Review: ‘The Lighthouse’

The Lighthouse one-sheet poster

The Lighthouse | Robert Eggers | October 18, 2019

When left unchecked, our mind can be the most dangerous thing to us. It can take us to some pretty dark places where reality and fantasy become one and the same, where your worst nightmares and fears seem more real than any sane thoughts grounded in reality of your past, present, and future. This is very much the case in Robert Eggers’ sophomore feature film The Lighthouse, a showcase for the supreme acting talents of Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe to go toe to toe.

The Lighthouse still - Ephraim and Thomas

Its the late 1890s, and two complete strangers – Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) – are assigned to tend to a lighthouse isolated on a remote island off the coast of New England for a month. They are completely opposite personalities with the elderly and more experienced Wake seemingly always testing the mysterious Winslow and trying to see how he can push his buttons. Winslow doesn’t drink, but this changes soon with Wake’s urging him to drink with him. Slowly but surely, as the two grating personas mix with one another, it isn’t long until Winslow is trying to find anything to guzzle down to keep (or lose?) his sanity.

The Lighthouse still - Ephraim and Thomas drinking

At its core, The Lighthouse is more of an all-encompassing experience that a strictly plot-based film. Sure, it’s about two men trying to keep their sanity as they slowly begin to descend into madness, unsure of how long they’ve truly be stuck on the island isolated from the rest of the world. They also both are harboring secrets of their own and aren’t quite sure who they are really spending all this time with. But really Eggers frames this all as an experience. It’s unnerving and often perplexing, totally putting the viewer into the experience of this chaotic frame of mind of slowly losing your mind – all with a healthy dose of cinematic heft and plenty of symbolism.

The Lighthouse still - Thomas and Ephraim outside the lighthouse

Eggers proved he was a talent to watch with his captivating debut offering The Witch and he immediately proves that he’s the real deal within The Lighthouse’s striking opening sequence of the men arriving at the island. He isn’t afraid to hold a shot long enough for it to linger and play with your mind, offering plenty of sequences that provoke and ask you to look inside and consider what it means to you. He and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke capture it all in gorgeous black and white that is framed in a 1.19.1 silent film era square format that helps frame the isolation and despair that our two characters are experiencing. The cinematography is some of the most striking you’ll see all year, with Blaschke brilliantly using underlighting to help capture the slow descent into madness that is happening right before our very eyes.

With nearly all of the 110-minute runtime focused on the two characters, the casting was a supremely crucial part of The Lighthouse and it’s hard to imagine it working without both Dafoe and Pattinson steering the ship. Pattinson continues to prove that he’s one of the most promising actors of the new generation, while Dafoe gets to chew delicious scenery while reminding us that he is a national treasure, one that is almost taken for granted, if you can believe it. While Pattinson more than holds his own, it’s the performance from Dafoe that lingers on your mind, a feverish batshit performance that goes from true derangement to something else entirely with just the passing of a given moment.

The Lighthouse still - Ephraim and Thomas in the rain

While the old-timey sailor lingo and style of the film is meant to keep you off-balance, there’s surprising amount of dark and equally demented comedy to be found here. You can bet that a ton of these wild moments and specific lines will be randomly floated by cinephiles and Film Twitter for many years to come and rightfully so. While casual audiences may find that The Lighthouse is a bit tough to chew, there’s enough humor and cinematic bravado that will make this impressionistic experience simply unforgettable.

Rating: 8.9/10