Feb 09

“Phantom Thread”: Some Psychology

I don’t know about you, but Phantom Thread left me wanting more info about the psychology of the couple’s love story. As the info I’ve put together involves SPOILERS, I’d advise you to read ahead with caution unless you’ve already seen the film.

From the start, whereas the character of dressmaker Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is sharply drawn, his newest lover and muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps), is significantly less known to the viewer.

David Edelstein, Vulture: “Woodcock allows only two people into his space: [Sister] Cyril [Lesley Manville], who takes care of the day-to-day business of living, and his mother, who is dead but ever present.”

Kristen Page-Kirby, Washington Post:

I have seen [Woodcock] described by other critics as ‘exacting,’ ‘meticulous,’ ‘rigid’ and ‘insatiable.’

He is all of those things. He is also emotionally abusive.

Put Woodcock and the much younger Alma together, and an unhealthy pairing ensues. As one Spoiler review on IMDB states, “Someone should refer them to counselling.”

While several critics have focused on the theme of toxic masculinity, Krieps herself has pointed out that her own character’s actions are feminist in nature (BBC), which winds up having the effect of balancing the couple’s dynamics.

Guy Lodge (Guardian): Alma “gradually begins to assert herself in ways that aren’t immediately perceptible, steering their relationship into obliquely sadomasochistic territory…It’s neither a story of subjugation nor one of empowerment: as the lovers figure out ways to play their weaknesses against each other, all traditional notions of one-way control are out the window.”

And Anna Silman, The Cut: “While the film starts out looking like a familiar tale of domineering male genius, it ultimately flips those expectations on their head. Alma vies for power and ultimately achieves it — through some rather unexpected (and twisted) means.”

Like, you know, the poisonous mushrooms.

Silman, seeking further elucidation herself, has called on psychiatrist Marc Feldman for help. Feldman, the author of an upcoming book on various types of medical deception, told Silman (The Cut) he sees in Alma “’Munchausen syndrome by adult proxy,’ a form of abuse in which a caregiver artificially induces illness in someone he/she is caring for.”

On the other hand, adult-to-adult cases are apparently very rare, and “Feldman says he has never seen a case where (à la Phantom Thread) the victim colludes with the perpetrator to achieve some sort of gratification. That’s because in most cases the victims tend to be unable to comprehend the abuse they are undergoing or unable to resist, often because they are physically or intellectually disabled.”

Well, it turns out that director Paul Thomas Anderson had Munchausen on his mind too in preparing to make Phantom Thread. As told to David Fear, Rolling Stone:

…I was sick and my wife [actress Maya Rudolph] was taking care of me. And my imagination just took over at some point, where I had this thought: ‘Oh, she is looking at me with such care and tenderness … wouldn’t it suit her to keep me sick in this state?’ I don’t know a lot about that disorder, Munchausen [symdrome] by proxy…But that moment was enough to … it gave me an idea that such a thing could be served up with some spark of mischievousness and humor that might, in a larger picture, lend itself to what it means to be in a long-term relationship, you know. And the balance of power that can happen in that…

Jan 23

Trumpism: And Related Terms We Know Better Now

As we’ve now officially crossed into the era of President Trump, some of the important terms we now know or need to know better:


A Johns Hopkins college syllabus (JHU) that went viral post-election states that it involves “personal and political gain marred by intolerance, derived from wealth, and rooted in the history of segregation, sexism, and exploitation.”

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

If President Trump indeed suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD, most in my field won’t publicly declare it because of an ethical code that prohibits such diagnoses without an appropriate in-person professional assessment.

However, last November three noted female psychiatrists (see previous post) provided President Obama supporting information about NPD—in case of its possible relevance.

A particularly salient point from their letter (Richard Greene, Huffington Post):

There are only two ways to deal with someone with NPD, and they are both dangerous. There is no healthy way of interacting with someone with this affliction. If you criticize them they will lash out at you and if they have a great deal of power, that can be consequential. If you compliment them it only acts to increase the delusional and grandiose reality the sufferer has created, causing him to be even more reliant on constant and endless compliments and unwavering support.


We’re all born with a basic nature that is our temperament. As child development expert Jerome Kagan has put it, “As soon as the bun is out of the oven, you can see how irritable the baby is, how active the baby is, how hard it is to soothe, how restless it is” (Drake Baer, Science of Us).


As quoted in my previous post on gaslightingSusan Dominus, New York Times:

When I watch Donald Trump, I sometimes feel like Ingrid Bergman — not European and glamorous, but unnerved, as though I’m being gaslit, as in the famous plot of her old classic movie ‘Gaslight.’ The lights are flickering, but her character’s husband, who is secretly a seriously bad dude, is convincing her that no such thing is occurring. He is trying to get her to question her sense of reality, to think her mind is playing tricks on her — in short, to convince her that she is going slightly crazy, a tactic that can be scarily effective.


Post-truth was named Oxford Dictionary‘s 2016 international word of the year: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Indeed, as was confirmed just yesterday, Trumpism actually employs “alternative facts”—or what the rest of us call “lies.”

Toxic Masculinity

Not only is it bad for one’s own mental health and social functioning, reports Kevin McCarthy (Healthline), those who have toxic masculinity are less likely to seek help. Among the associated traits are exertion of power over women, misogyny, violence, and homophobia.


The Word of 2016 picked by Dictionary.com is xenophobia, described as “fear of the other.” Katy Steinmetz, Time, notes that both listed definitions reflect sentiments that apply here:

1. fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers. 2. fear or dislike of the customs, dress, etc., of people who are culturally different from oneself.


According to New Republic, “Normalization is saying yes to racism, sexism, and homophobia. It is saying yes to deplorable and offensive behavior. And it is saying no to those who believe differently, reaffirming that our definition of normal in this country most often comes from one dominant group.”

Trump Anxiety and Trumpsomnia

Anxiety and sleep disturbance often go hand in hand. Scott Timberg, Salon: “One of the ironies here is that several of those suffering from Trumpsomnia describe the election as ‘a bad dream.’ But it’s one they don’t seem to be able to wake up from.” Sleep remedies may provide only a short-term fix. Though, “Impeachment would work,” said one sufferer.


Speaking of bad dreams, Merriam-Webster‘s 2016 Word of the Year, surreal, means “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream; alsounbelievable, fantastic.” About sums it up.