The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse (2019) Director: Robert Eggers

★★★☆☆

Following up his acclaimed disturbing horror flick The Witch (2015), Robert Eggers returned in 2019 with a script written by his brother for The Lighthouse, an unsettling tale of nautical madness and mythology about two men stranded on an island as they gradually go insane. The first man is named Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), a grizzled and smarmy seadog who rules the island like a tyrant; and the other is a young novice named Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), though we later learn this is merely an assumed from is former boss who died in a logging accident that could have been prevented –his real name is Thomas Howard. Wake treats Winslow poorly, giving him all the dirty, grimy jobs on the island. Wake prevents Winslow from entering the upper chamber of the lighthouse, and one night Wake witnesses a naked Winslow standing before the light atop the lighthouse. As time passes, and a storm approaches, their supplies begin to dwindle and they drink up all their alcohol while slowly going insane with hallucinations of mermaids and other mythological creatures until Winslow eventually beats Wake to a bloody pulp and buries him alive. He then takes the keys and enters the upper chamber of the lighthouse only to be driven mad with a fit of laughter. He then falls down the stairs and in the final scene we see a naked Winslow slowly dying on the beach while seagulls eat out his innards. Was it all real? Was this merely the fever dream of a dying man? The film provides no answers, and deliberately so.

The Lighthouse is a confusing, unsettling, and shockingly disgusting film, but it is absolutely beautiful the way it is shot in old-fashioned black and white cinematography (for which it won an Oscar), and the use of the camera is masterful with gripping angles, as well as haunting and dazzling lighting techniques. I appreciated the technical and cinematic achievements of The Lighthouse far more than the plot or themes in this film. I found the oddly crude sexual overtures to be off-putting as the whole film is rife with a strange erotic subtext. Perhaps I need to sit on this film for a while and re-watch it in coming years but I really don’t relish doing so.

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