Saturday, November 16, 2019

Movie Review: "The Lighthouse" (2019)

Director: Robert Eggers
Year: 2019
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

A lighthouse keeper and his assistant are driven into madness by tedious labor, long-term isolation, and the sea itself.

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson stand on a secluded island in a rainstorm in "The Lighthouse" (2019)
"I seen it, yer fond of me lobster. Say it! Say it. Say it!" (Image Source)
If ye be set on watching "The Lighthouse," be you prepared to have yer minds fucked, says we. This is the second feature film from writer/director Robert Eggers, his first being the excellent psychological horror flick "The VVitch." This film focuses on two lighthouse keepers named Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), an eccentric, grizzled old veteran who talks like a pirate, smokes a pipe, and walks with a limp, and the much younger rookie, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), who often drifts from place to place and job to job because he needs a change of pace. Ephraim is Wake's assistant who has been tasked with performing menial, laborious jobs day in, day out, on an island comprised of only their abode and the lighthouse they tend. The only company they keep is themselves. Ephraim and Thomas are supposed to be on the island for just four weeks, but as their work stretches beyond its intended end date, the two seem to be driven further and further into madness...if they weren't already there, to begin with.
The Lighthouse 2019 movie scene showing Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) confronting and yelling at Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson)
"The light is mine." (Image Source)
Regardless of how we personally feel about "The Lighthouse," we cannot deny that it is a visually stunning piece of cinema. We think the cinematography, art direction, set design, costumes, and direction are all Oscar-worthy. The way Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are dressed, the way they speak, their unkempt, dirty appearances, all of these qualities add to the authenticity of the world in which these characters exist and help it feel lived-in and genuine. As far as the performances are concerned, they are amazing. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson are terrific in their roles and completely engross themselves in their characters. Somewhere along the way, they are no longer Robert and Willem, but Ephraim and Thomas, the farting, cursing, drinking, batshit crazy lighthouse keepers who go a little more mad with each day that passes. The cinematography and lighting, combined with the 1.37:1 Academy aspect ratio, make this project look and feel like part of the Universal Classic Monster movie line-up. The appearance of it screams "old Hollywood." It's also exceedingly claustrophobic, from the constant crashing of waves to blaring boat horns in the distance to an undulating, reverberating musical score, "The Lighthouse" is the kind of movie you will feel to your core.

All this being said (this is where BigJ and I are going to disagree quite a bit), the narrative (or genuine lack thereof) is much more modern and experimental. It strives to push the audience to the edge of its limits, to shock people, and to make viewers uncomfortable and/or profoundly confused. This is where "The Lighthouse" lost BigJ. To him, it felt more like a series of bizarre events used to show off some weird body horror and an excessive seagull hatred rather than an attempt to tell a cohesive story. Maybe Eggers was trying to make his tale as confusing and as crazy as possible to convey the insanity of his characters, though this is all at the expense of the audience.

I haven't stopped thinking about this film since we saw it. I can't make heads or tails of whether or not I loved it or hated it. I *think* I liked it. Yes, the narrative is full of ambiguity. Yes, it can feel like little more than a string of madness and randomness tied together by two extremely unreliable characters. But the moodiness of it, the tautness of it, the claustrophobia, the way the film makes you feel it in every single one of your senses, the bizarre nature of the things that happen, did enough for me to be intrigued by it even weeks after seeing it. You never know who's who or what's what, words aren't just words and things that happen aren't there by accident, and just when you think you know what's really going on, the movie morphs itself into something else entirely. I liked the mysterious nature of it all, even if I didn't fully understand it (Dafoe has a bitchin' pirate voice and Eggers sure knows his ye olden-times vernacular).
Five seagulls fly in the sky in black and white movie still for Robert Eggers's A24 film "The Lighthouse" (2019)
"Bad luck to kill a sea bird." (Image Source)
"The Lighthouse" is not the type of film that's made for mass consumption. It's strange, it's ambiguous, it's bold, and it's absolutely bonkers, but that may not be a good thing depending on who you are. Those looking for an engaging story may need to look elsewhere. We so very much admire the skill and dedication that went into making a movie like this, but we can't wholly recommend it since it's the kind of project only a niche audience will appreciate. It's like an art piece: it's meant to be admired more than it's meant to be engaged with.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.3/10
RT Rating: 92%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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