The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse ★★★★

There is so much that is impressive about Robert Eggers’ film that I feel disappointed in myself that it didn’t quite work for me. I loved many of the component parts, but they didn’t quite coalesce into a fully satisfying experience.

But I do want to highlight the many positives. For example, I admire its originality. I felt like I was watching something genuinely new, even though it was recognisably grounded in 19th century literature and sea-faring lore. The performances by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe were both excellent, with Dafoe particularly astonishing. I liked the dark humour that swirled around the men’s predicament. And I liked the deep veins of horror that emanated from the folklore and superstition. I liked the experimental approach to depicting the onset of madness, and I admired the brave choices to leave the story ambiguous and the ending painterly. I also very much liked the assertive sound design, which reminded me at times of Shutter Island, Under The Skin and the films of Bela Tarr. 

So there is very much that is terrific, indeed more so than in 99% of films. So what is it then that kept it just out of my reach? I think the nature of The Lighthouse is that it is an experiential film - one that you feel. For this to work it needs to burrow into you. Pattinson’s character keeps seeing a mermaid that draws him to her and then pulls him under. That’s what the film seems to want to do to its audience too. But for me it worked more as a multi-media exhibit - a multi-layered construction that invites you to admire its intertextuality, its intricate construction, and its overall presentation. I found its stylisations and mannerisms acted as a barrier to my immersion - I struggled too hard to follow the salty language through the thick accents under the noise of the wind and the rain to enter into what they were saying. I was distracted by Eggers’ choices over every sound and image - they made me want to think about technique and not about meaning. And the story felt too archetypal, and therefore too evidently a literary construction than a realistic drama. I also felt the pacing struggled to hold the balance between its depictions of repetitive hard labour and cabin fever and its inevitable, terrifying free fall. 

But these are just my frustrating personal responses, and I can see from others’ reviews that many were able to fully immerse themselves in the experience of the film. I wonder if it might fare better for me on a second viewing?

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