- 27 Jun - 03 Jul, 2020
- 02 Nov - 08 Nov, 2019
The Lighthouse, the second feature directed by Robert Eggers is a gripping and turbulent drama that draws on a number of influences, though it merges them into its own fluky gothic historical ominoso art-thriller thing. Set in the 1890s, and suffused with foghorns and epic gusts of wind, as well as a powerfully antiquated sense of myth and legend, the movie is shot in shimmeringly austere black-and-white, with a radically old-fashioned 1.19:1 aspect ratio. That lends everything that happens a weird immersive clarity. The entire film is set on a desolate island of jagged black rock, where a gnarly old sea dog, played by Willem Dafoe, declaiming his lines like Captain Ahab on a bender, is tending the lighthouse there for four weeks along with his new assistant, played with surly reticence – and then an aggression that bursts out of him like a demon – by Robert Pattinson.
They’re the only characters in the movie (unless you count a flirtatious mermaid siren, played by Valeriia Karaman, who flashes by in sequences that feel like dreams), but that doesn’t mean this is any sort of minimalist drama. As a filmmaker, Eggers is a maximalist – he stages The Lighthouse as a fetishistically authentic tale of grueling conditions, drunken meals by lone candlelight, and merciless physical labour, though the film is also a kind of ghost story. It’s also a combative two-hander in which the men, vying for power and camaraderie, chat and joke and jostle and take the piss and go at each other as if they were characters written by Sam Shepard in a sea-shanty frame of mind.
Thomas is supposed to be training Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson), a drifter looking to make enough money to settle down, in the art of lighthouse keeping. But Thomas, basically, wants to be obeyed, and he treats Ephraim as his galley slave. He’s a petty tyrant whose previous assistant went crazy, and Dafoe has a ripe blast playing around with his dialogue. Dafoe plays Thomas like a yob written by Shakespeare. His entire backstory consists of one line of dialogue, which Dafoe turns into a saddened haiku: “Thirteen Christmases at sea. Little ones at home. She never forgave it.” Supernatural or not, the real demon that haunts The Lighthouse is the ghost of male loneliness.