Review: The Lighthouse

I haven’t felt about a movie like I did with this one in quite some time. In fact, the last film that I remember making me think as hard about the story and it’s overall meaning was all the way back in 2010 with Christopher Nolan’s Inception. But unlike Inception, The Lighthouse relies on just two actors and one setting: a lighthouse (duh). It’s trippy, it’s bleak, and it’s a wonderful work of art.
Robert Eggers is back to the big screens with his sophomore film, riding the critical success of his 2015 horror hit The Witch. The story picks up with Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson, Twilight, Good Time) as he begins what should be an easy 4-week position working as a wickie at a remote island lighthouse near the turn of the 20th century. Supervised by a strange elderly man (Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man, The Florida Project), Ephraim works hard during the length of his shift despite his roommate’s odd behavior and emasculating comments. But in the wake of a bad storm, the two are forced to stay together for an extended time, and their working relationship becomes gradually more strained. Ephraim’s deteriorating mental state plus Winslow’s secrets result in building tension and unease inside the lighthouse.
If you didn’t notice, I tagged two specific films for each actor: one big blockbuster, franchise film and one smaller independent film. These two actors are both so talented, and I think it’s their smaller films away from attention-grabbing CGI that showcase their acting talent, such as The Lighthouse. These actors go hard. They are phenomenal and colorful in their roles despite the backdrop of a completely black and white film. And as both characters become somewhat untrustworthy, it becomes more apparent that the two have a lot in common, despite their differences in appearance and demeanor, and the actors sell it very well. But even though it’s the high caliber acting (and a sense of wonder) that sells the film, the crux is very acutely the story and trying to assess what’s really happening. And there is a lot happening.
In an interview, the director said, “[We] worked very hard…to tell the story in a way that provides more questions than answers.” Well, they accomplished their objective to keep things purposefully unanswered. Honestly, there are two ways that I understand this film, and both have just as much weight behind them, but I’m keeping this spoiler-free so I won’t divulge any details here. And given Eggers’ quote, I’m sure that either could be true. A lot of it has to be interpreted. From mermaids to shape-shifting to finding sexual gratification from a light, there is a lot happening that will push viewers to either accept everything at face value or dig for some deeper meaning. The characters draw us in to understand their feelings of thirst, confusion, fear, paranoia, and even being hungover and it paves the way for viewers to move back and forth between taking the storytelling as literal or metaphorical. Is there actually an alluring mermaid on the rocks or does she represent the character descending into madness at the calling of the sea? Is the lighthouse a sacred and guarded relic or simply an old lighthouse? Does Ephraim really lose his mind or is Thomas a figment of his imagination? One thing that I walked out of the theatre knowing for certain though is that I’m totally ready to see Pattinson don the iconic cape and mask for his titular role in The Batman next year.
This is a movie that I would love to have deeper conversations over, but that means that other people have to see it too! It will almost certainly be involved in the Oscars discussion for best film, actor/supporting actor, sound mixing, sound editing, production design, original screenplay, etc. so chances are it will come back to theatres early next year for a short run if you don’t see it this time around. Eggers has outdone himself with a weird fiction film that never misses a beat despite several loud farts easing the collective conscience. So please, go see this film and then come back here to comment with your thoughts. Thanks for reading, cheers!

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