At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Lighthouse

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Psychological Horror/ Stars: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe/ Runtime: 110 minutes

Having seen the finished product, I think it is safe to confess to you that I am now of the steadfast, firm belief that Robert Eggers is either a genius or a brilliant sadist. I say this because with his new movie “The Lighthouse” out in theaters I think this director wants to take you to the edge of madness with little to zero reprieve on the way there. Indeed this is not just a film where two people who most likely never had that much sanity to begin with slowly, but surely start losing what little sanity they initially managed to scrounge together; this is also a film where, through the use of various tricks and tools of the filmmaking trade you are slowly, but surely pushed there along with them. Put another way: this is a chance to peek into another person’s mind and watch one of their nightmares unfold before your very eyes, and trust me when I say that, unlike most nightmares, this is one which cannot and will not end well at all for any of the principals involved. Indeed there may be moments where this film fails to provoke the existential dread and true terror of films just like it including The Shining for example, but nevertheless this film is still an equal parts intriguing and impressive sight to behold thanks to the talents of the director, crew, as well as the completely committed performances from the 2 main actors in the picture. Indeed it may befuddle the ever living heck out of you, but you won’t be able to deny that the film has made an impact on you in some way, shape, form, or fashion.

The plot is as follows: Off the coast of Maine in the late nineteenth century, a pair of men arrive to take over a lighthouse in the area for a 4-week stint. The older man is named Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), a seasoned lighthouse keeper and a fellow who is as craggily and weathered as the rock on which their structure of employment is set, and the younger man is named Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) who, in contrast to Wake who looks like he could be the model for the fisherman on bags of Gorton’s Fish Sticks, is a newcomer to the trade, and a very reticent fellow with an air of reluctance surrounding him that suggests he is a man who has been through a lot in the short amount of time he has been on this Earth. To say these two men get along amazingly well would be an out and out lie; to say that there is a significant amount of indifference between them…..well that’s a much closer fit to the actual truth. However, as the initial high amount of indifference between them blossoms into a full-blown sense of out and out hatred, you begin to get a feeling that in this case, sooner or later, violence is going to be inevitable, and when the day to depart arrives in league with a violent storm that makes it all but impossible for them to head home, and their tenuous grasps on reality begin to slip the seeds are at long last planted for said violence to finally occur…..

Now praise must be given not only to the boxy 1.19:1 aspect ratio that the film’s director decided to film this project in, but also the high contrast black-and-white color grading that was chosen as well. Indeed the reason for this praise is due to how wonderful of a job these two things combine to do in order to give the film the silent film era aesthetic that I feel that this movie was really attempting to go for as shown by the significant stretches in the film where not a singular line of dialogue is uttered. Indeed not only that, but because the aspect ratio really showcases both the claustrophobic and insular atmosphere of the narrative, and the acrimonious feelings that the characters have for each other their emotional anxiety is conveyed to the viewer in a way that makes for a very intimate yet nerve-wracking with even a hint of voyeuristic viewing experience that is one that you have to experience at least once in theaters.

Now with Pattinson and Dafoe being the only two major characters in the film, they ultimately prove to be this film’s focus which could have gone really bad had one not matched the other in terms of sheer intensity and acting skill. Fortunately I am here to tell you that both of this mismatched Odd-Couple-Out-to-Sea manage to put in absolutely wonderful turns in this film. Indeed I have always loved Willem Dafoe as an actor from Platoon all the way to his co-starring role in the first John Wick, but this is honestly one of the first times I can recall where a role just managed to encapsulate the mania that Dafoe possesses in spades, and uses it perfectly to the film’s advantage. Indeed Dafoe just manages to sink himself and deliver in, typical aces, a look at a man who is by equal turns a grizzled old pro at this line of work and then in the next minute an absolute madman berating his charge so loud, in several quite impassioned monologues that will send shivers down your spine, that you feel like he could have an aneurysm at any moment. In other words: think Quint from Jaws if he were a lighthouse keeper and they had made Robert Shaw’s alcoholism a central part of the character instead of just a Behind-the-Scenes story. The big surprise though is Robert Pattinson who not only manages to hold his own when paired against the old acting guard that is represented here by Dafoe, but he even manages to give us a depiction of a man slowly losing his sanity that is just as wonderful in regards to its manic and over-the-top energy as perhaps Jack Nicholson’s in the Shining all those years ago. Indeed I must confess that, due to his time in the Twilight franchise, I did not know if Pattinson had the acting chops to take on any “serious” acting roles.  However, after his turn in this and a few other movies the past few years I am now curious to see his take as the Caped Crusader in 2021’s The Batman because if it is anything like this then we are all in for a real treat.

All in all though, and at the end of the day whether or not what we as audience members experience during our time watching this film is real or just a product of the protagonists’ minds as they rapidly descend into madness is irrelevant; neither is it of any real particular importance to know for sure if this viewing experience is a psychological thriller that, by the conclusion of the piece, has morphed into an exercise in cerebral horror, or a cerebral horror film that is also quietly an engrossing character study in disguise. What is important though is the fact that, thanks to quality work from a quality crew as well as a pair of game actors at the top of their game, a simple story is thereby transformed into to an engrossing viewing experience that ranges from comedic to horrific and back again that you will simply never forget.  On a scale of 1-5 I give The Lighthouse a solid 4 out of 5.