Why ‘The Lighthouse’ Darkly Shines

Well dear reader, every now and then a film comes along that you say to yourself “Oh no problem—I’ll catch this on a Sunday night and throw together a blog review by the next day. Just 500-1000 words of summarizing and recommending. Easy peasy-Cthulu squeezy.”

But then you actually go see that movie and stumble out 2 hours later, bewildered and questioning the nature of humanity and reality. And you say to yourself “No fucking way can I write about what I just saw because I’m not entirely sure what the fuck I just saw.”              
And that is what it was like when I saw ‘The Lighthouse’ (directed and written by Robert Eggers, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson).

Let’s start with some broken promises ala my recent lighthouse post:

First, Robert Pattinson does not punch an octopus. We were all lied to. Second, in spite of my speculation, Willem Dafoe does not eat Robert Pattinson’s face. …technically. Some disappointment on both counts, but the movie makes up for it with all the other bizarreness going on.

The plot is simultaneously too complex and too basic to sum up thoroughly. But, Your Intrepid Host will try their best:

In the 1890s, two men land on a lonely rock in the middle of the sea to tend a lighthouse for four weeks. One is a haggard seadog (DaFoe), another is wet behind the ears (Pattinson). Their companionship is at times tense, at times friendly—both exacerbated by the hard, claustrophobic, isolated life working the lighthouse. It soon becomes clear that they are at the mercy of the elements—and each other. One may or may not be a murderer when they arrive. One may or may not be a murderer when the film ends.

A journey into madness enhanced by sailor’s folklore and the nature of humans to fib even to themselves, ‘The Lighthouse’ keeps you guessing. Who is the unreliable narrator?  When do tall tales morph into dangerous lies, or full-on gaslighting?

Also featuring: actual gaslights.

I’m genuinely astounded—pleased, but astounded—at all the positive reviews the movie has been getting. Granted, when my showing last night got out, I heard a woman declare “That was the dumbest movie I have ever seen!” And ya know what, that woman’s head must be mostly pocket lint and moths if that experience was ‘dumb’ to her. But it ought be acknowledged: ‘The Lighthouse’ asks a lot of the average moviegoer.

This isn’t going to be one of those movies where on a Friday, you’ll kick back with a beer and a bowl of popcorn and go ‘oh yeah, this’ll do.’ No, you need to be Prepared. You’ve gotta be strapped in and have no distractions for the next 2 hours, followed by an hour of aftercare, staring off into the middle distance trying to cope with what just happened to you.

When people talk about Eldritch horror? This is what they’re talking about. Tentacles? You got ‘em. Can’t tell when a character is dreaming or hallucinating or actually seeing this sh*t? You got it. A growing sense of dread because you don’t have a clue what’s coming next but you know it’s gonna be burned into your eyeballs for all eternity? In spades!

And don’t get me wrong. ‘The Lighthouse’ isn’t as intense as, say, ‘A Serbian Film’ or ‘Antichrist’. One of the standout elements of Eggers’ script is its dark humor. It catches you by surprise, it adds an element of catharsis, and it adds to the discomfort because sometimes you’re not sure if you should be laughing at what you’re seeing.

But ‘The Lighthouse’ is very solidly in the category of “do not put this on at Thanksgiving with grandma on the couch next to you, or you’ll instantly transform into an old man filled with regret.”

“So I turns to me meemaw, says I, and I says ‘What did you think?’ And that’s how I got this beard.”

‘The Lighthouse’ demonstrates that Eggers is shining as a rising star among new directors. Not merely among horror directors—among directors. Eggers clearly used this movie as his own personal playground. He fully embraced an opportunity to really show off what he could do with a camera, what he could craft within a script, what he could harvest from his actors, and what he can subject his audience to.

There are incredible visuals in this movie—in some sense, there have to be to keep the movie dynamic in such a small environment. But it’s masterfully, memorably executed. In some ways it’s like a horror version of Wes Anderson’s style.

Eggers follows some patterns already established in his earlier (wonderful and also challenging) piece, ‘The VVitch’. This is a historic film set in an isolated environment, where close quarters dissolve relationships and where niche folklore is fervently believed. It features Americans not quite speaking American—in ‘The VVitch’ it was English of the 1630s, in ‘The Lighthouse’ it’s sailor slang of the 1890s. Eggers also remains invested in breeding suspicion between man and animal. In ‘The VVitch’, it was goats (which turn into sexy Satan, so it’s not all bad). By the end of ‘The Lighthouse’, you’ll loathe seagulls more than you already do.

Black Sexy Hairy Goat Satan

As far as our two man cast, we have some real gems in Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. DaFoe is of course one of the great character actors of our time, and this will probably be remembered as one of his best roles. DaFoe brings his A-game as a briny pipe-puffing, scotch-swilling, fish tale-telling lighthouse keeper. He inhabits that character in a way that’s spooky, even by DaFoe standards.

Otherwise, and I never thought these words would form together into the following sentence, but: Robert Pattinson is the dark hose pick for Best Actor this year. It takes a LOT of work to be in the same frame as Willem DaFoe and be the center of attention. Pattinson achieves that repeatedly. This is very much the Pattinson character’s story, and it is clearly an onerous, challenging enough role without having to play equal to a presence like DaFoe. I didn’t know ol’ Cedric Diggory had it in him.

Some tips:
• If masturbation makes you feel uncomfortable—and in particular if your movegoing experience would be ruined by you watching Robert Pattinson watching Willem DaFoe masturbate, then this is not the film for you.

• Would the idea of fish vaginas poison your moviegoing experience? You also might want to skip this one. Would it pique your interest? You’re in luck!

• But if watching madness infect like a sickness, if an intimate view of someone losing their mind and soul intrigues you? Go see this movie.

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