The Lighthouse (****1/2) Edge of the dark and stormy sea

The Lighthouse – 2019

Director Robert Eggers
Screenplay Robert and Max Eggers
Starring Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson

Robert Eggers’ second film, like his first, is a New England folktale. This time we have lighthouse keepers Old (Dafoe) and Young (Pattison). Filmed in stark black and white, everything feels harsh and remarkably clear. Every blemish shows, as does ill intent. One cannot see the red in the blood, but can definitely feel it. They’re only supposed to be on shift 4 weeks. What could go wrong?

The story feels as unreliable and weathered as the structures that are seemingly keeping the two from the elements. A foghorn blows constantly. A clock keeps time loudly. The rain seems to pour through every exterior surface. Willem Defoe’s old Thomas Wake words seem as constant as the light he protects. His stories are boring and contradictory. Pattison’s young Ephraim Winslow wants us to know he’s the quiet, keep to yourself type. It’s an act at first, but eventually we understand why he has whittled the “rations” down to the point where they need to secure the backup supply.

Both men drink heavily. Young pushes it to another level. We realize that Winslow has to drink to curb his distaste for Old’s never ending dialogue. Then there’s the doldrums. Thomas intones:

“Doldrums. Doldrums. Eviler than the Devil. Boredom makes men into villains.”

Truer words were never spoken. Like in The VVitch, hard work and toil with no reward is enough to drive a good person into a susceptible state. It is difficult to tell for a short while who is descending and who has already been disappeared into the dark of the sea.

The Lighthouse is a worthy, gritty film. It feels every bit of its story, utilizing as much of the viewer’s senses as were possible. There are so many demands of the senses, it’s a grind to get through. Especially in its almosts square 1:19:1 aspect ratio. It confines the viewer to the point of suffocation while the orthochromatic filter pushes every contrast into view. Then there’s the sound: an overwhelming yet strangely reassuring assault of man fighting futility against nature. The amount of deliberation behind the making of the film makes it worth seeing, even if the breakdown of the plot doesn’t encourage repeat viewings.

It’s a pretty steady descent by the halfway point of the film. To the point when the 4 weeks have come and gone, you start praying for the ferry that we know will not arrive. How much of the film takes place in the mind is easier to figure than one might want. It becomes the spy vs. spy for crazy by the last act, and it makes us wonder if either of the men were even sane to begin the story.

Defoe and Pattison act the hell out of the script. The dialogue is tricky, but it seems natural coming from the two. Old’s adherence to the salty dog sound sounds apt until we see Young call it for the foolishness it is…then Old starts in again. And it sounds absurdly fine.

This is an excellent film to watch unless you have cabin fever. Even if you do, it might help clear the air of the pretense of civility.

(****1/2 out of *****)

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