The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse ★★★★

I've complained before about the "ending explained" end of YouTube film culture, and I'm going to keep complaining about it until everyone realises I'm right, but it strikes me as actively bizarre that people's interpretation muscles are so underworked that they're asking what Robert Eggers's second film is about. Let me clear my throat so I can be heard across the nations:

it is about two men going mad in a lighthouse

I mean, yes, there is a lot more than that, in terms of themes and subtext, but generally when I meet fans of those videos they react angrily to any claim that themes and subtext might be worth more than pure plot, so I'm not sure what it is about this film that's got them hunting big game. A lot of people have detected a parallel with the myth of Prometheus, and until the shot that makes it inarguable Eggers was thinking about this I was also thinking of the Luciferian themes of his first film The Witch: Willem Dafoe as the guardian of light, Robert Pattinson as the rival who fell to earth. Dafoe has talked about getting into the script by latching onto the theme of identity, which opens up even more fruitful readings: an anti-Walden, where brave American men go into the wilderness and lose, rather than reclaim, their sense of self.

The other thing about The Lighthouse is that it's a lark. It's filmed in a ratio that makes silent movies look like Cinerama and it's full of anxious tension, but it also wastes no time having Dafoe's Tom Wake fart like a set of bagpipes, and proceeds with drunken sing-alongs, chamber-pot gags and a masturbation scene so frenzied it made me wonder if anyone's told Pattinson that it's meant to relieve stress. It takes inordinate pleasure in its florid vocabulary - Eggers is unafraid to have characters yell "'Twas ye, 'twas ye!" when they accuse someone of something - and Dafoe gets a soliloquy so long it genuinely made me giggle as I realised it was still going. Part of the reason why no-one makes these kind of sailor movies any more is that their tropes have been parodied to death in things like The Simpsons and Blackadder II, but Pattinson and Dafoe give it the full Robert Newton anyway. Why not?

The early stages of the movie, when it's light on dialogue and heavy on evocative details of the world it's set in, reminded me of some of the more oddball plays from the British television tradition - Jonathan Miller's Whistle and I'll Come to You, say, or some of the things Paweł Pawlikowski or James Marsh did before hitting it big. It's common to look at such things and say they don't make 'em like that any more, but they were confined to BBC Two and this played at Cannes. Maybe things are getting better after all.

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