There are some valuable lessons to be learned in Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse.
One of course, is not to commit yourself to an extended period of employment under isolated and strenuous conditions without fully considering the emotional and physical toll of such a commitment. The lighthouse keepers (or “wickies”) in The Lighthouse have committed to a month of maintaining the light, and all that goes with it. For Willem Dafoe’s Thomas Wake, an old sea dog, that duty means lording it over his younger subordinate Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson, a long way from Twilight.) by assigning him every exhausting job that Wake can devise (all for the good of the lighthouse), only rarely deigning to use up his precious time in assisting Winslow. (And when he does, it’s to show him up, ridicule him, or chastise him—all in service to the lighthouse and to the sea.)
During the course of the four weeks, these two wary workmen take turns taunting each other and occasionally revealing isolated bits of personal information, especially after (finally) “enjoying” a drink together. (Pattinson’s Winslow only grudgingly partakes of demon rum–initially.) There are also several strange sightings, some of which may imagined…some not. On several occasions, Wake warns Winslow about the dangers of killing a seagull—which proves especially prescient given the proceedings. (Another valuable lesson—listen to Dafoe when he warns you about…anything.)
I really don’t want to reveal much about how The Lighthouse plays out. You may be able to predict the ending—you may even guess the final image. What is fairly compelling though is how the film gets there. There are twists and turns once it becomes apparent that the lighthouse keepers’ stay will be a little longer than four weeks—and the filmmakers leave the viewer unsure as to whom or what to believe concerning the mental state of the two wickies. Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke chose to film the action in black and white, and with a noticeable narrow frame at times, which serves to heighten both the isolation and sense of entrapment (as well as a perpetual discordance). Dafoe and Pattinson make worthy antagonists, barely able to tolerate each other when sober, and only approximating any real connection when both are in the throes of alcohol. The leads enjoy a veritable actor’s field day, mining their respective characters’ wide range of emotions and hidden motivations. The only flaw is that toward the end, the film does get a little repetitive and protracted, which combined with the heightened playing leads to a one or two moments where a reaction of involuntary laughter (on the part of the audience) may result. However, don’t let this deter from visiting The Lighthouse—just be careful of those seagulls.