This post includes a character analysis of Reynolds Woodcock, the protagonist of the 2017 film “Phantom Thread”.
The 2017 romantic drama directed by Wes Anderson stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock.
In Phantom Thread, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker in 1950s London. He lives with his sister, Cyril, who manages his business and his personal life. The designer is obsessed with perfection and order. Also, Reynolds tends to discard his lovers once he finds them “boring”.
One day, he meets Alma, a young waitress, and invites her to be his muse and model. Alma falls in love with Reynolds but soon realizes that he is emotionally distant and controlling. She tries to win his attention and affection by cooking for him, but he rejects her efforts and criticizes her taste.
Alma becomes frustrated and resentful of his coldness and arrogance. She decides to poison him with mushrooms, hoping to make him weak and dependent on her. Reynolds becomes ill and hallucinates his dead mother, whom he misses dearly.
After his recovery, Reynolds proposes to Alma. They get married, but their relationship remains tense and volatile. Alma continues to poison Reynolds occasionally, knowing that he secretly enjoys it. Although the designer is aware of his wife’s actions, he decides to stay. Both reach a twisted understanding of their mutual needs.
Note: For those who are interested, here is another article discussing the meaning behind the ending of Phantom Thread.
Reynolds Woodcock Character Analysis in “Phantom Thread”
Phantom Thread presents Reynolds Woodcock as a brilliant fashion designer who makes exquisite dresses for the high society women. The designer falls in and out of love rather easily. Once Reynolds becomes bored with his current partner, he often uses Cyril to send them away.
In terms of personality, Reynolds Woodcock is charming and charismatic when he wants to be. However, underneath his sophisticated persona lies a man who is controlling and completely obsessed with his work. In addition, Reynolds is easily bothered by distractions or interruptions. His rigid routine and difficult temper make him someone who is hard to love.
Nevertheless, Reynolds Woodcock’s life is turned upside down when he meets Alma, the woman who would later become his wife. Although Reynolds dates often, he rarely lets his women truly know him. They are often sources of inspiration for him, but the designer will not hesitate to “discard” them once they have served their purpose.
Reynolds Woodcock’s Character Evolution
The protagonist of Phantom Thread and his character went through some major changes as the story progressed. In the beginning, Reynolds Woodcock was someone who was used to having everything his way. But more towards the end, the designer learns that he needs to let his controlling nature go in order to have a proper relationship with his wife.
Reynolds Woodcock purposely designed a meticulous routine to give him a certain sense of control over his life. Not only does he enjoy dictating his life, but also the lives of the people involved in his business. Nonetheless, Alma refused to bend to his rules and challenged Reynolds’ old manners.
Through his relationship with Alma, Reynolds Woodcock learns that sometimes he needs to be more vulnerable. For someone who lives mostly in his head, that was an extremely hard task to accomplish. However, the designer also felt that Alma was worth it. So far, Reynolds’ wife has been the only one who has figured out how to make him open up.
Reynolds Woodcock and Relationships
There are three important people in Reynolds Woodcock’s life: Cyril, Alma and his mother. The first person is his sister, Cyril, his business partner and closest confidante. The second person is Alma, his wife and muse. Then, the third person is his late mother, whom Reynolds often reminisces about.
Reynolds Woodcock and Cyril Woodcock
Cyril was, in many ways, Reynolds’ emotional support before he met Alma. Between the two siblings, she seems to be the rational one.
Not only is Cyril the one who manages the fashion house, but she also handles other parts of Reynolds’ personal life. For instance, whenever Reynolds’ breaks up with someone, Cyril is the one who has to do the dirty work for him.
Reynolds Woodcock and Alma
Then there is Alma, the young waitress who became Reynolds’ muse and, later on, his wife. The two have a complicated relationship because of their opposite views on love. One is extremely controlling, whereas the other craves intimacy.
Initially, Alma is sort of submissive to Reynolds, but then she asserts herself and takes the lead in the relationship. Alma’s methods to make Reynolds open up are rather unconventional. She frequently poisons her husband to make him more vulnerable.
The young woman realized that her husband is only reliant on her or willing to show his insecurities when he is physically sick. Despite her dangerous ways to build intimacy, Reynolds knowingly “surrenders” to his wife. Ironically, the toxic nature of their relationship also allowed Reynolds and Alma to grow closer.
The designer finally found a way to open himself up to his significant other. Meanwhile, Alma is glad that the one she loves wants and needs her. Together, Reynolds and Alma found a twisted middle ground for their relationship.
Reynolds Woodcock and His Mother
Despite the intriguing title, there are no ghosts in “Phantom Thread”. What is “haunting” Reynolds is the memory of his late mother. The film hints that the two never had a close relationship because Reynolds’ mother was always somewhat distant.
Reynolds’ “mommy issues” would later impact how he treated the women in his life. Although Reynolds enjoys having women around, he always keeps them at arm’s length.
On the one hand, there is an emotional wall between Reynolds and his women. Then, on the other hand, lies his strong desire to be mothered. The conflicting emotions and his inability to voice what he truly wants are hindering Reynolds from having a meaningful relationship.
Reynolds Woodcock is a complex and interesting character who reminds the audience about the dangers of perfectionism and the need for control. On the brighter side, Phantom Thread and its protagonist also show that sometimes love can have a transformative effect on people. For Alma, Reynolds was willing to become less controlling and more emotionally open.
Some might view Reynolds Woodcock as a tortured artist. However, talent shouldn’t be an excuse for poor behaviour. If one takes Reynolds Woodcock’s exceptional gifts away, he is just a very narcissistic and controlling individual. Not only that, Reynolds is someone who likes things his way without ever wanting to take responsibility for his actions.
Despite his character flaws, Reynolds Woodcock is not a despicable person. He is just a man who has a hard time expressing his emotions and voicing his inner desires. In the end, Reynolds sort of redeems himself when he opens himself to change. By giving Alma what she wanted, the designer took a chance on love, which might reward him with a true partner in life.