So Robert Eggers continues to be someone to watch, yeah? What the hell do you even classify The Lighthouse as? There’s scares, sure, but it’s also hilarious and weird. If I’m viewing it right it’s even got a touch of…like…some LGBTQ stuff going on?
The Lighthouse is a 2019 film from Eggers, director of The Witch (2016), and it’s such a strange animal. Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) is dropped off on an island to be an assistant wickie, or lighthouse keeper, under the tutelage of Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). From here on we basically have no idea what’s real and what isn’t as Winslow begins to hallucinate with wanton abandon. Or does he? Tentacles, mermaids, a naked Willem Dafoe crying before the spinning mirrored light, it’s all such a wild ride and yet exists as an existential slow burn that builds on a goulash of traditional ingredients.
So what’s this thing about, anyway? There’s a touch of gaslighting served up with a hearty helping of masculinity, but that isn’t enough for Eggers. Isolation in a period-setting is something he’s already toyed with once and he’s boiled it down even further this time, pitting these two men against each other and some seagulls in a building that is essentially a giant phallus. The choice to shoot in academy ratio (1.375:1) is deliberate, further boxing the two characters in and adding to the claustrophobic atmosphere. One of these men is unsure as to what is real while the other may or may not be manipulating events but that doesn’t matter. What does is that isolating them on this level is essentially putting them in a box (like the academy ratio) and asks them to tolerate one another for days. Their discomfort is blatant (discussion on Pattinson eating mud and shitting himself or the period-accurate slop plate they had to consume is all over the internet) and they even seem to have formed a dislike of one another. Nothing is truly as black and white as the color palette and nothing is certain when it comes to the reality within the world of the film. Is that tentacle real? Is the mermaid real? Who the hell knows?
That black and white identity is the focus of the entire film. There’s a gluttonous feeling to the way that Eggers has cobbled this thing together, indulging in everything he wanted to. Two big stars? Check. Black and white, boxy ratio, and film grain? Check. Each piece of this puzzle is meticulously designed and then slathered in mud and grime, boldly daring to ask who these people really are and letting us see exactly how dingy they can be. This is about who we are when locked away together. In a way it reminds me of teens at a summer camp, with arguments and factions and random hookups that happen, only it’s boiled down to two people that antagonize and support each other in equal measure.
Mark Korven returns to work with Eggers a second time and while I think it’s not as beautiful as his work on The Witch, I do think it’s a stronger offering. The music is much more audacious and bold, weaving in the horns of ships and the screams of the two men into the fabric of the sound. I won’t talk any more about it, just thought it needed touched on. Once you’ve seen the film I think you should check out the score and discover for yourself how well it works as a standalone album.
From its primordial opening to the Promethean finale, The Lighthouse is a weird and wonderful thing that has left me wanting more. I need to see it a second time, and I wish Eggers had a deeper filmography so that I still had entries to delve into. Delightful, depraved, and daring, this is a whole new take on a bottled story that manages to star only two men, decked out in period-accurate costumes that would make a reenactment facility swoon, screaming at each other and their own boredom. It’s incredible and you all need to see it.