The Lighthouse: "It's about two blokes stuck in a lighthouse" and it happens to be excellent.
4 out of 5
The quote in the title of this review is taken from an interview I heard with Willem Dafoe when he was asked to describe what the film is about. He's right, but there is so much more.
The Lighthouse is directed by Robert Eggers and co-written by him and his brother Max Eggers. Essentially, the film is about two men who arrive at a remote lighthouse to begin their four-week shift as light keepers at a storm-tossed lighthouse. They work, they eat, one of them takes a drink and the other doesn't. One of them farts, a lot, and the other one doesn't. Other than that nothing much happens but there is an awful lot of nothing which happens.
The film plays like a two-man show with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Indeed one of the quotes on the poster above quotes from a review by Gregory Ellwood who describes the film as "Robert Pattinson vs. Willem Dafoe". He's right. Both give towering performances. We know Dafoe can do these character-driven films really well but Pattinson is a real stand-out. To have come from the teenage-pleasing Twighlight saga to this, shows an actor of immense talent and no small amount of bravery. Every role he takes on seems to distance himself from that earlier franchise and stretch him as an actor. The same can be said for his Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart.
Early on in The Lighthouse, Pattinson's character has an encounter with a seagull who "embody the souls of dead sailors" according to Dafoe's character. This begins to introduce an almost hallucinogenic element to the film. This is further emphasised by the pair's inability to recall how long they have been on the island. Is it four weeks or four days? They are unsure. As their supplies run out and they begin to drink fuel oil, fantasy and delusion reign. Identities appear to be exchanged, names and histories are swapped. Some singing, some dancing and some debauchery ensue. But what is real and what is imagined? The descent to hell is real.
The two performances are magnificent. There are two other stars of the film, the first of which is Director of Photography, Jarin Blaschke. The film is in black and white and is screened in a small 1.19:1 ratio. Therefore, it has to be seen on the biggest screen you can find, otherwise it will be quite small on today's TVs. The angles and the lighting that Blaschke uses are not new but they are effective in creating the unworldliness of the lighthouse, the cramped conditions and the unhinged behaviour of the characters. Secondly, the score by Mark Korven is pulsing and almost a third character. It's exactly what was needed.
This is an unsettling film, for several reasons. The passage of time is unsure. The fantasy vs. reality is disconcerting. It's one of those films that even though I was enjoying it, I wanted it to end because it was disturbing.
It is still with me. I'm still affected by the imagery and allegory. I doubt I will look at a seagull the same way again. And that, is what cinema should do.
Go see it - on the big screen.