Adam Davie’s review published on Letterboxd:
He’s done it again folks. Robert Eggers’ second feature, which focuses on two alpha males at war with each other and the elements is peak maleness. The Lighthouse highlights mans folly and arrogance masked as ruggedness. The two wickies, played by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe could’ve just worked together and shared the load, but it wasn’t meant to be and it doesn’t make for great drama either. Humans are weird like that. Instead, what we are treated to is a series of petty feuds that eventually spirals out of control as Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Dafoe) drive each other up the wall in an environment where harmony should be courted over individualistic achievements, but these men don’t see it that way and they pay for it dearly. As is the case with his previous film, The Witch, the setting is a star in its own right and it eventually has the final say. But not before it assists in driving these power-hungry men mad through its ability to convince them that they had a say-so in the first place.
Eggers doubles down on the language of the day and stays true to the period in which the events take place by utilizing the 19th century dialogues of literary authors and the sailors and seaman who inhabited these lands and its one of the films strengths. Dafoe uses this to his advantage and chews up the scenery in a good way, as a wickie whose permanent attachment to the lighthouse inspires nautical orations both incomprehensible and awe-inspiring depending on your perspective. His grandstanding against Pattinson’s more subdued performance works well to contrast the temperaments of the two men and Dafoe should definitely be in consideration for some awards come next year. The black and white photography greatly enhanced the nightmarish atmosphere of the film and helps to enhance the tension between the two men as well. To look away for a moment would be to your loss as a viewer as every image was picture perfect in my book. The images presented on screen should be placed on a postcard and sent to someone you hate.
The film builds off the themes of isolation and repression and Eggers could’ve solely focused on just one, whether it be the sexual tension and frustrations of the two men or the politics of lighthouse keeping that is at the heart of the conflict. These frustrations among others are simultaneously interwoven into the threads of the film and the psyche of the men which adds some complexity to their breakdowns. Such great scenes like Thomas begging for Ephraim to acknowledge his cooking and Ephraims carnal daydreams hint at their slow break with reality and confirm to the viewer that repeated bouts of isolation are in no way good for the soul. Man was not made to be alone and the actions of the two men in this wonderful film prove it.
NOTE: I was inspired by the words of Jack London while writing this. I think it captures the mood of the film really well.
Nature has many tricks wherewith she convinces man of his finity, - the ceaseless flow of the tides, the fury of storm, the shock of the earthquake, the long roll of heavens artillery, - but the most tremendous, the most stupefying of all, is the passive phase of the White Silence. All movement ceases, the sky clears, the heavens are as brass; the slightest whisper seems sacrilege, and man becomes timid, affrighted at the sound of his own voice. Sole speck of life journeying across the ghostly wastes of a dead world, he trembles at his audacity, realizes that his is a maggots life, nothing more. Strange thoughts arise unsummoned, and the mystery of all things strives for utterance. And the fear of death, of God, of the universe, comes over him, - the hope of the Resurrection and the life, the yearning for immortality, the vain striving of the imprisoned essence, - it is then, if ever, man walks alone with God.
- The White Silence — Jack London