This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
IHE’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I saw this at BFI London Film Festival thanks to a very generous Sardonicast listener who happened to have a spare ticket, thanks again, Harri!
A pretty stunning film in every aspect. I don’t really have any problems with the movie but there is plenty I adore about it. This film will be picked apart for a very long time and almost demands multiple viewings to formulate a thorough interpretation.
First off, the unique, almost square 1.19:1 aspect ratio immediately sets the claustrophobic atmosphere that helps you feel the confinement of the desolate island and accentuate the closed off isolation of the characters. The entire movie is set in one location which could potentially be a challenge to keep interesting. However, the shot composition, blocking, lighting, editing, sound design and basically every element behind the production is mysterious and beautiful enough to keep it compelling for the entire runtime. It’s probably the most visually creative and striking movie I have seen in a while. I loved how the camera mostly remained static, with the occasional sparing camera movement used to underline the impact of a scene. The bizarre symmetry of the composition is not only pleasing to the eye but adds a certain level of unease and discomfort, thanks to the almost too perfect detached perspective.
The two actors effectively carry the entire film, their commitment and dedication to the material grounds the story as it slowly gets stranger and stranger. Their dialect and language is also clearly very well researched and adds a lot of personality to the film.
To me, Dafoe almost steals the show. His performance is wonderful as a grubby, yellow-toothed, farting, jaded old lighthouse keeper who constantly keeps you guessing as to what his intentions truly are. His dialogue is full of passionate, intimidating, long-form speeches that you simply cannot take your eyes off once he gets going. It will be hard to see a better performance this year.
Pattinson provides a necessary counterbalance to Dafoe as a quiet, understated underling who slowly seems to unravel his sanity as he desperately tries to grapple with whatever is happening with the lighthouse.
Which leads to what is actually going on, the truth is I really don’t know for certain. The film is very metaphorical and is by no means literal in its approach, the director Robert Eggers even claimed in the q&a after the movie that it’s purposefully meant to be open-ended so you can somewhat take it however you like and project meaning based on what you perceive. Which can be a huge turn off to some, but in the right instance, I find it can be stimulating and satisfying as a viewer.
Personally, through the first couple of acts, I grappled with different top-level themes that seemed to explore sex and drug addiction. But once I’d seen the entire movie I settled more on the idea that this film is, to me, about the way the mind tortures itself for past grief or trauma. The lighthouse location itself is almost a state of purgatory, with Dafoe being the manifestation of the doubt and logic one uses to argue with themselves and pick apart their psyche. Pattinson’s character is clearly trying to escape something, you see hints of something horrendous he may have done in the past. The way you feel about each character brilliantly shifts on itself as it progresses, you constantly change who you feel sympathy for and who you relate to. I felt that the ending was the character finally coming to terms with what he’d done and receiving a just fate as a consequence.
This may change on rewatch, but that was my takeaway after my first viewing.
This film certainly won’t be for everyone, the abstract nature might be off-putting to some. But if you get a lot out of films such as Under the Skin or Eraserhead, there’s almost no way you won’t enjoy this too.
As far as comparing to Eggers previous film The VVitch, it’s better in almost every way. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the VVitch, there are actually a lot of similarities in the atmosphere and overall feel. This director is clearly obsessed with old myths and legends, which to me is always interesting. I think I may have found the VVitch slightly scarier, but the lighthouse definitely still has multiple moments of unease and terror.
This is starting to ramble now so I need to stop, but I think it’s a sign of how fascinating the film is overall. I’m looking forward to talking about it on Sardonicast. Just temper your expectations and go in with an open mind, it’s too easy to overhype media that is talked about the way this movie is. It’s different, open-ended and weird. Let it wash over you like a juicy fart from Willem Dafoe’s poopy bum bum.