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FilmSoc Reviews: The Lighthouse

Posted by FilmSoc on Wed, 05-02-2020

By Eoin McCambridge

The Lighthouse is the new film from director Robert Eggers and stars Robert Pattinson as Ephraim Winslow and Willem Dafoe as Thomas Wake, two men who work as lighthouse keepers on a small island in the late 1800s. As the film progresses the isolation starts to take a toll on the men, and they deal with the expected troubles that come with spending a long period of time with the same person and no one else. That’s all I can say about the plot really, and that’s for two reasons. One, obviously, is spoilers and the other is you’re never really sure of what’s truly going on. By that I don’t mean the film is a mess, I mean Eggers leaves large portions of the film open to the viewers own interpretation as to what’s really going on. Like is what we are seeing real or just a figment of the characters imagination? Is there something supernatural at play or are things rather straightforward? Is the plot surface level or are there deep metaphors throughout the film? Different people will take different things from the film and I think that’s a testament to the films quality, and Id recommend you see it with as much people as possible as there will likely be an interesting discussion about peoples different interpretations after the film. That being said, much like Robert Eggers last film, The Witch, I could see The Lighthouse polarizing audiences between those who appreciated the deep layers of the film and those who wanted something more conventional. I’m in the camp that thought the film was great, but I recognize its not for everyone. 

Those paying attention to the films marketing will know its biggest selling point is its aesthetic. The film is shot entirely in black and white on 35mm film in a vintage style, made to look like it was made in the 1890s setting of the film. It is truly unique in that respect and adds to the films charm and atmosphere. Furthermore its done in a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, meaning when projected in a cinema it occupies a smaller area of the screen than your standard 1.85:1 or 2.39:1 aspect ratios, this once again done to fit in with 19th Century photography the likes of which you’d see in the films setting. For all these aesthetic reasons I’d highly recommend you see The Lighthouse in cinemas rather than at home, as that’s where it was specifically made to be shown, and the film has deservingly been nominated for Best Cinematography at the Oscars. 

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson both give good performances as Wake and Winslow respectively, Dafoe in particular shines as the typical old sea captain.  Naturally he has a big messy beard, a fondness for alcohol and recites poems about Poseidon and other maritime superstitions in his booming voice. I can confidently say he has the best lines of the film. Pattinson should by no means be forgotten about though. He is the younger, much less experienced lighthouse keeper looking to make some handy money for himself. As the film progresses Pattinson gets to really show off his acting range, with the isolation starting to take a toll on his mental state. The two actors complement each other very well, with them constantly jumping back and forth between confrontational and chummy depending on what scene it is, in a way that actually seems believable. Their dynamic is one of the main sources of tension in a very tension filled film. The Lighthouse paces itself methodically, with a lot of scenes in the first act consisting of Pattinsons’ Winslow doing manual labour as the film hypnotically introduces you to the repetitive and tedious nature of life at the island, subtly setting the stage for the more explosive scenes later on. Sure, it’s a slow burn, but it’s a slow burn that I think works very well. 

I was very impressed with The Lighthouse. Director Robert Eggers manages to create a film packed with potential substance to reflect on and rabbit holes to go down that also is engaging and filled with the tension and claustrophobia that comes with spending an extended period of time with the same person in one location. Add to that a very unique and charming look and feel and you have yourself a movie absolutely worth seeing. I’ve seen it twice now and got different things out of it each time. Looking forward to seeing more of Robert Eggers work in the future. 

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