The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse ★★★★½

"What made your last keeper leave?"

The Witch was one of the most pivotal movies for me, so when I heard Robert Eggers was directing a new one I was excited but apprehensive. It's got unfair expectations to meet standing in the shadows of its older sister, yet like any sophomoric effort it needed to be not a pale imitation of its predecessor but a vision of its own.

But thankfully The Lighthouse is only similar in methodology. Like The Witch, it's a well-researched and meticulously-crafted work, with the historically-accurate dialogue emblematic of Egger's ridiculous attention to detail. And while there's so much to talk about, I'd like to appraise how it "merges" its contents together – the black and white cinematography especially blurs everything into one, and the constrained aspect ratio creates a natural radial symmetry on-screen.

"How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Two Days? Help me to recollect."

What's especially notable is how the marine and the machine blend together like a singular being, as cogs, gears, and barometers are juxtaposed with roiling sea and the rain. Water is inescapable as everything constantly drenches and drips, and while Winslow feeds the machine's embers with coal it only seems to fuel the incoming storm. It, as a lighthouse, guides ships across its other self, the sea, and so it becomes both the shepherd and the wolf.

The liquids present merge as well: water, alcohol, oil, and blood all look the same. There's a moment when Winslow looks in the well and it's hard to tell what's inside. We naturally assume it's water, and when it changes we rely on other cues to inform us of it. Their nightly drinks are also difficult to distinguish, as even though we can assume it's alcohol we can't actually differentiate it from water. And like the wickies the lighthouse also needs to drink, with the barrels Winslow lugs as the only clue they're for the machine.

And lastly the two men seem to merge together as well. Winslow and Wake constantly fight and forgive, and it's not their differences but their similarities that abet this. For much of the movie we don't even know what their names are, but that's not as important as the histories they share; when brought in to a rock miles off from the coast, divorced from the propriety and governance of any authority, how do their prior identities recontextualize their new (dual) existence?

"Keeping secrets, are you?"

The machine and the marine are one, and the rituals of man help keep that master alive. There's something so incredibly special about how this movie is constructed. It feels like something pulled from the annals of early cinematic history, but subtle techniques and iconography could only be done today. And because of this it's truly retro in the best way possible – it inhabits the spirit of the old but with the sensibilities of the new.


[Joint-review with Hay on All That Film here
▹ spoiler discussion here]

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