The Lighthouse is a film about... well... that's a little complicated. The simplest description that comes to mind is it's a psychological thriller about two lighthouse keepers in the late 1800s who get trapped on a remote post and go mad from the isolation and superstition that blankets the rock. The film stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. It is co-written and directed by Robert Eggers.
Who knows if his whole career will continue like this, but Robert Eggers has an affinity for the lore of New England. He took on forest and witches with his debut The VVitch and now he's been able to carve into the mermaid and sea myths of the Atlantic with The Lighthouse. I like that he's been able to do so much in this vein and his stories are so horrific because of the isolation he's been able to imbue with the locations and time periods.
Eggers evokes not only isolation, but an intense sense of guilt in his protagonist, Winslow. It's reminiscent of the films of Ingmar Bergman who used religious themes and unreliable narrators to create morality tales. I don't think The Lighthouse has an ascribed morality to it, but it certainly has a sense of moral justice. The two men aren't saints, they're flawed, devious, covetous, and cruel. While they get what's coming to them, the larger arc fails to present clear ideas about what is actually happening to them.
Where I think The Lighthouse is a struggle to enjoy is in its unreliable narrator. I often get frustrated with these tales as it takes far more time to figure out motivation or a timeline of events. The story is relatively linear and we have an initial timeline that they are meant to be there for four weeks, but after they miss their ride because of the storm, it's all fuzzy. It's meant to be fuzzy, but it begs larger questions, questions about the nature of the rock they stand on and what's inside of the lamp. Questions that unfortunately have no real answers. At least none that can be gleaned from what we are told visually.
I love the black and white aesthetic, I think it can add depth to films in the most striking way. There's this beautiful shot as Winslow walks into the surf after an apparition he sees there. The camera stays on his face and his eyes shine like beacons, until it's one eye like a cyclops (like a lighthouse if we're leaning into the metaphor), searching, searching for his truth. The film is filled with gorgeous shots like that, but it can be visually confusing at times as to where people are in space with only the candle light to illuminate them.
Though, let me illuminate anyone who still scoffs at Robert Pattinson (seriously, why are there still doubters of his incredible talent?). Pattinson pulls off madness and ferocity better than many actors out there. As a narrator we sympathize until we see the pattern in his behaviors of the past, which come out as he gets further into the stores of drink and further into the throes of madness. Willem Dafoe, too, gives us the most indelible of screen characters, reminiscent of, but wholly unique of, Walter Huston's old prospector in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. He pulls off that balance of salty, old, drunk sea dog and menacing taskmaster with such aplomb and a well placed fart or two.
The Lighthouse is the kind of psychological thriller that will insert itself into your brain for hours, or in my case days, after you've seen it. With incredible visual panache and simply amazing performances, it's a must see even if you feel it's not your cup of tea. It's a film that will open up great discussions and theories about what it all means for years to come. Why not get in on the conversation now?