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Why ‘Phantom Thread’ Should Win the Best Picture Oscar

A timely, masterful film about toppling the patriarchy.

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Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Hilariously this week, Jennifer Lawrence revealed on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast that she only watched three minutes of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread before shutting it off.

It hit too close to home for her, apparently.

“Got through about three minutes of it,” she told Maron, before deciding to Marie Kondo the movie out of her life. “I put in a good, solid three. Oh my God, I couldn’t. I’m sorry to anybody who loved that movie. I couldn’t give that kind of time. I mean, is it just about clothes? Is he kind of like a narcissistic sociopath, and he’s an artist, so every girl falls in love with him because he makes her feel bad about herself, and that’s the love story?”

If there’s any film that fits right into the current cultural zeitgeist, it’s Phantom Thread. Of course, the fantastic Get Out gets what rings true about race relations in America right now. It’s a horror movie that perfectly depicts what it’s like to be a black man in 2018 America.

But if you truly parse it, Phantom Thread is also a horror film—one that interrogates human relationships and how they can become twisted. On its surface, the Daniel Day-Lewis-starrer may seem like a film where a misanthropic artist is abusive to his muse and everyone else around him.

More than that, however, it’s a film about a woman who realizes the world is full of monsters and adapts to it. As played by Vicky Krieps, Alma is a waitress—a woman without agency in 1950s London—who is thrust into Day-Lewis’ world and learns how to maneuver it.

As Krieps told Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan, she had to hold her own, just like Alma. “I think one thing I did was to follow my intuition, which I always do, and Alma does too. I knew I would be working with Daniel Day-Lewis, and you just have to say the name and everyone goes, ‘Oh my God!’ I knew I would meet someone who would be so out of the ordinary that I couldn’t prepare for it, so I tried to take my weakness and make it my strength,” Krieps explained.

“I tried to know even less than what I know, I tried to be even less than who I was, and I think this is where Alma gets her strength,” she continued. “I went into this space where I could be completely empty, because if you manage to be present in the moment, all you have to do is listen and answer and then you become very strong, because nothing scares you anymore. What makes us afraid or weak, I think, is when we have these expectations.”

In the era of #MeToo, where women are taking a stand against male abuse in Hollywood, it feels exciting to see a film like Phantom Thread—at least it felt that way to me, a person who has been powerless in an assault situation themselves and has wondered how it’s possible to not only reclaim yourself, but also stake out enough agency to protect yourself in the world. At each turn, Day-Lewis’ Reynolds Woodcock tries exerting his power but is made a marionette by the women in his life.

His sister Cyril, played by Lesley Manville, is a formidable sibling and seems to be the actual person running the House of Woodcock. Alma exerts her power early on, defying the rules of the house. In a key moment, she is the only one who can rescue a dress of Reynolds’ from a crude socialite. He is weak in the moment and she is strong. She soon learns from Cyril how to control Reynolds and is granted the gift of mushroom-poisoning from a female cook. It’s a covert network of women trading secrets to keep a male tyrant at bay. They are not his muses, but his creators—he is merely the canvas.