerable?
“Phantom Thread” begins in beautiful, 1950s era London. Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a dress-maker, celebrated for his beautiful and impeccable designs. He has risen to heights of esteem and glamour by accepting nothing less than perfection in each of his dresses. His relationships and personal life are bound by his work — perfection requires each moment of his focus and fortitude.
His empire was built with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) and is sustained by relentless and ruthless resolve. There is no room for interruption. Reynolds occasionally picks up a muse, utilizes her inspiration, and then releases her back into “the wild.” On a trip to the country-side, he meets and quickly falls for his waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps). She is whisked away into the romance of luxury-London. Although it seems ill-advised, she falls in love with Reynolds. His requited-love is uncomfortable and unnatural…but also unavoidable. He feels the invitation for vulnerability but fights it tooth-and-nail.
The movie introduces the idea of a “phantom thread” early on: it is something secretly stitched into a garment. Reynolds, out of superstition or memory, would stitch messages and names into his work. Some to warrant good-luck. Some to keep a memory alive. This idea then becomes beautifully personal and grand: what is stitched deep inside of you by your maker? Reynolds is obsessive about many things, but he is rarely concerned with introspection and growth. His discovery of his “phantom thread” is astounding — he may need Alma. Not want her, not love her — need her.
Being vulnerable is painful yet cathartic (I’ve always loved that word!). You cannot live a life alone. You were formed to be dependent and reliant in some ways. Reynolds kept vulnerability in the same category as “weakness” and “pity” — it was a thing to be avoided at all cost. The walls raised to protect him were impenetrable…until they weren’t. Alma elicited in him something so dormant and forgotten — something not felt since the passing of his mother. Vulnerability. True need. Desperation for another.
Recognize the power of vulnerability. There is freedom in helplessness. Just as the slightest scare or pain had us running to our mommies, the same can be true in our older-selves. We, as much now as ever, need others. They can be our support. They can be our comfort. Vulnerability is the realization that strength comes through weakness.
It was Daniel Day-Lewis who changed my life…cinematically, that is. His performance in “Gangs of New York” was a revelation. I had never seen anything like his transformation and inhabitation of Bill the Butcher; I was fascinated and terrified! Then came “There Will Be Blood” and Daniel Plainview. This, to me, is the greatest piece of acting ever captured on camera. Every movement and every syllable is true and remarkable. Phantom Thread is a great addition to his film career. It is full of restrained passion and aggressive emotion. He is a wonder, unmatched in his skill and dedication. NO ONE does it like DDL! If this does prove to be his last film, it will be a fitting ending to the most outstanding career in film-history. This movie offered him many great moments, both of power and openness.
Newcomer Vicky Krieps is outstanding! She controls the screen with a raw talent. She is a great opponent for DDL — sadly snubbed a Best Actress nomination, though.
For a movie about high-fashion, the costumes didn’t disappoint. Each detail offered in the aesthetic seemed painstakingly chosen. From design to production, the movie was breathtakingly beautiful and exceptionally elaborate.
I am a huge fan of director Paul Thomas Anderson. His movies amaze me with their creativity and innovation. From “Magnolia” to “Punch-Drunk Love” to “There Will Be Blood,” his range is amazing and his detail is meticulous … and he writes his own material! Anderson states that he got the idea for the film while at home sick in bed. His wife was tending to his needs with a love so tender and pure. Upon hearing this piece of trivia, I loved the movie even more! I’ve been sick in bed before … where’s my movie?! Where’s my Oscar nomination?! He is a special filmmaker, able to take the everyday and make something extraordinary out of it!
As I was leaving the theater, I had mixed emotions. I had in my mind one thing but was offered another. Now, after letting it soak in and permeate for nearly a week, I have fallen for the delicate vulnerability of Phantom Thread! PTA and DDL do it again!
Note: A character study of incredible grace and might