Justin Peterson’s review published on Letterboxd:
(Halloween Movie Fest 2019 Hangover)
A pair of salty lighthouse keepers descend into pure and utter madness surrounded by the sea.
"Should pale death, with treble dread, make the ocean caves our bed, God who hears the surges roll deign to save our suppliant soul."
Director Robert Eggers' sophomore film The Lighthouse is by far one of the most ambiguous and crazy arthouse films I have seen in a while. After watching it just once I would say that it was excellent, and I can easily see my score going up on multiple viewings since there is so much to take in here. Now I will do my best to sort out all the pieces.
The performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson are spectacular, as these two scurvy New Englanders working as lighthouse caretakers. Next time I watch this it will definitely be with subtilities, because their accents were so thick at times that it was difficult to understand what they were saying. It is just the two of them and they do an amazing job of holding up the movie. But one minor complaint I have it that the story feels a little one note, because we never get any kind of break from these sea dog sailor type characters.
The two of them trying to stay sane while dealing with each other felt a lot like a stage play, especially since they often have long stretches of dialogue that felt Shakespearean, kind of like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Each of them gives incredibly physical performances while they are dreading through all the filthy Island muck. For instance, there is one scene where dirt is getting thrown at a character and he unwaveringly continues spewing out his lines.
The eerie atmosphere Eggers creates on this island is so palpable with the foggy ocean air that surrounds this rough-looking house, but nearly pristine-looking lighthouse. The movie is framed in the old fashion 4x3 full-screen format which works in two unique ways. First, it enhances the claustrophobic feel of these guys crammed into shots, and also helps create these elongated views that slowly pane up the heavenly reaching lighthouse. The grainy black and white photography provided such a unique aesthetic that worked perfectly with this story, and made it look so much older. Also the music worked great to enhance this strange and uncertain environment, especially the siren sound that is present throughout that reminded me of the siren from the end of 'Alien'.
If you like really crazy movies with intense imagery that will leave you puzzled by the end, then The Lighthouse is definitely worth getting lost in.
"Alright, have it your way. I like your cookin'."
In the story we have Dafoe who is the experienced/farty old lighthouse keeper who insists he is the only one that can take care of the actual light. This leaves Pattinson to do just about everything else including dumping out their excrement and scrubbing the floors. We hear Dafoe constantly telling Pattinson that he is not doing his chores currently, and it is hard to tell who is telling the truth because there are so many dream sequences, which becomes disorienting about how far along the story has progressed. Just like the look of the film, the story has this hazy ambiguous quality that leaves you uncertain about how to feel about these two crazy guys.
Dafoe loves to act like Pattinson's superior and at first just calls him lad instead of his actual name. We come to find out Pattinson is a journeyman when it comes to jobs, and he used to work up north doing lumber. Dafoe is very superstitious and as the story goes along we see Pattinson disregarding each of his warnings, like not to kill a seabird.
At first it feels like there assigned month on the Island is flying by. But on their last night together, Dafoe finally talks him into getting drunk and they have a great time singing songs together. But then their replacements never showing up really causes time to blur, since they are trapped with each other indefinitely. It was interesting to see them deal with their sexual repression and sanity, as they continue to develop cabin fever. They also become spastic with their behavior since at times they will enjoy each other's company, and even get close to becoming intimate. But at other times they will argue and then suddenly break out into fights.
And of course I am going to point out a few of the moments that felt like they were inspired by 'The Shining'. First, there is a really eerie scene where the camera is slowly zooming toward Pattinson's crazy eyes, while we are hearing a high pitch sound. Toward the end, we get one of the guys hobbling around with an ax. The outside mist was very reminiscent of the snowstorm around The Overlook. Also toward the beginning, there was a cool side view that followed Pattison through a room and passed through a wall that had a Wes Anderson/Kubrick feel.
One of the most difficult parts about The Lighthouse was trying to follow along with all the references to mythology and other stories. For instance, there is a mermaid/siren that is driving Pattinson mad through her seduction. Dafoe's character at one point turns into a sea god which another analysis that I checked out said was referencing Proteus, who in mythology was the prophetic old man of the sea. Meantime Pattison's body being picked apart by birds at the end, is said to be just like Prometheus legend. These interpretations went on to say the light that overwhelms Pattison during the climax was a symbol of Mountain Olympus, but for me, him being thrown back by this blinding light and sent crashing down to earth felt more like the Icarus legend.
I find it fascinating to learn about these inspirations for the story, and I am eager to continue figuring them all out. For instance, what did he admit that lead to the whole spill your beans part? And what was with the flashes of the other blonde-haired guy? Was that Dafoe's former partner that he killed. Also, it would be interesting to know more about what substance they were combining with sugar to make their own booze.
While I did not instantly love The Lighthouse, I am really enjoying peeling back all of its layers to think about what I was able to easily latch onto about the film, and which parts made it a more challenging experience that I can look to understand better next time.
Thanks for reading.
Happy movie watching ... SKOL!