Tuesday Review – The Lighthouse (2019)

films, reviews

the_lighthouse5_star_rating_system_5_stars I’m still not entirely convinced by Robert Pattinson. It’s not really his fault. I just haven’t seen that many of his films. Besides Harry Potter and Twilight I’ve managed to avoid the majority of Pattinson’s career. I didn’t really have a reaction when it was announced he was taking over as Batman. He’ll probably be quite good but, as we’ve seen, DC movies aren’t the most reliable. My heart just isn’t in it anymore. I’m willing to be proved wrong but I don’t see a new Batman story bringing anything new to the DCEU. So it doesn’t even really matter how good Pattinson is. I mean Christian Bale was an awful Batman but people still class him about Micheal Keaton (the actual best portrayal) because he’s the most recent. When it comes down to it, film fans have a very short attention span so whoever ends up wearing the cowl will, inevitably, become the favourite of most people. Now, I realise that I have been banging on about Batman for too long and it has nothing to do with why we’re here. To The Lighthouse… geddit? Cause of Virginia Woolf? Oh, fine.

I’ve not seen Robert Eggers’ The Witch so I wasn’t really sure what to expect from The Lighthouse. What I did know is that I was super intrigued. For one thing, Willam Dafoe is somebody you can’t ignore. After his performance as Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate last year, I couldn’t wait to see him in this. Especially as this was such an intimate and small setting. Pitting him against just one other actor seemed like the most exciting thing I could think of. Even if that other actor was Robert Pattinson cause I’m still not sure how I feel about him. Then there’s the fact that I’m always a sucker for a black and white film. Black and white photography? Nah. It’s just a way for people with no talent to feel like they’re doing something meaningful. Black and white film? That’s a bold move and I am invested.

The Lighthouse is a weird thing. It shouldn’t work at all. Two actors alone on an island and exchanging archaic language. It’s what I imagine the Mighty Boosh guys would have come up with if they had turned their hands to drama instead of comedy. But it’s possible I’m just remembering the Old Greg episode and making an obvious connection. Although, The Lighthouse does have its moments of dark humour. There are great comic moments and the pair could be dropped straight into a 1970s BBC comedy. It’s also stuffed full of maritime legends and salty seamen. And let’s not forget the many literary references which I, obviously, bloody loved. Hints of Coleridge, Shakspeare, and Herman Melville can all be found here.

Dafoe and Pattinson play Tom Wake and Ephraim Winslow, two men who have never had any problems growing facial hair. We meet them on the first day of their four-week stretch manning the lighthouse on an uninhabited island. Tom (Dafoe) is a former sailor with an injured leg. The reason for his injury is unknown. He has done the job before and is in command of the whole operation. He’s the one who is in charge of the light and he’s not letting his responsibilities slip. Ephraim used to be a logger in Canada and, thanks to his junior status, has gained the position of general dogsbody.

There is tension between the pair from the start. Ephraim is resentful of Tom’s treatment. He is curious about the light and angry that old Tom won’t let him near it. When the younger man finds out Wake’s previous helper died after he went mad, Winslow starts to become suspicious and paranoid. It doesn’t help that, like the man he replaced, Ephraim has started to have disturbing and erotic dreams about a mermaid. The isolation, supply of alcohol, and the arguments keep the tension building between the pair. It wouldn’t take a lot for everything to fall in on itself. Something that is helped by the beautiful score by Mark Korven. The mood of this film is perfect.

The Lighthouse is one of those films that just keeps you guessing. You don’t know how much is real and what is imagined. The mix of reality with the supernatural create a strange situation that you’re never sure of. But you love it. As ensnared in the tale as the wedding guest in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The film itself is equally hard to pin down. It’s not quite a horror in the traditional sense but it’s more than a thriller. I found it super weird to watch and I’ve not stopped thinking about it. It’s an unforgettable film and not least because of how visually stunning it is. The imagery is beautiful and terrifying. For any philosophers out there, this film is the almost the definition of the sublime. And speaking of sublime, the performances are fantastic and the relationship between the two men is fantastic to watch. As the atmosphere shifts, they move between a father/son connection to drinking buddies to suspicious enemies. It’s mesmerising. The film feels so theatrical and the actors are mesmerising.

This is the kind of film that I need to watch again to completely get my head around it but, I have to say, it’s an experience that has not left me. It’s a beautiful, strange, and slightly off-putting film. But it’s so enjoyable. I was sat watching it thinking, ‘I shouldn’t be liking this as much as I am’ but I was captivated.

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