The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse ★★★★½

2019 RANKED

*no spoilers*

The Lighthouse stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two lighthouse keepers facing claustrophobic isolation during a raging storm.
Pattinson stars as Ephraim Winslow, a former timber man who becomes an old and decrepit lighthouse keeper's hand. That old and decrepit lighthouse keeper is played with crazed ferocity by Willem Dafoe in yet another hit in a string of recent great performances. Dafoe and Pattinson are the only two characters in the film (technically) and the film uses them to their full extent. Robert Eggers, director of the “The Witch” (2016), a similar film which was set in New England, in the sixteen-hundreds, directed The Lighthouse. Now the forest pines and folklore of the Witch are gone and replaced with fog, seagulls, and water. Lots of water. The film is set on a small island off the coast of Maine where the two men are tasked with the duties of working on the island for four weeks. Ephraim, who like an out of place western loner; "keeps to himself", acts almost as Wake's lowly maid or housewife. He paints the lighthouse, dumps their waste, and scrubs and cleans the floors. Thomas seemingly does nothing. “I tend the light”. “The light is mine”; he declares. Wake holds the only key to the light room, a mysteriously mystical place. Thomas spends most of his time staring into its depths, shirtless and sweaty looking in some sort of ecstasy. The light to him serves as some sort of almighty power. What answers does it have, we never know but he speaks of it in almost a preternaturally sexual nature, to Winslow's growing irritation.
That irritation grows and the film mostly consists of maddeningly long and extended scenes of arguments. Winslow becomes drunk and truly insane, hilariously insulting Wake with a plethora of raunchy and disgusting insults. In these scenes, Pattinson truly shows his range, sometimes even going so far as vomiting on the floor while screaming random gibberish at Dafoe. Dafaoe, on the other hand, releases a storm of tyranny in his scriptural rants of biblical proportions. He yells of Triton and Poseidon and sea curses in a perfectly farce sea-shanty accent that can be almost in decipherable at times.
These arguments always end with Ephraim and Thomas being black-out drunk or solemnly telling their deepest secrets (spilling yer beans as Dafoe memorably says). These confessions are used against the other throughout the film and lend greatly to their scenes of intense howling where one goes so far as to chase the other with in axe in the middle of a storm outside.
What I wasn't expecting was how disturbing and hilarious the film is. The Lighthouse is very gruesome and grotesque. Eggers pulls from the horror lore he loves so much with his ghastly and macabre imagery. The film is shot on gorgeous 35mm film stock and it uses a square silent-film aspect ratio (1.19:1) and stark grainy black-and-white photography to establish a clear and present atmosphere that works on genius levels. Some of the outdoor scenes look like they were ripped straight out of a 20s film. Eggers and his brother and co-writer, Max, write genuinely hilarious dialogue including scenes where Ephraim rants about Thomas's constant farts and another where Thomas reacts in disbelief when Thomas drunkenly confesses he isn't fond of his cooking and specifically his crab.
I'm barely scratching the surface here. There's so much to dissect but one would need to go into spoilers, and the film only just came out. Eggers has crafted an astonishing work of original genre cinema. A masterful two-hander play of sorts that works as a cacophonous assault on our souls. A constant attack of venomous anger from both the raging storm outside, the screaming one eyed seagulls, violent perverted fantasies of Mermaids, and of course the raging ferocity of our two leads.


The Lighthouse is a film for our time.

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