The Lighthouse

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson star as sparring lighthouse keepers who drive each other mad in Robert Eggers’s “The Lighthouse.”

By Jason Guyer

There are few of us, I suspect, that truly like to be unsettled, who love to be uncomfortable squirming in their chairs (or movie theater seat).

There have been very few films that have made me completely uncomfortable. One of the most unsettling movie experiences I have had with a film was Takashi Miike’s 1999 film “Audition.”

The most recent film to have an unsettling quality to it was from New Hampshire native Robert Eggers.

The 2015 film, “The Witch,” was Eggers first film feature length film and directorial debut. The film depicted the panic and despair felt by a family of farmers who suspect witchcraft. Eggers made an unsettling and uncomfortable film with “The Witch.”

After watching Eggers’ newest endeavor “The Lighthouse,” it is clear Eggers likes to make his audience uncomfortable. The director may even get pleasure from making his actors uncomfortable.

If you have seen “The Witch” and understand the unsettling I speak of, I assure you nothing prepares the audience for what “The Lighthouse” brings.

“The Lighthouse” tells the story of Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe).

The pair are lighthouse keepers on a desolate New England island station and the long-term job creates unique circumstances and dynamics for the pair. The largest of which is trying to keep madness at bay.

Thomas Wake is Ephraim Winslow’s boss and with just the pair on the island it creates an interesting power dynamic. One that finds Thomas Wake using flatulence as a display of power over young Ephraim.

There are sex dreams about mermaids.

My favorite is an ill-tempered seagull who seems as though he is possessed or at least carries a grudge towards Ephraim.

Early in the film, Thomas warns Ephraim when he sees Ephraim has an issue with the bird. In a thick Maine accent Thomas says: “Bad luck to kill a seabird!”

Of course, Ephraim does not heed the warning.

The core mystery of “The Lighthouse” is the lighthouse itself. To be more accurate, the mystery is in the light of the lighthouse.

Thomas seems to understand it and is the only one of the two who is allowed to care for it. Thomas greedily guards his knowledge of the lighthouse from Ephraim.

When a powerful storm hits their desolate New England island station, the pair begin to unravel and really start to drive each other mad.

Madness is what “The Lighthouse” is.

“The Lighthouse” is unsettling because you are watching two people go mad. The film creates these unsettling moments, like what Ephraim does to the seagull, but “The Lighthouse’s” true brilliance is the unsettling nature overall as you watch two people go crazy.

Sure, the self abuse scenes are uncomfortable and head turning but the best parts of “The Lighthouse” are when Ephraim and Thomas are driving each other insane verbally.

Each night they have dinner and get drunk. These nights continually escalate and get worse for the pair as their stay on the island becomes longer.

There are downsides to the “The Lighthouse” or will be for some.

“The Lighthouse” is shot on 35mm black and white film stock.

This causes two things general film audiences may not like.

“The Lighthouse” is in black and white and in the theater the screen image does not stretch the full width of the theater screen.

These may be downsides for many but what shooting in this format adds to the story and especially the type of story Eggers is telling can only be ruined by digital.

Cinematographer Jarin Blaschk told Variety magazine: “Digital wouldn’t let them achieve the texture they had in mind.

“What we photography nerds would call ‘micro-contrast.’ [The look] was never going to be a romantic black and white. It was more of a dusty, crusty, rusty, musty black and white,” Blaschk said.

He is not wrong, the dusty and crusty as he calls it adds to the atmosphere and gives a necessary grittiness to a story set in the time period of “The Lighthouse.”

This only adds to the depth of the film.

Eggers seems to love people toiling in suffering and pain, or at least loves to tell stories in dealing with such issues.

Eggers is one of the best up and coming director around. The drive to make the audience uncomfortable and unsettled makes his films interesting.

Hailing from Lee, New Hampshire Robert Eggers is someone all of us New Hampshire natives should watch and maybe even have a vested interest in.

There are not many in New Hampshire native directors and even fewer that tell New England tales.

It is always great to see NH and New England get a light shone on it. Only good things come when New Hampshire natives do well.

The New England stories he tells are the most fascinating part of Robert Eggers film journey so far.

New England stories are underutilized in film and television and witches and lighthouses, does it get more New England than that.

We need more but for now we have Robert Eggers brilliantly built descent into madness, “The Lighthouse.”

IRATE SCORE: 4/5

Jason Guyer is an avid moviegoer and works in the graphics department at the Eagle Times. For questions or comments he can be emailed at guyerj@eagletimes.com.

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