Phanton Thread

Above: A still from Phantom Thread. Credit: Universal/Comcast.

Phantom Thread

Some find the ending of Phantom Thread to be beyond comprehension: why would Reynolds knowingly allow himself to be poisoned? To a Freudian the narrative is quite straightforward.

Soon after Alma and Reynolds meet, Alma freely enters into a masochistic relationship with the horrifying--cruel, oppressive--tyrant. At some point Alma understands that the only possible change in the dynamic of the relationship would be for the two to become co-dependent perverse--a true sado-masochistic relationship; a classical perverse couple as discussed in the psychoanalytic literature by Jean Clavreul and Otto Fenichel, among others.

In such a relationship each partner is both sadistic and masochistic at different moments. The relationship exists only within the dynamic of control and cruelty. When Alma first attempts to create a space where she has control (cooking a nice dinner at home), the event is of course derided and mocked by Reynolds and so Alma comes to the realization that she must "insist" on some control--the idea to give Reynolds food-poisoning. At the conclusion of Phantom Thread, when Reynolds knowingly eats a poisoned omelette, he is accepting to change the dynamic of the relationship from one-way cruelty to two-way cruelty. (Alma must get her fair turn too.) The basic Freudian symbolism is in the matching up of the means-of-inflicting-pain: eating, ingestion, the stomach. The "key" to their relationship was evidenced in the first moments, when Reynolds over-ordered his breakfast--ordering so much food that to eat it all would make him ill.

(6 February 2018)