The Influence of 'Rebecca,' 'Rear Window,' and 'The Passionate Friends' on 'Phantom Thread'

Watch a video essay comparing 'Phantom Thread' to three classic films.

Phantom Thread Water

Watch a video essay comparing ‘Phantom Thread’ to three classic films.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is finally in wide release, and as more audiences discover the final vehicle for Daniel Day-Lewis, classic cinema lovers among them are sure to notice its homages to the works of Alfred Hitchcock and other old favorites in the new film.

The video essay below by Nelson Carvajal showcases some of the classics referenced, pointing to similarities between Phantom Thread and three specific movies: Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Rear Window and David Lean‘s The Passionate FriendsThe video effectively curates shots that are both visually and thematically alike. Comparing them side-by-side is a good technique for appreciating these parallels.

Red Dots

Rebecca (1940)

While doing press for Phantom Thread, Anderson mentioned Rebecca as a primary inspiration for the film. Both works center on a tumultuous relationship between a wealthy man (Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock and Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter, respectively) and a younger woman of no social standing whom he sweeps up into a romance (Vicky Krieps as Alma and Joan Fontaine as Mrs. de Winter).

Both films explore the dynamics and intricacies of these relationships. In Rebecca, Mrs. de Winter is doomed to live in the shadow of Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca. In Phantom Thread, Reynolds makes it clear on their first date that Alma, along with all the women in his life, live in the shadow of his late mother. As Phantom Thread unfolds, we see that Alma and Mrs. de Winter are very different. They each have unique convictions about what it takes to make a relationship work.

Rear Window (1954)

The influence of Rear Window on Phantom Thread is a bit less obvious but Anderson has mentioned re-watching the film as he was writing his latest. The video matches the two with shots of Reynolds watching Alma through a peephole (extremely intensely, I might add) while she models his dresses, and James Stewart’s Jeff secretly photographing his neighbors. Comparing these shots hints that Rear Window’s themes of voyeurism and obsession are mirrored in Phantom Thread. Specifically, they are exemplified in Reynolds’s eccentric personality and routine.

Another notable Rear Window scene included in the video is the moment Grace Kelly’s Lisa switches from reading a copy of “Beyond the High Himalayas” (a book relevant to Jeff’s career as a photographer) to a fashion magazine. She does so only once she’s sure Jeff is asleep. Phantom Thread, in comparison, also brings up questions about performance versus authenticity in relationships. The video compares that moment with an early Phantom Thread scene in which Alma tells Reynolds that she does not believe he is as strong as he’d have others think. She contends that he’s putting on a front.

The Passionate Friends (1949)

Moving on from Hitchcock, Anderson has cited Lean as an inspiration, particularly the lesser-known The Passionate Friends. The movie explores a love triangle, and some scenes from Phantom Thread seem almost directly lifted from it. An example included in the video is the New Year’s Eve Party. Anderson has also noted that the score for The Passionate Friends influenced Phantom Thread’s music. Carvajal uses a track from Johnny Greenwood’s original Phantom Thread score titled “House of Woodcock,” which is haunting and passionate, mirroring Reynolds and Alma’s relationship.

For a more in-depth look at these and other films that compliment a viewing of Phantom Threadthis list of recommendations, check out .

Enjoys watching sunrises and sunsets, but prefers watching the Richard Linklater trilogy.