The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse ★★★★½

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

This review may contain spoilers.

If you know me, you might already know that I will be going the psychological route with this one. I had a couple of theories in mind I could take The Lighthouse, but since I’m on a Jung (pronounced ‘Y-oong’) kick from Persona, I’m going with the Jung take. I don’t know if anyone is curious, but if I were to do a Freud take, the ego = Thomas Howard, the id = Thomas Wake, the superego = the seagulls (took a long time thinking about this one), and the psyche = the lighthouse.

Like I mentioned before, Jung’s big idea is his theory of the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious is essentially the entirety of all experiences from past generations. Archetypes, or typical examples that reoccur throughout the past, present, and future generations, form the framework of the collective unconscious. Unlike before, I think there is a natural progression to the archetypes that The Lighthouse tackles, almost like peeling back the layers of an onion if you will.

The ego (which isn’t an archetype, but a part of an archetype, which I will get to later) is where consciousness lives. As I am sure you are aware, there is too much sensory information for a person to take in at one time. Thus, the ego can be selective about what sensory information to handle. The sensory information that the ego chooses to handle stays in the conscious, while the sensory information that the ego fails to handle goes to the unconscious. Thomas Howard (Pattinson) is like the ego in many ways. He is hired as a wickie by Thomas Wake (Dafoe) to clean, to repair, and to upkeep the lighthouse, which he does. Doing the job as a wickie leaves little time to try and understand Wake on top of the sounds he seems to be drawn to.

The archetype of persona is the struggle between the mask we present to others. Two main details make me believe that Thomas Howard and Thomas Wake are the same person. The obvious being the name reveals that both of them are Thomas’. The less obvious being Howard and Wake both stood by while someone was being killed or killed someone themselves. The details are not entirely clear, but my point stands. In Howard’s case, he ends up taking the identity of Ephraim Winslow which is akin to a mask he uses to hide this part of himself. Because Howard is performing the duties of an ego/wickie, he rarely has time to think about persona. With a little help from alcohol, he can and he does. Sober, Howard thinks of Wake as a person he is trying to understand. Drunk, Howard is disturbed by the similarities they share.

The archetype of the shadow is basically everything that the ego has denied. As the name suggests, the shadow is where the darker side of personality resides. By the darker side I mean personality traits having to do with sex and aggression (but also personality traits having to do with inner goodness and awe which is typically denied by the ego in people with self-esteem, but I digress). The shadow can thus be represented by Thomas Wake (who is awake at weird hours!). He farts. He’s drunk all the time. And he judges everything that Howard does even though he is a coward for doing so. The shadow is free to indulge in these darker personality traits. There is also something deeply humorous about Wake as the shadow because when Howard sees Wake, he is reminded of everything that he has denied himself or everything that he is ashamed of (interesting power struggle analysis here as well!). The question then becomes a question of what Howard should do next to fix the discomfort that Wake brings him.

The archetype of the anima is the struggle between a man’s feminine part. If a man rejects their feminine part, they become power-hungry and cold towards the feelings of others. Howard has rejected the anima probably much early than when The Lighthouse first takes place. He is moody and he has visions of fantastical measures, but the real turning point is when he becomes hysterical. The anima can also be projected in the external world. The mermaid Howard sees? She is a projection of Howard’s anima, something which ties into the feminine part that Howard so desperately needs, but has rejected. The mermaid, in the process, becomes unreliable and especially out of reach when Howard realizes the tricks that have been played on him.

The archetype of self is where the ego ultimately lies and is also where the organizing center of a person’s psychological system lies. Because the self is an unconscious force, the ego serves as a bridge into consciousness linking together the psyche with the external world. I wrote earlier that I think there is a natural progression that The Lighthouse tackles and I still think that, but unlike the onion analogy from before, the parts of the psyche aren’t integrated well. That’s where the fun lies, however. To reach the self, a person has to first recognize that they have a mask via the archetype of persona. Then, the person has to bring the archetype of shadow into consciousness to deal with. Lastly, the person should accept elements of the archetype of anima (or animus) to finally reach the self. Howard is somewhat aware of the archetypes (some more than others), but he never takes the effort to correct the incongruent parts of his personality.

What happens when a person never goes through the process of individuation by bringing together parts of the conscious with parts of the unconscious? All that is left is to think about the psyche itself. Towards the end, Howard overtakes Wake and becomes the master of the lighthouse himself. Wake is relegated to the position of a dog on a leash is eventually killed by Howard. Then Howard goes to the lantern room to be enchanted by a light that leaves him in disheveled state screaming loudly before falling down a circular staircase. I believe the light is a representation of the self and since Howard did not go through the process of individuation, he won’t ever find unity even though he has found the self. It just doesn’t work like that. The end scene is Howard naked and on the ground being pecked at by seagulls. The background is white and with a structure as big as a lighthouse, you would think the lighthouse would be in the shot too, but it’s not. The psyche aka the lighthouse can’t handle Howard skipping through the natural progression of the archetypes and with that, the psyche has burst.

I joined Letterboxd because my sister’s friend pulled up her review on The Lighthouse and have only gotten to this one now. There is no better time than now I guess (quite literally because I will be busier soon).

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