The Lighthouse by the uber-talented, high-art, fearlessly bold writer, director, Robert Eggers is shot in eerie black and white with a 1.91:1 almost square film ratio. The tone is set as the audience sees a tight shot of the bough of a ship being harshly lashed by unceasing waves as it roars through an angry sea. The camera pans up to show us two phenomenal actors, Robert Patterson (Efraim Winslow) and Willem Dafoe (Thomas Wake). The men are on the boat, roaring towards an island with a lone lighthouse. We watch as they carry their small packs of belongings to their new home, silently crossing paths with the crew they are relieving. The director is quoted as saying, “Nothing good can happen when two men are trapped alone in a giant phallus,” and the rocky boat ride is nothing compared to what they experience on the island.
It is the 1890’s, and Wake and Winslow are working for the government in New England. They have four weeks alone together on the island. They struggle with authority, each other’s masculinity, self-esteem, physical prowess, courage, sanity and trust. There are repeated swirl images throughout the film, in the clouds, the water and we are just as swirled within the story. One is never certain of what is fact or fiction. What is imagined or daydreamed. Their reality is strange and tinted by alcohol, lethargy and depression.
Although advertised as such, this is not a horror film. It is a film filled with real human horrors like the fear of death, the misery of living in extreme weather conditions and isolation. It is a film filled with opposites, always pushed to the maximum, light and dark, hot and cold, noise and silence. The powers that these extremes can have over your temperant and your sanity are brought to the surface as these men are repeatedly forced to confront themselves and each other.
With remarkable visual artistry, Eggers’ film recollects old thrillers and monster pics mixed with boat-faring films brimming with macho bravado. Looming shadows, howls of nature and hidden spaces inspire equal parts fear and anxiety in viewers.
There has never been a script quite like this one. Thomas Wake (Dafoe) touts himself an old seafaring man. He is the leader of this operation and speaks with a cartoon level of maritime miscellany with perhaps the best film put-down of all time. Is he honest? Which of his tales are real and which are long and tall? He refuses to allow Winslow into the lighthouse tower and these locked quarters become all the more desirable to Winslow as his life below the light becomes dangerous and wearisome.
Efraim Winslow (Pattinson) is a mystery in his own right. He is silent but visibly troubled. He has taken this complicated, undesirable job with little fanfare or gravitas and is visibly uncomfortable being in the company of Wake. Pattinson) finds the sculpture of a mermaid in his first moments on the island and it haunts him throughout the film. He has visions, or are they real? He stumbles through his reality like pushing aside cobwebs through a forest trail.
Part epic poem, part allegory, part mystery, part disgusting sexual fantasy, part violent survival, part mythical folklore, part buddy film, part statement on sanity, The Lighthouse will keep you at the edge of your seat and leave you packed with visual, auditory, intellectual and emotional stimulation on maximum overdrive.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Director: Robert Eggers
Writer: Max Eggers, Robert Eggers
Starring: Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe
Runtime: 109 minutes
Release Date: October 25, 2019
MPAA Rating: R