There is a short sequence in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread that has stuck with me for some reason. In the first few minutes of the picture, Daniel Day-Lewis’ Reynolds Woodcock is doing his morning routine consisting of washing his face, cleaning his shoes with fingertip precision, trimming his nose and ear hair, applying facial cream (or makeup, I know nothing of cosmetics), brushing his hair, and finally dressing up using a stool. To most, this 30 second sequence is little more than an introduction to a protagonist getting ready for the day ahead of him. On repeated viewings, however, this is a prologue to the OCD fueled madness that defines Woodcock as well as his relationship with Alma. It’s a brilliant start to a film that focuses on themes of routine and love’s undoing of anything conventional.
Don’t get me wrong, Phantom Thread makes it abundantly clear that this is an inherit flaw in Reynolds’ character. He is naturally controlling, commanding, and demanding to have his entire household the exact way he wants. No more, no less.
As a 20-something who didn’t even know such a morning routine was possible, I was awestruck by Reynolds’ focus on activities that I view as “boring”. I know I’m not alone when I admit that my morning routine often includes waking up, hoping that I have enough time to sleep before my alarm goes off, check my usual roulette of social media apps for an unsettling amount of time before I finally decide to get out of bed after finding the perfect YouTube video to brush my teeth to. Depending whether I’m home alone or not, a single earbud will be used. After breakfast, I once again go on social media, knowing full well that I ought to make better use of my time before the inevitable shame I feel once the clock strikes noon. Reynolds Woodcock harnesses more discipline and composure in a single morning routine than I can even think of in an entire morning (sometimes a day).
We are around 4 months into quarantine. I stay home all day, apart from the occasional grocery store visit and ill-advised trip to a fast food drive thru. Habits are said to take 3 weeks to be developed. By now, I am a phone checking, feed refreshing champion. Nomophobia is the name of this tired game, and this period of home-bodying has enhanced its symptoms tenfold.
As I look across the window showcasing the entire neighborhood, I feel reluctance in providing anything resembling a solution to this issue. I made a similar post about phone addiction and poor time management about 3 years ago. I did not pose an answer to the always prevalent question of “how do I beat this?” and I still draw a blank now. It is past noon at the time of writing this, so I lost this round. Another day will come, as it always and reliably does. I will be dealt the same bill of goods and likely make the same choice as I have in days (or years) past. Knowing is half the battle, but what matters is what half I subscribe to.