The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse ★★★★½

The Lighthouse opens in a ratio fit for a silent movie--considerably less wide and stilted, with the shots occasionally taking older-style pans and close-ups akin to Potemkin. Perhaps it is to place it in era older than ours, to focus our thinking to a world of film that was breaking artistic barriers yet now seems dated. Or perhaps by narrowing the screen we get a more claustrophobic, isolating environment to watch our movie about two men gripping to sanity.
Like the tall, white tower of the beacon itself, there are many stories to this film. There is a genre sense of horror and confusion and make no mistake, this is a horror movie. In an argument with a friend of mine we both compared it to Poe and Lovecraft, with myself saying it was a Lovecraftian piece with Poe-esque elements and friend arguing the opposite. The Fresnel lens and T. Howard's desire to view it are very Lovecraftian indeed, and his drive to find them cements the story in terms of isolation and the terror of euphoria. At the same time, Poe's unreliability and treachery take place here as well as there are times toward the end of the film where the events that take place seem to be backwards or misleading. Did Howard axe the boat, or did Wake? Did Howard see Wake's old comrade in the crab trap? It is likely a combination of both--trapping the movie in the world of gothic horror.
Its second layer is once again dominating if viewed with a Marxist lens--the class conflict both between Wake and Howard and the conflict of the two of them versus the company itself. It's hard to come up to some concrete definitions as to Wake's role, but Howard definitely represents the proletarian forced to do manual labor and will reap none of the benefits that Wake inherits (the beauty of the light itself). At the same time, both are abandoned by the company and nothing can be done. The movie questions the need for the lighthouse, for there is never another ship seen outside of the first that brings them in. In the contemporary world, leaving someone at a miserable rock like the one shown would be tantamount to torture, or at the very least compensated thoroughly, although similar work today is still very aligned.
All of these elements come together to show a film that is depicted the past--the Industrial Revolution, the silent era of film, the period of Gothic and cerebral horror, and of the nascent Communist uprisings echoing in the future. The Lighthouse takes us all this way to place us in a certain period, only to betray this with flashes of modern cinematography (in between static pans there is more uncertainty and dutch angles, something not as characteristic in older films) and era-relevant dialogue. It's a take on the old world with a modern perspective. We watch these men suffer. We know that for the most of us, their trials will never be experienced by us. But at the same time--nothing has changed. We may not be stuck on rocky crags in the Atlantic fueling a lighthouse we never get to see but there's still miserable labor to be done to fuel a goal that we will never get to access. We've known about it for generations. The silent filmmakers knew. Lovecraft and Poe knew. Yet the problems they identified in the have seen little to no action against them.

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