Lighthouse Robert Pattinson Willem Dafoe review

Year: 2019
Director(s): Robert Eggers
Writer(s): Robert Eggers, Max Eggers
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: R
Black and white, 109 mins

Synopsis: The hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s. (Source)

The Lighthouse is the bleak, extended punchline to a joke we didn’t ask for. It’s at times undeniably esoteric, aggressively bizarre, yet hypnotic all the same. In a confident about face from his first feature, director Robert Eggers’ seasick farce plays out like Sartre’s No Exit, albeit in the form of a drunken seaman’s jig. Those looking for the oppressive darkness of The Witch won’t find it here. Instead, this is an increasingly psychological portrait of two men stranded by their own unspoken loneliness and regret. The film is grueling, but also a mythical headtrip that details the hell that is other people.

The story centers exclusively on two lighthouse keepers. Ephraim (Robert Pattinson) is a younger of the two. He’s running from a checkered past and tasked with all the grunt work. Lots of spinning gears, dusting, cleaning, etc. His senior, Thomas (Willem Dafoe), is in charge. He’s not afraid to be a bit commandeering, but beyond his exterior, you can sense there’s more to him. Hunkering down for a four week shift, the pair dance around each other in more ways than one. Ephraim works in the day, Thomas at night, with a bit of overlap in the middle. They essentially meet up during meals where tensions seem to boil. As their stay begins to grind on, the lighthouse’s mysterious light begins to ensnare them, and each stop at nothing to chase its enchantment.

It’s clear that above all, this film is about the contact high you get from watching it. Eggers’ main asset is a motif of tedious, yet irresistible rhythm. A boat’s engines pulse as it transports Ephraim and Thomas into solitude. A collection of endlessly moving gears keep the light burning bright. We hear nonstop crashing from the waves, flapping and squeaking from seagulls and the horns of oncoming ships, to name a few of the film’s repetitious audio cues. All of these blend to create an atmosphere of oppression as Jarin Blaschke’s gorgeous photography submerges us into the deteriorating minds of Eggers’ characters. The story is pushing not only its characters, but the limits of each viewer. It thrives amidst cascading lunacy, scatalogical humor and Lovecraftian intrigue. As the film gleefully goes off the rails, Eggers explores two men who simply can’t process their anguish or how they feel about one another. If you can get in on the film’s wavelength, there’s endless things to love in this irreverent descent into abstract morbidity.

Lighthouse Robert Pattinson Willem Dafoe

With its exclusive focus, Dafoe and Pattinson are indispensable. As the only two characters on screen (save for a few flashbacks or hallucinations), Dafoe and Pattinson are the film’s heart and soul. Both men couldn’t be a better match. We hang on every word they say, and as tensions rise, their descent balances deadpan laughs with existential terror. As Thomas, Dafoe is scraggly and abrasive, but hides a fragility beyond his eccentric exterior. Pattinson gives Ephraim an intrigue that drives the mystery, with an internal performance that tracks without dialogue. As Ephraim slips further into the ludicrous, Pattinson is sincere without betraying the film’s absurdity. 

By design, The Lighthouse is more abstract than its black and white photography suggests. It’s a cinematic enchantment that seems poised for multiple viewings, if you aren’t turned off by its offbeat madness. I for one got caught up in the film’s enigmatic trance. Eggers has crafted an experience that isn’t merely about answering questions but about taking us somewhere we didn’t know we wanted to go. As a respite from horror films that feel content by maintaining the status quo, Eggers’ latest is a palette cleanser that stares deep into the sea’s embrace and drowns us with its unknowing possibility – and the darkness we hide within.