Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse” casts a long light and should point many other horror filmmakers toward the right direction. Anchored by two powerhouse performances from Dafoe and Pattinson, it’s a haunting, never-felt-before experience.
The cerebral, highly-symbolic “The Lighthouse” begins with an almost trifle premise. An old keeper of the sea tower Thomas (Willem Dafoe) hires a helping hand, Ephraim (Robert Pattinson). The two arrive to a remote, rocky cliff, and are destined to put up with each other for a few weeks. The everyday routine of Ephraim excludes, however, tending to the light on top. That is because this particular task’s solely reserved for Thomas (despite a clearly different orders passed on to Ephraim upon his arrival).
The dominance of dark minimalism
The minimalist form dominates and pierces through every layer of Eggers’ film. Within the first second, the director reduces the screen ratio to the unconventional 1:19, leaving little space to breathe. Such a surgical cut on both sides of the screen becomes essential to the cinematography and composition in “The Lighthouse”. All of the film’s footage was shot on 35mm black and white Double-X 5222 film, which was then designed to conjure up the stuffy confines, and establish analogies to the 30s and 40s, particularly films of Fritz Lang or silent movies. However, one will also notice “Nosferatu” and “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” in its ingenious canvas.
Thanks to the black-and-white palette, “The Lighthouse” mimics such vintage aesthetic flawlessly. I was awe-struck when the spectacular clash of light and dark unfolded in front of me, with omnipresent unease that lurks from both the lighthouse and its surroundings. Jarin Blaschke’s work (the DP on the set) compliments such suspense-filled mood. Through cramped framing and effective limiting of the space, Blaschke provided Eggers with the right visual tone to tell the wicked story.
A riveting character study of madness
Once we settle in together with Thomas and Ephraim, “The Lighthouse” swiftly transforms its simplistic premise. Loosely based on a fishermen’s tale about two Welsh lighthouse keepers, Eggers’ narration seamlessly incorporates a world of beliefs and surrealism, and weaves them into reality. Mermaids, omen-like seagulls and even the ear-drilling horn sound of the lighthouse, blend together into a vivid nightmare, in which the border between the states of sleep and awake blur.
The clashing of these worlds is reflected in Dafoe and Pattinson’s roles.
These two (and only) characters contradict each other in almost everything. Dafoe wears a sailor’s swagger effortlessly, as if he’s born in a soaking-wet raincoat and a pipe in his mouth. The true talent of Dafoe almost instantly ignites in “The Lighthouse”, causing each of his on-screen moments to steal the show.
Pattinson, on the other hand, is gruff, withdrawn and unwilling to open up, and his insurmountable dilemma is to forbear Dafoe’s sea-tales mumblings. It’s a counter-argument, a fire that’s blown at. Their work, the two arches they build, are some of the finest craft I got to see in a long time.
As one can imagine, the two can’t find common grounds. A never-ending stream of booze excavates primal instincts in both gentlemen, and creates opportunity for Dafoe and Pattinson to flourish. Through incredibly written dialogues filled with nautical jargon, Eggers divides Thomas and Ephraim, and observes how – with no other mouth to talk to – they develop two different types of paranoia. But the real magic happens when Dafoe and Pattinson shuffle their points of authority, and engage the audience in a quarrel that becomes our nightmare too.
“The Lighthouse” is more than a psychological case study
Though it could hypnotize and win big just as a character study only, “The Lighthouse” showcases Eggers’ larger appetite. The director, whose startling debut “The Witch” was all but simple and a cards-on-the-table approach, plays a lot with allegories and symbols. Booze-sedated lighthouse keepers begin to see monsters, but on a deeper level, it’s the mind tricks played on their isolated minds.
However, Eggers goes even further with turning the volume up.
Eggers pushes the audience to wonder about the film’s symbolism and meaning – for example what the light at the top really is. Leaving much of the story told through implicit presumptions and hints, the director sparks the excitement without spoiling the fun of figuring out what the hell “The Lighthouse” is about. Because it’s quite an incredible film to analyze.
It’s hard not to fall in love with the sheer brilliance of Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse”. The story, bolstered by a meticulous visual design, has enough layers to keep a mind occupied hours after the screening. Docking a ship like this – artsy and very auteur – wasn’t easy, but Eggers surely seized the territory of the most unparalleled, film of 2019.
The Lighthouse (2019) – Culturally Hated or Loved?
Overall impression: With ‘The Lighthouse”, Eggers establishes himself as one of the most exciting filmmakers working now. This is a deeply hypnotizing film of grand scale, made by a dedicated auteur for exquisite tastes that will settle in its disturbing, palpably terrifying setting.
The Lighthouse (2019)
Dir. Robert Eggers
Hate Grade: 1.5/10