Rating: 4 out of 5
My favorite phenomenon of watching movies in theaters is the long pause in between exiting the theater and talking about the film. I am not one to talk about the film the moment it concludes, I want to let the film stew in my thoughts and feelings, attempting to linger in the mood that the film leaves behind as the credits roll. In the minutes after Robert Eggers sophomore feature, The Lighthouse, my friend and I were mute for a very long time, not for a lack of things to discuss about the film, rather due to an overabundance of interpretations and theories. Not since my junior year of high school when my mother and I went to see Carol had a movie’s greatness been so stifling and difficult to articulate. That film left us speechless due to its elegance and tenderness, whereas The Lighthouse is so memorable and inscrutable because of its unwavering singularity. One wishes to see it again in hopes that themes, images and narrative revelations become more tangible, however, the joy of watching, The Lighthouse, is exactly this distance between what is transpiring on-screen, what the viewer believes to be happening, and what the characters assume is going on that arouses tension, inducing an atmosphere of uncertainty and dread.
The Lighthouse is not a passive viewing experience, almost every scene in the film requires attention to detail and a genuine level of engagement with the on-screen text. This film will leave you behind and not concern itself with holding your hand. The Lighthouse is absolutely unrelenting in it’s fascination with the minutiae of the protagonists’ lives, and it’s a testament to both of the primary players, Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson combined with Eggers assured vision that these early scenes are so engrossing and unnerving. Watching Winslow (Pattinson) struggle with daily chores at the firm commands of the drunken Thomas (Dafoe) would simply be filler in other genre films, a “calm before the storm”, to use a sea-faring term; here, however, they gain legitimate significance narratively, as all of these actions are repeated in some fashion towards the latter half of the film in a slightly different albeit incredibly crucial manner.
The performances in this film are mostly amazing, both Winslow and Thomas are allotted monologues before the film’s end that rank among the best work in either of the actor’s respective careers. If the term “curdled foreskin” never entered your brain… well… you can thank Eggers and Pattinson, it won’t leave once it’s there. The performances falter slightly in the film’s commitment to accents, while Dafoe is completely entrenched in his scurvy-pirate voice, Pattinson struggles to find a consistent tone and accent. There were scenes where he could’ve been from the American-South, but then occasionally from Ireland, and then his actual accent would slip through and he’s British suddenly. It was jarring. This could contain narrative relevance as it pertains to Winslow’s character development later on in the story but it mostly felt like Pattinson just isn’t good at accents, and after seeing the latter half of The King, I am inclined to believe it’s a question of quality rather than directing the performance towards the ambiguous origins of the character.
The genre is perhaps the most indefinable aspect of The Lighthouse. While it’s occasionally uncomfortable, genuinely frightening and extremely weird, it’s also hilarious. There were scenes where my friend and I were openly cackling as a confused audience around us stared up at the screen completely stoic. It’s not funny like a joke or a punchline, the laughs stem from the absurdity of being a human in this particularly bizarre situation which is a refreshing approach to comedy, some people didn’t get it, and that’s okay. The genre feels purposefully dodging, as if it’s always fleeing to some other genre-pillar. The Lighthouse shares the most with a mystery film despite the terror and genuine thrills that the film provides. The film requires the viewer to play detective, calling on prior knowledge of mythology and religion to coalesce with the on-screen events to strengthen the narrative and themes. This is largely successful but there are perhaps one or two too many red-herrings and misleading clues, however, sifting through what is relevant and what isn’t is incredible fun, especially with a friend, what sticks out for some may not for others.
Even if The Lighthouse absolutely annoys or frustrates a viewer the film is absolutely worth watching. It’s clever, witty, shocking, sometimes revolting but always engaging. The photography is gorgeous, the composition is constantly meaningful. Eggers understands the importance of reaction shots. He often lingers on someone’s reaction much longer than he focuses on what they are reacting to. This technique forms some of the film’s most effective scenes, the dream sequences especially become all the more horrific as they often begin with Winslow’s bewildered expressions. There will not be another film quite like The Lighthouse this year or even next year, and that can be said with explicit confidence that brings sadness to my heart but really accentuates what a massive achievement this film is in the current media landscape: a genuinely unique, daring, bold outing at the cinema that deserves to be shared, beloved and berated passionately by many for years to come.