"KEEP BUSTIN'."

The Lighthouse

Friends, I am here to announce that I have officially transitioned from guy who intellectually respected and sort of liked THE WITCH to card carrying Robert Eggers Fan Club member and honorary district captain. The dominos that fell were first viewing of THE NORTHMAN —> second viewing of THE NORTHMAN —> second viewing of THE WITCH —> finally getting it together to watch THE LIGHTHOUSE. Eggers has a unique style and approach and I’m tuning more and more into his frequency. This one is interesting because it’s clearly the work of the same director, except his sophomore movie here has some humor in it. Actual laughs. And I’m not counting the farts.

The time and location for this one is 1890s New England, on a tiny lighthouse island, and mostly inside the lighthouse. Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson, THE ROVER) is a young rookie contractor just starting a four week gig as a lighthouse keeper with veteran “wickie” Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe, LIGHT SLEEPER, SPEED 2). The style is black and white, square 1.19:1 aspect ratio, appropriate for a movie set in a claustrophobic vertical structure. I’d seen pictures and it looks so old-timey with Pattinson’s giant mustache and Dafoe’s upside down pipe that I pictured it as one of those stylized retro movies mimicking old silent film techniques. But no, it’s all very raw, filmed largely in remote locations with harsh climates, and a lighthouse they constructed. Looks fuckin stunning.

As with the other Eggers joints it’s got a love for linguistic period detail – archaic terms, phrasings, idioms and intonations, not to mention plenty of presumably well researched lighthouse and sailor type lingo. I think some have claimed the dialogue in his movies is hard to understand, but I haven’t had that problem. But even if it was like Shakespeare where I struggle just to follow the basic gist of it, I don’t think it would matter as much on this one. It is an indisputable fact that Willem Dafoe was put on this earth for the specific mission of one day growing a bushy beard and doing a whole movie croaking out weird seaman slang and pushing every muscle in his face to its maximum potential. He has and will accomplish much more in his career, but if he had only sat in a tube his entire life until coming out this one time to slip a pipe in his mouth, give this one performance and then descend into the ocean to spend the rest of his years among the merfolk, it would’ve been a life well lived and a civilization well served.

And Pattinson is almost as good. He’s kind of the lead and a little harder to read. At first Winslow stays very quiet, clearly finds Tom annoying, but doesn’t want to offend or anger him. Tom lords over him like a real asshole boss, like when he waits for him to heave a huge oil container all the way up the stairs before giving him a smaller container he could’ve filled, then tells him to bring the big one back down immediately. And yells at him for trying to enter the top part where the light is. Winslow keeps politely pointing out what the manual says his duties and the rules are but Tom acts like he’s an idiot for believing what he reads and is insulted by being questioned.

Poster for the 2019 film THE LIGHTHOUSE.Over time and whisky they both loosen up around each other, sometimes getting along better, sometimes being more willing to tell each other off. In some sense the movie is about what happens when two as-far-as-we-know-straight dudes live in close quarters together. This is another one that could’ve been called MEN before MEN was called MEN. You can almost smell the b.o. in those living quarters, and most of the major bodily fluids are represented. There are two farts and a long piss before there’s any dialogue. In one scene Winslow has to dump his boss’s shit bucket and it blows in his face in what seems like an homage to THE BIG LEBOWSKI spreading-Donnie’s-ashes scene. There’s lots of drinking, toasting, pipe smoking. A little puking. Alot of jerking off. They drunkenly sing and dance and almost kiss and then catch themselves and immediately put up their dukes like old timey boxers. That was my favorite joke in the whole movie. Fragile masculinity becomes hilarious when you make it out of date enough.

My other favorite scene is when Winslow insults Tom’s cooking and he gets so upset he seems like he’s gonna cry, begs him to at least admit to liking his lobster, then delivers a passionate monologue.

Also they’re both out there being horny and then witnessing each other’s private sexual moments. It’s a range of perviness that goes from “he’s in there jerking off” to “did I just see him standing naked inside the light like he was getting off on it?” and “is that semen dripping down? oh no it’s just some kind of squid slime I guess.” And as you may have heard, Winslow SPOILER finds a mermaid (Valeriia Karaman) washed up on the beach and later has, let’s say, impure thoughts about her.

Meanwhile, man if that score by Mark Korven (CUBE, THE WITCH, THE BLACK PHONE, RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY) isn’t warning us that something bad is looming. I think A24 was wise not to market this as a horror movie, but I personally think it qualifies. On the podcast where Eggers confirmed that he intended THE WITCH to be horror he described this as “a strange tale,” which I took to mean a Strange Tale! – a creepy short story that would be in some old pulp magazine. I think that’s a good explanation. But it’s hard to explain in a trailer so they were just honest and treated it as a weird new thing the guy that did THE WITCH wanted to do.

It just so happens it’s a weird new thing involving seaman’s superstitions about curses and shit. Tom notices Winslow shooing away seagulls and warns him to be careful with them because it’s “bad luck to kill a sea bird.” He’s so serious about it that when Winslow scoffs at it he hits him. So it’s worrisome when Winslow finds an injured gull. It seems like he’s either contemplating if he can help the thing or worrying that Tom will see him with it and assume he’s responsible. But when another gull flies over and starts squawking at Winslow he grabs it and smashes it repeatedly against the rocks until it’s nothing but pulp. Jesus, this guy is tightly wound!

Uncalled for, Winslow. I’m against it, and so is the camera, which moves over to the freshly re-painted bricks of the lighthouse, then crawls all the way up the side until it reaches the weather vane at the very top just as the thing spins around to signal a change of wind that a non-skeptic might suppose was caused by Winslow’s fucked up actions.

Right on cue, the storm hits. And the psychological states of these two worsen in conjunction with the weather conditions. Increasing rain, fog, howling winds, waves, mist, madness. Hallucinations, maybe. Or possibly unnatural phenomena. The type of shit that happens out there, one assumes. But that’s okay, they’re only out there for four weeks, and it’s almost over. On the last night they make up and seem convinced they’re gonna miss each other.

Except it’s not the last night. The boat doesn’t show up. The stability of a set end date no longer exists, and all bets are off. They run out of alcohol and start drinking turpentine and honey. Things get rough. Before you know it Winslow has his boss on a leash barking like a dog. (In THE NORTHMAN another character played by Dafoe will act like a dog as part of a rite of passage.)

This is an Eggers joint through and through, it doesn’t feel like a type of movie anybody else would make, but it did have little facets that reminded me of different things. Supposedly they took inspiration from Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Sam Shepard, Herman Melville, the myth of Prometheus, and some paintings and shit. But those aren’t points of reference for me. At various times I thought of Shakespeare, Lovecraft, JAWS (specifically the bonding scenes on the Orca), the Coen Brothers, and Popeye. I also thought a little bit about ALIEN and THE THING, which is a weird comparison because it’s not any of the sci-fi stuff that’s similar, it’s just that feeling of doing a job, getting through a shift, and through the night. Out somewhere far from others, doing tedious work, looking forward to the paycheck. Spending many hours with somebody you never would otherwise, having a certain camaraderie from that, and also having every single thing about that person really fuckin get on your nerves after a while. But I also think there’s something appealing about the idea of just staying out in a remote spot like that, drinking black coffee in the morning and straight whisky at night. For a while. Not for four weeks. And not indefinitely.

Eggers wrote the script with his brother Max, starting before he got THE WITCH off the ground. Maybe that accounts for the different tone. I didn’t feel like I understood what it was about as much as THE WITCH or THE NORTHMAN, but I had a great time watching it. Those two seem like companion films to me, and this is a nice little break in the middle.

P.S. I was wondering how the fuck Chris Columbus ended up an executive producer on this thing, then I noticed that his daughter Eleanor Columbus is too, and that they both did the same for THE WITCH. I’m guessing she rebelled against her dad by having hipper taste in movies.

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 17th, 2022 at 11:32 am and is filed under Horror, I don't know, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

23 Responses to “The Lighthouse”

  1. I. Freaking. LOVE. This. Movie.

    The Lighthouse is by far my favorite Eggers film. I really like both The VVitch and The Northman, but The Lighthouse blows me away every time. It’s a fever dream that spirals out of control faster and faster as it approaches the end.

    A lot of people find Dafoe to just be head and shoulders above Pattinson, but I think they play off each other so well and are equally compelling in their roles. I think Dafoe stands out because he gets “the” big speech (HAARK!) and some other moments that are just so good.

    What really grabs me about it is the cause/effect. Did Pattinson really cause all of this by killing the seagull? Are ANY of Dafoe’s sea tales and myths true? Is there something supernatural about this light, or is all of this in Pattinson’s head? Did Dafoe cause this entire situation by being a terrible supervisor/boss, or was he actually being fair to Pattinson the whole time and Pattinson got what was coming to him for killing his fellow logger and trying to hide it and assuming his identity?

    Honestly, I could go on for a while. This movie just fascinates me and is so well made. Eggers’ best work by far, IMO!

  2. I saw this in theaters, and boy did that 1.19:1 aspect ratio look amazing on a big screen. A lot of detail packed in, but at the same time it was kinda like looking at a wood carving, if that makes sense. Really beautiful stuff even when depicting the inhospitable.

    I still don’t know if I’m an “Eggers guy”. After seeing all 3 of his films, I think I admire his films more than actually like them, but I’ll always check out his new stuff. I do think he and Dafoe are having a lot of fun in this one though. The only part that didn’t work for me was the dog walking scene. I get that the whole movie is about power dynamics, but that part felt a little too far for either character.

    I’m curious how many future generations will just assume this was a pandemic movie (in how sparse the cast in that is)..

  3. Say what again. I dare you, I double dare you, say what one more god damn time!

  4. This one is tedious and annoying gibberish, but tedium, annoyance, and gibberish are its topics, so it gets a mild pass. It’s about as enjoyable an experience to sit through as it is for the characters to live through, and I somewhat respect it for that. That’s more than I can say for the other two Eggars films, which are also tedious and annoying gibberish but don’t have the excuse of form matching function. They are meant to ellicit other emotions besides tedium and annoyance and fail to do so, thus putting THE LIGHTHOUSE at the top of an extremely tedious and annoying oeuvre. At the time, I thought it was Eggars slipping a piss-take of A24 horseshit past the gatekeepers, which made me have some hope that he might someday employ his obvious gifts at certain aspects of the filmmaking craft to a watchable movie, but THE NORTHMAN cured me of that delusion.

    On a sidenote, I’m also pretty sure I kinda hate Robert Pattinson. This realization was a long time coming. I tried to give him a chance. The first thing I saw him in was COSMOPOLIS, which I made it about 20 minutes into and wanted to break his fucking face open the whole time. But then I remembered that it was based on a Don DeLillo book, and I fucking hate Don DeLillo, and he undeniably nailed everything I hate about DeLillo’s voice, so I gave him a mulligan on that one. Then I hated him in the TWILIGHT movies, but come on, everybody except for Plaid Dad is terrible in those movies, so I couldn’t hold that against him. Then I saw THE LIGHTHOUSE and was annoyed by him from the first second, but I figured, hey, that was his job. Everything about THE LIGHTHOUSE is chemically modulated at the atomic level to be the most annoying thing ever. He’s just finding his place in the mise en scene. He’s a team player. Then I saw THE BATMAN and he was just kind of a low-energy blob of boredom. That’s certainly a take, I thought. Bold in its drab, unexciting way. So maybe he gets a pass on that, too. But then you add all that up and you start thinking maybe it’s not just the movies he’s in. Maybe he’s just kind of a charisma-free turd who gets by on his looks. A perambulatory set of cheekbones. What if we were all right the first time and this guy just kinda sucks? Even his little role in HARRY POTTER was supposed to be this golden boy superstar and he put in so little effort that he came off like he’d been lobotomized. And you think, why do I keep giving this guy chances? What has he ever done to deserve them?

    In conclusion, I’m never getting around to that copy of GOOD TIMES I bought at the Redbox for $3.99, am I?

  5. Majestyk, I would absolutely give GOOD TIMES a try. It’s an extremely gritty, pulpy wonder that’s way more ridiculous than its reputation would lead you to believe. There’s a lot to like in it even if you dislike Pattinson, it’s got a lot going on.

    Then again, I love LIGHTHOUSE, so…
    In my defense I’m a sucker for surrealist films, fart jokes, classical mythology and good cinematography, so it felt made for me.

    I run hot and cold on Pattinson himself. Really liked him here, but I did think he was completely overshadowed by Dafoe going mega. Didn’t like him in BATMAN, but he was the least of that crapfest’s problems. He was really likeable in TENET, but it wasn’t a tour de force or anything. My favorite performance of his is the GOOD TIMES dipshit, by far. While he may not be a great actor, gotta respect his choice of projects to shake off the stigma from the Twilight movies though. Though Kristen Stewart’s done a better job on both fronts, IMO; Pattinson’s yet to give a CLOUD OF SILS MARIA or STILL ALICE-level performance.

  6. I liked THE VVITCH a lot, and I’m never unhappy to see Dafoe in a movie, but I think there are about six movies he made with Abel Ferrara that I need to get around to before this one. I agree that Pattinson is…inexplicably revered. (TENET was fine, but I only lasted about 15 minutes into COSMOPOLIS.)

  7. GOOD TIME is the only Pattinson movie I’ve seen, but it’s a great movie and he’s really good in it (and he’s in every scene I’m pretty sure)

  8. Always a little weirded out by the “if two men had to spend a lot of time alone together, I bet they’d go gay” canard–that “everyone’s a little bit bisexual” thing–which manages to both seem trite and, ah, a strange thought to have (wishful thinking? shock value? just someone pulling a Freud and telling on themselves very badly?).

    I mean, functionally, it’s the same as saying that a gay man and a lesbian, if they were stuck together for a long enough amount of time, would go so sex-crazy they’d fuck… but can anyone imagine *that* movie getting made? Or getting wry nods from the arthouse crowd? “Ah yes, a hole is a hole, after all.”

  9. Kaplan, that actually sounds like the fictional early 00s mockbuster version of CHASING AMY, with a NATIONAL LAMPOON’S PRESENTS on the cover and Paris Hilton in a supporting role.

  10. @Kaplan It’s not really “just” a canard, but something that is historical, especially when it comes to seafarers (Google “searfaring and sexuality”). It’s referenced as “situational homosexuality”. There are all sorts of references to this in the film, including the scene where Pattinson is on the ground and Dafoe is posing over him, which is based on a famous homoerotic painting “Hypnosis” by Sascha Schneider (who was homosexual).

    I don’t say this as some cultural/historical expert, but more just after having read a lot of the backstory of the imagery/historical that inspired/influenced Eggers in the making of the film after having seen it a bunch of times.

    There’s a lot of historical bases and imagery that influenced the film, including the homoerotic stuff. It wasn’t just a random story element, but something based on sea mythos.

  11. Kaplan, if you’ve ever known any dudes who have spent time in prison, it ain’t gay if it’s the only option. Also, depends on if you’re pitching or catching.

  12. Suffice it to say that when I worked at Barnes & Noble we had a book in stock called SODOMY & THE PIRATE TRADITION. There’s a LOT of historical documentation of “when there are no other options…” bro-on-bro action.

  13. Yeah. I’m not an expert either, but as far as I understand it being gay – as a sexual preference – wasn’t really a concept until relatively recently. Before that, it was just the an act, and you might be labeled as a sodomite (which was seen as unnatural, sinful, etc in most quarters but it didn’t imply anything about your identity, if that makes sense)

  14. Hi Majestyk, I’d told myself I wouldn’t disrupt this forum too much with such severity, but for reasons of being honorable I’d hoped to find an efficient way of recommending that you not watch said movie. Several people involved in the production have supported (to the point of effective, ruinous success of intended, extreme harm) or been responsible for evil, loathsome actions – violent rape, horrible assault, torture and harassment of people – more directly said, female people. This is just the crew of that movie itself – their associations in other public/professional/personal contexts are of similar loathsomeness. I am trying not to be florid and dramatic, but still, it needs to be said. (There is also the matter of my being treated badly by that “world”, which is a less important but still a truly serious matter.) The private conversations about these people have had more impact than the evil would like to think, but a semi-public mention is of moral necessity.

    Their love of pain and stress is darker than it seems, and the assaulting, psychotic super producer of their recent works (and many popular recent films he continues to profit from despite the worried-monsters’ decision to remove his name) is not the only one deserving of ruination.

    I’m sure a fine toothed comber could accuse me of enjoying art made by bad people (including recently, and publicly), but that isn’t the point of this. Sometimes people listen to Hannibal Burress, and sometimes people don’t listen to Courtney Love. Either way, I thank you for your time and do not wish to hinder anything selfishly. That includes social justice and Vern’s writing.

    You are the Jim Gordon of this website, and Jim Gordon is still a valid concept even if Bob Kane was a scumbag and National Comics Periodicals were continually polluted waters. Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson were learned of eventually, and obviously correct. I don’t begrudge Vern for enjoying a movie starring someone who has worked with people I hate, but hope that lies and evil have an inbuilt self-destructivity in the flaws of their structure.

    Maj, I’ve always found you moral and reasonable, and hope my interest in being the former does not preclude the latter.

  15. I thought the VVitch was all right, but somewhat overrated. But The Lighthouse absolutely won me over, and I absolutely dug The Northman. I’ve bought a ticket to the Eggers train.

    I’m not his biggest fan or anything, but I generally like Pattinson and think he’s a good actor. It seems like he has purposefully chosen minor roles or unlikeable characters as he sort of leveled up his acting skills. The first time I really took notice of him was in The Rover. And while I wasn’t necessarily impressed with him in stuff like Cosmopolis, I appreciated that he was taking roles in smaller movies. I believe the next time he impressed me was in Good Time. I think his greatest talent is for playing scumbags (see also: The Devil All the Time with his ridiculous accent). But it has been fun to see him evolve as an actor and get better as time goes on.

  16. A.L.F. Well, shit. That is a lot to take in. I am both flattered and humbled that you think I am either of those things. I don’t know if I deserve that. I certainly can’t grow a Jim Gordon-calibre mustache, no matter how hard I try. But out of respect for the faith you have put in me, I will refrain from watching GOOD TIME until such time when the guilty parties are punished for their crimes.

    Honestly, it sounded kind of stressful anyway. I don’t need anymore stress in my system right now.

    As always, thanks for your unique insights. I hope you’re healing from the physical and mental wounds this fucked-up world has inflicted on you.

  17. Good to hear that I am not the only one who has trouble with his beard growth. But I heard that it might have to do with my glorious head hair and the human body is like “Dude, either a thick, full scalp or a manly civil war era beard!” But then I see Gary Cole on NCIS and think “Damn, I guess men CAN have thick hair and thick beards!”

    In conclusion: I just woke up and don’t know why this is the thing I wanna take away from A.L.F.’s and Majestyk’s conversation.

  18. I haven’t yet seen any of the movies quoted in the above article…..not even The Lighthouse – and it is this lack of watching that brought me here in the first place. I have heard of The Witch, The Sleeper, etc but just by name. I like the way The Lighthouse is described here and the direct impact with the actors. This review has convinced me to go watch the movie some time soon. I hope I have fun.

  19. This is one of my favorite movies ever. Something about the horror atmosphere makes it even funnier to me. Partly it’s the look, but it makes me think of Eraserhead. I had been wondering if you’d seen it based on your love of The Northman and reevaluation of The VVitch. Glad you liked it, and thanks for the insightful review.

  20. I think I was easier on THE VVITCH than a lot of people because this was the first movie I saw by the director. I saw it in an NYC arthouse theater too and it was like me and one other person in the front row. It was a perfect experience. This did remind me to see if THE NORTHMAN is still on Peacock though. Still haven’t caught that one yet.

  21. Man, I hadn’t heard any of that stuff about GOOD TIME, but then, I just caught it on Netflix after hearing some recommendations. I liked it, I have to say.

    Liked THE LIGHTHOUSE too. Not sure how I rate it – or if rating is necessary – amongst Egger’s other work. I’ve enjoyed all of them; most especially his commitment to the morals and traditions of the period/setting he’s depicting. Will certainly be checking out his next film, whatever it may be.

  22. I liked THE LIGHTHOUSE a lot. Ranting Defoe goes a hell of a long way.

    I liked Pattinson in it too, and it kind of turned my opinion around on him. I had tried to watch him in HIGH LIFE and hated it, but that is probably not his fault. You can’t blame him for TWILIGHT or the Harry Potter movie too much, those movies are all about the three central kids, though I guess some more adult actors at the time made some great impressions as guest appearances. I think maybe this LIGHTHOUSE role is tailor made for his low-key, sullen, vaguely resentful countenance. Maybe my opinion of him is not turned around after all and he merely fit this part well.

  23. I don’t have much to add except to say I love this movie. Probably still by favorite Eggers joint. I love the look– shot on film with antique lenses to give it the old-timey feel. And Dafoe is just incredible here, especially during his crazed monologue where he never blinks. My friends and I have also continued to quote “Why’d y’spill yuir beans!?” to each other. Basically, if you’re making a movie and you don’t try to get Willem Dafoe in there, you might as well be killin’ a sea bird.

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