‘The Lighthouse’ could be the film of the year

by Jules Banks / Features Editor

A promotional poster for “The Lighthouse.” Photo courtesy of IMDB.

An old-fashioned tale of sailors, mermaids and ocean-induced madness has made its way to the silver screen with Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse.” Written by Max and Robert Eggers, this black-and-white movie takes the cake when it comes to 2019’s independent film scene, which has seen its fair share of both successes and failures.

“The Lighthouse” has already made its way around several film festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival, the Deauville Film Festival, and the Jameson CineFest – Miskolc International Film Festival. It won awards at all three, as well as toting eight other nominations from those festivals and others. But why, exactly, does this film, which has only two speaking roles and one setting, captivate audiences the way that it does? The answer may lie in its simplicity.

Initially, the plot of “The Lighthouse” feels almost underwhelming. Ephraim Winslow (played by Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (played by Willem DaFoe) are tasked with watching over and tending to a remote lighthouse off the New England coast. Wake is older and more hardened by time and is in charge of leading Winslow, a new hire simply looking for work. Their dynamic is one of a grumpy and commanding mentor and an unwilling, stoic mentee. The interactions between Winslow and Wake create an uneven balance of power that threatens to tip as the movie progresses and the sea’s dark magic — or perhaps the suffocating quarantine on an island — begins to taint Winslow’s mind. This doesn’t stop Wake from harassing Winslow into performing rigorous work while he basks in the revered, supernatural glory of the lighthouse’s spotlight, something that Winslow begins to crave himself. 

A total of two speaking characters in the entire movie is somewhat rare to find in modern cinema. However, with the plot of “The Lighthouse” revolving around slow-burning, isolation-driven madness, the lack of characters is a bold and entirely intentional decision. Too many characters, aside from detracting from the perfection of the writing of Winslow and Wake’s dynamic, would destroy the idea of how alone the two men are. Three’s company, and the Egger brothers kept that in mind when keeping the character count down to two (unless the annoying seagull that constantly harasses Winslow counts, and — spoiler alert — he doesn’t even last the entire movie).

Characters Winslow and Wake stand together early on in the film. Photo courtesy of GQ.com.

Pattinson and DaFoe truly gave this film their all. The raw performances of the two men make up for the lack of other characters. As someone who was initially concerned that DaFoe would wildly outshine Pattinson, I’m happy to report that Pattinson’s performance in this film surpassed any of his other performances. I did not and still do not consider Pattinson a bad actor by any means — DaFoe is just such an iconic figure in Hollywood that I felt as though a younger actor like Pattinson would struggle to keep up. This film proved me wrong. 

The same line of logic goes for the setting. The titular lighthouse sits in the middle of a rocky, cold island somewhere far from the New England coast, but the audience doesn’t know much more than that. Shot entirely on 35mm film, the Egger brothers created the setting in such a way that it gives viewers an unsettling sense of ambiguity throughout the entire duration of the movie. Too much geographical knowledge would detract from the feeling of utter loneliness and helplessness that creeps faster and faster into each scene. 

I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone, as I believe it is a film that everyone should experience firsthand. “The Lighthouse” is truly indescribable, and DaFoe and Pattinson both deserve award upon award for their performances in this bold career move. The blend of dreadful human emotion and frightening use of old-timey sailor lore creates an unforgettable plot that will inevitably fail to leave viewers’ minds for days.

10 out of 10 torches.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment


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