The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

And now some pleading suggestions from the 21st century to Willem Dafoe's character in The Lighthouse:
Beano? (wait they don't have that yet) Or charcoal? Low FODMAP diet? Exorcism? Or maybe just not drinking a fifth of liquor every day? While you may not be disturbed by your rampaging flatulence, the rest of us clearly are, including your clearly disturbed roommate and fellow wickie, Robert Pattinson.

Oh what hell, to feel isolated but without the cold comfort of at least being actually alone, and to instead be stuck with somebody you've come to completely detest, to feel infected by their very presence, like they're trying to seep into you via every pore and nostril and other assorted orifices.

And what a place to be stuck with them. You know, it's tempting to say that The Lighthouse most reminded me of Stanley Kubrick's* The Shining based on its cabin fever themes, usage of a Krzysztof Penderecki-channeling original soundtrack by Mark Korven, and its familiar moment featuring a deranged & limping character giving chase with an axe...or, given its flashes of reality-bending surreality, note that it's at times rather reminiscent of David Lynch's work. But instead The Lighthouse most frequently had me thinking about Ingmar Bergman. Not only did the frigid & isolated island setting keep reminding me of Fårö, Bergman's island home in Sweden where he shot several of his films (including the apocalyptic Seventh Seal), but there were moments-- like the epic cursing out by Dafoe's Thomas Wake that turns him into some thunderous prophet of doom--that felt similar to the moments of contagious madness Liv Ullmann has to witness bubbling out of Max von Sydow in Hour of the Wolf. Now how often do you get to see a new release that reminds you of a Bergman film?
 
The black-and-white cinematography shot in an almost-square 1.19:1 ratio by Jarin Blaschke not only helps the film to harken back to a much earlier era of cinema (making the movie deceptively seem as if it were produced closer to the late 19th century time period of our characters than to our own) but it's a point of view that also strongly plays up the stark, bleak, and claustrophobic world of our two characters, thereby helping to make their madness all the more communicable (contagious?) to the audience. Somehow this sneaky movie inspires thoughts in the viewer both profound and profane, thoughts like "oh shit, shouldn't have done that, now those birds are talking about you!" but also "have mythical female/fertility statues always also been masturbatory tools and that's the real reason we have the first commandment?"

Oh, and about them seabirds. It was interesting to watch this movie in such close proximity to James and the Giant Peach---two films that start out at a solitary seaside location with a very isolated main character, but with one story featuring a younger character who is kind to smaller, more vulnerable lifeforms (insects), and the other featuring an older character who is not at all kind in that way…and both with notably different outcomes. Moral of the stories: be nice to bugs and birds?

The Lighthouse is a movie that inspires a lot of thought...and, as is often the case with movies of this type, it's because a lot of thought has been put into it. The film has a lot to say about guilt, empathy, the relationship we have with our job (be careful being married to it), and the relationships we have with each other. It's an amazingly rich movie for what is essentially just a two-man, single location show. So much hangs (no, strike that, everything hangs) on these two performances by Dafoe and Pattinson, and they do tremendous work creating two complex characters they disappear inside. And they do so while then disappearing inside of each other, into their toxic maelstrom of malformed emotions...and we get sucked down with them, taken to strange and surprising places (I mean I had ideas about where this was all going, but there were still flabbergasting moments at the end that surprised even me).

I'm not ready to call The Lighthouse flawless--I think it had a little fat that could've been trimmed, in addition to some messiness during the denouement that spilled past the intentional chaos they were trying to convey--but it's another exceptional effort from Robert Eggers, a filmmaker with a real gift for making masterworks of the small-scale...the cinematic equivalents of those meticulously-made miniature tall ships you see stuffed inside a glass bottle and sitting on a shelf somewhere. Like at a lighthouse or something. 


*just like "the Kubrick stare" is a thing, I think "the Eggers laugh" might soon be a thing too, and roughly defined as "an empowering, liberating, uncontrollable fit of closed-eye laughter that borders on orgasmic"

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