A good friend told me, with regards to cooking, that if "you can learn the basics, you can make the most exquisite food." I open with this because, with only two features under his belt, Robert Eggers does so well with the essential elements of filmmaking: light, sound, writing, camera work, and composition that he crafts brilliant films that are rich and complex. It's easy to make a film that's flashy, full of quick cuts, and little to no substance. Eggers does the exact opposite. His films are dense, highly stylized, and layered with metaphors and symbolism. This is most definitely the case with his latest film which finds two wickies (slang for lighthouse keeper and my new favorite word) taking up their turn to keep the light on a hunk of rock off the coast of Maine. A bare bones set up that the director uses to weave a tale of madness that Lovecraft would be proud of.
While Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are household names in Hollywood today, had this been their first roles I would be singing their praises as they bring the script to life and leave everything on the screen, farts and all. Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Dafoe) start off easy enough. The former is new to this kind of work, the latter is a salty old man full of sea stories and a disturbing obsession with the lighthouse and its flame. As the two slowly get sick of each other because Wake is a demanding, conniving, fart machine (Your goddamn farts!) who never misses an opportunity to remind Winslow that he's in charge. Ephraim becomes determined to find out what the fuck Thomas does during his night watches in the lighthouse.
Themes of seeking knowledge and being horrified by the truth are on full display as Winslow's mind slowly unravels as he starts to piece together that Wake might not be who he says he is and that his previous assistant didn't quit. Also the unrelenting cruelty of nature as a storm strands them on the island without relief but Wake blames Winslow because he killed a seagull ("It's a bad omen to kill a sea bird."). The amount of alcohol (and honey dipped kerosene, seriously) they drink is excuse enough for them to go nuts and want to kill each other in a drunken rage but there is something else going on, I think.
The lighthouse is this behemoth, a thing that has always been there and will continue to stand as men continue to care for (possibly even worship in Wake's case) and maintain it out of no other reason than duty. This thing holds secrets that it shares with only the most devoted to its care and will drive mad any man fool enough to try and take what is not his to take. There's even a scene where Winslow sees Wake change form into some mad king of the sea which is the peak of his insanity. Ultimately you are left with more questions than answers and I'm ok with that. The Lighthouse is not for those who want something easy to digest as they turn off their brains to unplug from the world. This film will pull you in and drive you insane as you question what you are seeing and just what did happen because the lines of reality and madness are paper thin.
The Lighthouse is a surreal tale of utter madness anchored by two career-defining performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. I don't think I've ever seen a film quite like this. Robert Eggers, with only two films, continues to show his unique take on cinema, delivering yet another film that stands apart from anything before it. The film feels like you're watching the inner machinations of a psychotic mind trapped in isolation. There are so many ways you could interpret the story and meaning of this film, from homosexual metaphors to Greek mythology, and everything in-between. This is not for the faint of heart.
Pattinson and Dafoe play Ephraim Winslow and Thomas Wake respectively, two lighthouse keepers trapped in isolation during their term. Ephraim is new blood, while Thomas is the seasoned sailor who talks like Captain Ahab. The two have remarkable chemistry that comes from pure tension, like you're wondering who is going to snap first. Watching these two through their day to day is cinematically astonishing, with Eggers choosing to film in black and white and 1.19:1 ratio, making the film appear like an historical document from 1890.
To describe The Lighthouse to someone who hasn't seen it for themselves is next to impossible. Hardcore film fans owe it to themselves to check this ghoulish comedy/Promethean nightmare out, simply to devise your own opinion over what in the holy hell this movie is. Is it a dream? Is it a nightmare? Is it a horror? Is it a comedy? Maybe it's all of them, or maybe it's none of them. But one thing's for sure. The Lighthouse is definitely unforgettable.