WHY I CAN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT THE LIGHTHOUSE
WRITTEN BY KYLE KELLY
NOVEMBER 25, 2019
A thought-provoking film can lead you to the brink of insanity as you try to explore every minute detail included. Sometimes you fall into a plot explanation YouTube hole that takes a while to climb out of. For me, that has been the case with Robert Egger’s second film: The Lighthouse. A week and a half ago I saw The Lighthouse, and a few days later I saw it again. After my first viewing, questions about what the hell I had just witnessed filled my brain, and I was obsessed with searching for the answers.
The story is centered around two characters, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson, AKA team Edward, AKA the new batman, AKA an actor whose acting chops should never be questioned again after a career-defining performance in this film). The two men spend four weeks working off the coast of Maine, on a remote island which consists of a lighthouse and a plethora of pesky seagulls. The movie focuses on the relationship between Thomas and Winslow over their time on the island.
Winslow is Thomas’s assistant but is treated as more of a pack mule. Thomas sounds like an old-timey sailor as he constantly barks orders at Winslow and patronizes him by calling him “lad” or “dog.” They don’t learn each other's names until two weeks into their stay, as they rarely ever talk.
The best comparison I can give to describe Thomas would be the Flying Dutchman from Spongebob.
The film is undeniably immersive, thanks to Pattinson and Dafoe’s performances. Thomas’s verbal berating throughout the movie is met with silence and wide eyes from Winslow that capture just how angry he is in those moments. When the two get alarmingly drunk together at night, it makes the audience feel like a concerned designated driver dreading the thought of having to get their belligerent friends home from a bar. The way that Dafoe and Pattinson drunkenly sing and dance to sailor songs, only to yell and fight with each other moments later, creates a sense of uneasiness as they release their pent up tension from a miserable day of work in the most toxic of ways. The knowledge that all they have is each other makes them —as well as the audience—very frightened.
The cinematography is in a league of its own. Shot on 35 millimeter film in black and white, most shots serve to emphasize every wrinkle, drop of sweat, and facial expression to the fullest extent. During the evenings, the shadows are extra dark due to the camera, which adds a deeper feeling of hopelessness to the film. Everything is so clear and detailed. After my first viewing, I could paint pictures in my head of exactly what certain scenes looked like. Normally I find myself needing a few viewings to remember exact details of scenes, whereas The Lighthouse only took one viewing for everything to stick with me.
Ambiguity is a deliberately major theme that I thought The Lighthouse successfully portrayed. I was captivated by its level of mystery and found myself doing a lot of theorizing. The audience isn’t supposed to be babied: we’re not given a ton of answers. This is another testament to how immersive the film is. The audience starts to feel as insane as the characters (mainly Winslow) on screen because neither has a comfortable grasp of reality. For example, Winslow sees mythical creatures throughout the film. When they appear at the beginning they seem like obvious hallucinations, but as the movie progresses you begin to think, “Wait, are these things actually real or is he just crazy? Is this a Syfy movie now?” The film’s meaning is not so black and white, which is ironic considering its filming style.
A theory that I’ve been marinating on (SPOILER ALERT) is that Thomas was never real and is just a figment of Winslow’s imagination. For starters, Winslow’s real name that we figure out later in the film is also Tom. Another instance that supports my theory is when the two get drunk together for the first time, Winslow is smoking Thomas’s pipe and Thomas is smoking the cigarettes that Winslow normally smokes. Another glaringly obvious example is when Thomas chases Winslow into the house with the axe. When the two get indoors, Winslow scolds Thomas for chasing him around; Thomas scoffs and says that it Winslow who was actually chasing Thomas with the axe.
But alas, because this movie gives you everything and just the right amount of nothing at the same time, these are just speculations. Which is fine—I’ll just have to keep driving myself crazy trying to find the answers to this movie.
Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump and L.A. Confidential have earned spots in my favorite movies of all-time list. But when all’s said and done, The Lighthouse may end up finessing its way into my top three, with its effortless blend of horror and comedy, memorable and thought-provoking imagery and career-defining performances from both Pattinson and Dafoe. It will go down as a movie that will mean something different to every viewer, and it’s not only my favorite movie of the year, but one of my favorites of all time. Like me, I hope that you won’t be able to stop thinking about it after you’ve seen it.
Kyle’s movie rating: 10/10 Seagulls