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Phantom Thread Ending Explained

‘Phantom Thread,’ a 2017 romantic drama, explores what it’s like to fall in love with an artist. Set in 1950s London, the film follows famed and eccentric dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his unlikely muse, Alma, whom he meets and eventually marries at a café. The changeable moods, strange habits, and continual concentration with his profession make loving Reynolds a hard and demanding chore — one that Alma undertakes with more zeal than most others.

The delicate and insecure relationship between the artistic dressmaker and his muse stays fragile until Alma takes extraordinary measures to increase her significance in Reynolds’ life. A very perplexing climax tops the masterpiece with a message of deep love – perhaps too deep. There are numerous levels to ‘Phantom Thread,’ and discovering them necessitates a closer examination of the film’s denouement. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

Synopsis of the Phantom Thread Plot

Alma is seated by a fire, talking to an unidentified person about her connection with Reynolds. Her companion characterizes the dressmaker as a demanding man, and she claims to have given him everything. We are then transported to a regular morning at the home of famed dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, when everything goes as planned. He heads to the countryside after a few hectic days of delivering clothes to a high-profile clientele that includes a Countess, where he meets Alma, a restaurant server.

Reynolds and Alma have an initial and powerful relationship, with both being fascinated by the other for very different reasons. The dressmaker discovers his muse in Alma, who inspires him and offers the ideal form to his designs. Alma had had a generally negative perspective of herself until she sees herself through Reynolds’ eyes and discovers her own beauty. Despite their connection, Reynolds’ primary concern remains his business, and Alma soon feels ignored as the busy dressmaker’s life moves at a breakneck pace.

Image Credit: Laurie Sparham/Focus Features

Reynolds’ intermittent expressions of affection, mixed with his nitpicking of Alma’s routines (such as too much “movement” at breakfast), lead to a quarrel over a meal that was supposed to be a surprise. The disagreement concludes with Reynolds urging Alma to go, after which the latter inserts poisonous mushrooms mashed up into the former’s tea. Reynolds later collapses while working on a dress for the Princess. He spends the following few days in a feverish fever, and Alma keeps vigil over him. When he recovers, the aloof dressmaker understands how important his muse is to him and asks her to marry him, which she agrees to.

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Does Alma Poison Reynolds Woodcock at the End of Phantom Thread?

After being married, Reynolds reacts even more strongly to what he sees as Alma-related diversions from his profession. Apart from being irritated by trivial things like the noises she makes while buttering her toast, he now finds it difficult to concentrate on work and complains to Cyril about it. Reynolds continues on a rant about how her presence has changed things upside down and him inside out, not realizing Alma is in the room. The film’s climax then gradually unfolds as Alma prepares an omelet for Reynolds for supper.

This time, the toxic mushrooms are sliced and fried in butter, and Reynolds watches Alma create the omelet methodically. She explains as he takes the first mouthful that she wants him defenseless and on his back so she can take care of him. The dressmaker chews some more and then asks Alma to kiss him before he becomes ill again. The film concludes with glimpses from the couple’s future, in which they have a child and grow old together, before returning to the present, when Reynolds, claiming to be “hungry,” proceeds to fit another dress on his willing muse, Alma.

As a result, Alma poisons Reynolds twice during the course of the film. What is probably most surprising is how the interplay between the artist and his muse can include him being poisoned by her and still not ruin their relationship, but rather strengthen it. Alma’s plot involves the use of toxic native mushrooms, which she collects in the countryside after consulting a book on recognizing different types of fungi.

Alma does not intend to murder Reynolds by poisoning him. As she expresses in the film’s climax, all she wants is for him to be defenseless and tender so that she may care for him. Alma has learnt from experience that Reynolds is generally too preoccupied with his work for them to establish a real connection. When he is unwell (or despondent, as he becomes after a less-than-perfect fashion presentation), his “strong” exterior falls away, and the diligent seamstress becomes more open to emotional connection.

Of course, not wanting to murder Reynolds is admirable, but Alma’s certainty that he will not die after swallowing her lethal mushroom-laced concoctions appears to be wrong. She doesn’t know for sure that he won’t die and acknowledges as much, stating that if he does, she’ll just have to be patient (like she has been in the past) until they meet again. Alma believes that her patience and devotion to Reynolds will keep them together even if he dies along the road.

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Is Reynolds aware that Alma is poisoning him? Why is he eating the omelet?

Reynolds has no idea what has happened to him the first time he gets poisoned and claims to feel sick like he has never felt before. He refuses to go to the doctor and spends two nights in a feverish fever before recovering. However, the second time Alma poisons him, Reynolds appears to understand what is going on and becomes a willing participant in his own poisoning. Reynolds examines Alma seriously as she cooks his omelet, clearly aware that she overheard him moaning about how Alma has hampered his life and creative process.

He appears to be carefully fitting the puzzle pieces together as he watches her create a mushroom omelet and realizes, even before eating the first taste, that the food is out of the ordinary. Of course, as soon as Reynolds takes the first bite, Alma admits to poisoning him, claiming that she wants him to feel powerless and that he would become very ill but will not die.

Reynolds and Alma also have an unusual food interaction, which is suggested at when Alma prepares a romantic supper for the dressmaker minus the dangerous mushrooms. Despite her knowledge of his hatred of excessive butter, she gives him asparagus in butter sauce, infuriating Reynolds and driving him to query why she is forcing him to eat something he dislikes. Reynolds, on the other hand, “gallantly” consumes a few bites of asparagus. Eating the poisoned omelet appears to be an extension of the theme, and Reynolds embraces his muse’s unusual (and potentially lethal) approach of expressing her own brand of love for him through food.

In the film, to whom is Alma speaking?

We witness Alma sitting by a fire, discussing her connection with Reynolds to an unseen figure, in the film’s opening sequence and then periodically throughout. She recalls her husband’s harsh exterior and intensely vulnerable times, openly discussing poisoning him. At the end of the film, Alma is discovered to be talking to Dr. Robert Hardy (Brian Gleeson), who is sitting across from her by the fire.

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The context of their chat is not touched on, although the interplay provides a few suggestions. Given Alma’s description of Reynolds’ poisoning and its consequences, the conversation certainly takes place after the events of the film. Also, because Reynolds is portrayed in the present tense, it appears that he is still alive, and Alma’s look suggests that not much time has gone since the omelet event.

Though it’s unclear what motivates Alma to be so open with Dr. Hardy — she’s only met him a few times — it appears that she doesn’t have anybody else with whom she can discuss her relationship. Dr. Hardy is her age, and just as he persuades her to go out on New Year’s Eve, he appears to make a compelling companion talk to. It is clear that Dr. Hardy and Alma have no romantic feelings for one another. Still, the former is drawn to the latter, and Alma, who lives in the serious Woodcock household, is overjoyed to have someone to chat to.

Reynolds Sews What Into the Dress?

Reynolds’ habit of sewing a “artifact” or blessing into his sculptures — something he refers to as a phantom thread — is one of the first (and most private) things he discloses about himself with Alma. Alma assists the dressmaker’s employees in completing the critical job after he falls ill and is unable to help finish the Princess’ dress. She discovers a little tag stitched into the hem of the skirt with the words “Never Cursed” inscribed on it while working on it.

The importance of the phrase brings us back to Reynolds and Alma’s first dinner together, when the former discusses different superstitions regarding making bridal dresses that people have. As a teenager, the talented seamstress recalls working for months on a dress for his mother since his superstitious nanny (nicknamed “Black Death”) refused to assist. His sister, who did assist, is still unmarried.

As a result, it appears that Reynolds has some superstitions about manufacturing bridal gowns, which is why he chose the words “Never Cursed” to be sewed onto the Princess’ wedding gown. It’s worth noting that, despite having manufactured many wedding gowns, Reynolds eventually marries (which, according to superstition, results in one not finding a spouse). However, his wife poisons him on a semi-regular basis, leading the spectator to wonder whether the talented dressmaker is cursed.

Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained
Phantom Thread Ending Explained

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