Ahoy there! Immediately following the Lighthouse trailer, I knew I had to see this one. It struck me as unique. A certain mystery surrounds this film. Although Pattinson and Dafoe are an unlikely duo, here they shine. I might even go as far as to say this film features their best career performances. Despite an already iconic career, Willem Dafoe’s pursuit of greatness has no end in sight. Here he plays Tom Wake, a hobbled old sailor with a blade for a tongue. He is the commanding officer at the lighthouse station. Robert Pattinson plays Ephraim Winslow, a drifter hired for a four-week stint as a wickie. The two butt heads for the majority of the film due to Wake’s disciplinary methods. He forces Winslow to take on the toughest tasks while he hogs the light. Winslow resents Wake for banning him from tending to the light.
What stands out about this film right away is its visual style. Shot on crisp 35mm film in black and white, The Lighthouse is an optic feat. Around 15 minutes in, I came to this conclusion. Director, producer, and co-writer Robert Eggers (The Witch) resembled a blend of two Andersons, though I wouldn’t say he eclipses their combined skill. Precise aspect ratio paired with medium-long landscape shots reminded me of Wes. Yet the gritty realism and riveting acting reminded me of Paul Thomas. However, I found Eggers’ style to be one all his own. This film feels vintage and urgent. Throughout the 110-minute runtime a constant barrage of noise and tension arises. Sirens blare. Waves crash. Two men, clinging to their last fragment of sanity, yell and sing at each other. While this plot flirts with predictability, the remaining elements of this film challenge the viewer plenty.
‘The Lighthouse’ is Robert Eggers’ second feature film.
As I stated prior, Winslow was slated to stay at the lighthouse only for a month. Nevertheless, the ferry never showed. And now he is stuck with Old Man Wake indefinitely. As you can imagine, Winslow spirals into madness as alcohol becomes his new best friend. The men get to know each other after many dinners together. Honestly, both of them are pretty sketchy. Wake claims his last wickie drove himself mad and died. Winslow claims he moves from one profession to the next on his journey to self-discovery. Since not a whole lot happens in this film in terms of big action moments, I won’t spoil what ultimately reveals. This is essentially a depressive tale of isolation and frustration. Loneliness is a helluva drug. Average-at-best food, long hours, zero women — a recipe for disaster. And, to top it all off, Wake talks as if pulled straight from Moby Dick.
Winslow has but a mermaid figurine he found tucked inside his mattress to please him. Wake farts and lies around naked without a care in the world. All the while Winslow has to put up with it without complaint. Hence, he begins to hallucinate. Curiosity bests him as he snoops around the lighthouse during Wake’s nightfall shifts. He wants to know why exactly Wake banned him from tending to the light. It’s difficult to determine whether what he discovers is real or not. What we do know is that Wake cannot be trusted. Neither can Winslow nonetheless. Thus what transpires is a test of will between two men lost at proverbial sea. At times they are friends, opening up about their pasts. Other times they are nemeses, playing chess-like mind games of lethal proportion. This film packs a lot into 110 minutes — drama, horror, psychological thrill, and even comedy.
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Eggers is the next great American filmmaker, along with names such as Ari Aster and Jordan Peele. He presents this Olde English tale with flare, precision, and droning existence. He drops viewers into an aquatic world tainted by the fragility of the human psyche. Here he reinforces the idea that life’s a bitch and then you die, so long as you allow your environment to consume you. Winslow riddles himself with guilt and paranoia to the point where his mind is too vulnerable to combat the harsh, stormy conditions. Wake injects him with superstitions about the seagulls that continue to pester Winslow throughout the film. A one-eyed gull persistently blocks his path or pecks at his window whilst attempting to sleep. This causes him to loathe the gull before brutally killing it. Wake warns him that killing a gull is bad luck, for they carry the souls of deceased sailors.
This triggers, according to Wake, a massive storm, which hinders their departure from the dreary island, as I mentioned before. Madness ensues for both parties and we finally find out what the heck is going on at the top of the lighthouse. All in all, I highly recommend this film, though I suggest going either alone or with a buddy. Groups of four or more are likely to get bored. I’ll admit, the only thing keeping this movie from masterpiece status for me is that there were three separate occasions when I yearned for my phone. This is a dialogue-heavy film. Those of you with short attention spans might roll your eyes at this one. If you love cinema, however, this is a must-see. Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse is a noise-noir mood piece of gloom, doom, and seaside lore. Be careful what you wish for, laddie.