By way of introduction: there’s been a lot of talk these days on filme tumblerre about the Repressed Cinematic Universe (RCU) and the merits of emotional/sexual repression as an artistic statement. I’ve also recently been re-watching NBC’s The Office for the third time with my girlfriend. Earlier today, these two facts led me to ask the question: who is more repressed, Dwight and Angela, or Jim and Pam? Rey, tumblr user @theglowpt2, pointed out that Jim and Pam are actually denying their feelings, whereas Dwight and Angela seem to be obsessed with privacy and discretion in a way that seems almost kinky. This, of course, reminded me of my favorite movie, Phantom Thread (2017), and a conversation I had had with my tumblr friends about it a few days before–namely, how can Phantom Thread have such strong repressed energy when the two main characters are actively dating/married and sleeping together for almost the entirety of the film? My friend Tom, honorary Niche member @tomwingfields, responded:
i honestl think its a lot bc they’re both repressed TO THE AUDIENCE in that the film itself is relatively obtuse as to like what their whole deal is, and the film creates this whole tense atmosphere that only gets more pleasurable to watch once you know how profoundly in love they are
–which, to me, feels precisely correct. This revelation opened up a subgenre of repressed film for me: denial not of one’s own feelings, but of letting the audience/the public into one’s feelings: the refusal by the characters to show their obviously intense feelings on the surface. It’s a dynamic (lol) that I think is best summed up by this post by tumblr user @desertlady:
Aren’t people who get married embarrassed at their wedding? I would be so embarrassed at everyone looking at me and listening to me talk about how much I love the other person. I’m gonna turn to them and say why don’t you all mind your own business
This, of course, brings me to Dwight and Angela. Dwight and Angela, while having an emotionally intense and sexually passionate affair for the entirety of the show, are unwilling, until hiding becomes impossible, to disclose their relationship to their coworkers. At one point, Dwight even sacrifices his job rather than tell Michael that he did Angela a favor. This is clearly the stuff of mind-your-own-business repression. Also, check out this scene that could be straight out of Paul Thomas Anderson’s screenplay:
The parallels are striking. This led me to ask the obvious question, okay, so in the imaginary movie where Dwight and Angela are Reynolds and Alma, who’s who? The above exchange would suggest that Dwight is Reynolds and Angela is Alma, but I can’t be sure until I’ve gone through every quote on the imdb quotes page and assigned it to one character or the other, then tallied up the results.
Here we go.
Alma: Reynolds has made my dreams come true. And I have given him what he desires most in return.
Dr. Robert Hardy: And what’s that?
Alma: Every piece of me.
Dr. Robert Hardy: He’s a very demanding man, isn’t he? Must be quite a challenge to be with him.
Alma: Yes. Maybe he is the most demanding man.
Oof, okay, this is difficult. Superficially, I feel like this is Angela, but I think that might just have to do with Angela’s regressive gender politics, which isn’t what’s going on at this moment in Phantom Thread. On the other hand, Dwight could be described as the most demanding man in a way that I don’t think Angela could, so I’m gonna give this one to Angela.
Reynolds Woodcock: Kiss me, my girl, before I’m sick.
Alma: I want you flat on your back. Helpless, tender, open with only me to help. And then I want you strong again. You’re not going to die. You might wish you’re going to die, but you’re not going to. You need to settle down a little.
I feel like the rapid-fire phrasing of the first part of this–“helpless, tender, open, with only me to help”–is pure Dwight, but then there’s nothing more Angela than “you need to settle down a little.” Let’s call this a draw.
Reynolds Woodcock: It’s comforting to think the dead are watching over the living. I don’t find that spooky at all.
This is another draw. Dwight and Angela’s belief in the supernatural is one of the things they have in common.
Reynolds Woodcock: The tea is going out. The interruption is staying right here with me.
Again, I feel like this could be either of them? They’re both persnickety and fussy. But if we’re talking about their dynamic specifically with one another I feel like Dwight is too gentle with Angela to say this to her, whereas Angela likes talking sense into Dwight, so I’m gonna give this one to her.
Alma: [to Reynolds] Whatever you do, do it carefully.
Alma: Why are you not married?
Reynolds Woodcock: I make dresses.
Alma: [chuckling] You cannot be married when you make dresses?
Reynolds Woodcock: I’m certain I was never meant to marry. I’m a confirmed bachelor. I’m incurable.
Again, there’s a lot of gendered stuff going on here that makes this tricky to parse so I’m gonna skip this one.
Reynolds Woodcock: Marriage would make me deceitful and I don’t ever want that.
Alma: You see, to be in love with him makes life no great mystery.
Life is still a great mystery for both Dwight and Angela so this doesn’t work for either of them.
Reynolds Woodcock: What a model of politeness you two are.
Alma: If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.
Reynolds Woodcock: [laughs]
Alma: I can stand endlessly. No one can stand as long as I can.
Alma: It’s no business of ours what Mrs. Rose decides to do with her life but she can no longer behave like this and be dressed by the House of Woodcock.
These are three strong examples of Alma being Dwight. Things are getting dicey.
Reynolds Woodcock: I cannot begin my day with a confrontation, please. I’m delivering the dress today, and I can’t take up space with confrontation. I simply don’t have time for confrontations.
Angela. Dwight loves confrontations.
Reynolds Woodcock: What the hell is it about? Are you a special agent sent here to ruin my evening and possibly my entire life?
Alma: Why are you so rude to me? Why are you talking to me like this?
I mean, special agent? This whole scene screams Dwight.
Alma: For the hungry boy, my name is Alma.
As discussed, this is Angela. Although, hmm. This does also remind me of when Dwight says,
Women are like wolves. If you want a wolf, you have to trap it. Snare it. Then to keep it happy, you have to tame it. Feed it, care for it. Lovingly. The way an animal deserves to be loved. And my animal deserves a lot of loving.
That’s a very Alma thing to say. So we’ll call this another draw.
Alma: You are not cursed. You are loved by me.
This seems like something someone would say to Dwight, so I’m gonna give this to Angela. I can definitely hear her saying it.
Reynolds Woodcock: There is an air of quiet death in this house and I do not like the way it smells.
I can just see Dwight saying this. He’s a lot more dramatic than she is. I feel like Dwight’s a fire sign and Angela’s an earth sign, which points to Dwight-Reynolds and Angela-Alma.
Reynolds Woodcock: You can sew almost anything into the canvas of a coat. . . When I was a boy, I started to hide things in the lining of the garments. Things only I knew were there. Secrets.
Reynolds Woodcock: As I think you know, Alma, I prefer my asparagus with oil and salt. And knowing this, you’ve prepared the asparagus with butter. Now, I can imagine in certain circumstances being able to pretend that I like it made this way. Right now, I’m just admiring my own gallantry for eating it the way you’ve prepared it.
The fussiness is more Dwight, but the use of the word “gallantry” is more Angela. Also, Dwight would never be this mean to Angela. I’m gonna give this one to Angela.
Reynolds Woodcock: I think it’s the expectations and assumptions of others that cause heartache.
Angela seems like she’d be more likely than Dwight to have this kind of genuine insight.
Okay, let’s tally up the results:
Dwight: 6 Reynolds, 5 Alma
Angela: 6 Reynolds, 5 Alma
That’s pretty inconclusive data. Seems like they might just be both of them. I can definitely see it either way, so that makes sense. Thanks for reading.