The Lighthouse is a 2019 psychological thriller film directed by up-and-coming filmmaker Robert Eggers. Following his acclaimed major motion picture debut The VVitch, Eggers was approaching his next film with near total creative control and he decided to tell the story of two lighthouse keepers sent to an isolated island. It’s a tale loosely based on both an unfinished story by Edgar Allen Poe as well as real events, in which an experienced elder, played by Willem Dafoe, and a taciturn young worker with a dark past, played by Robert Pattinson, struggle to keep their sanity as their stay on the island extends far beyond what either of them expected.
The first thing that strikes you when watching The Lighthouse is the cinematography. Words don’t come until several minutes into the film, but in this time you are roped in with some of the most gorgeous, eye-catching black and white photography you’ll ever come by. The Lighthouse perfectly combines all that was great about Old Hollywood cinematography with the marvels of modern filmmaking. Beautiful fluid camera motions, moody, shadowy environments, and stark contrast that excruciatingly reveals every disgusting detail in the leads’ ungroomed faces. Regardless of the small scale of this movie, this is one of the most well-made movies I’ve ever seen.
Despite the expert filmmaking of this movie, the screenplay could just as easily function as a two man stage show. Dafoe is absolutely electric in one of the best performances of his career, so electric that Pattinson seems like he can hardly keep up the same level of energy at points. More impressive than screenwriters Max and Robert Eggers’ ability to write in flawless sailor-speak is Dafoe’s ability to perform the cryptic dialogue with unbridled passion and brooding, mysterious authority. But Pattinson is not to be thrown to the wayside. As more or less the main character of the story, Pattinson brings a certain manic, uncontrollable, almost naive brand of insanity that perfectly plays off Dafoe.
It’s astonishing that movies like this are still made. Not only because it’s the 21st century and The Lighthouse is a black-and-white film shot in a 1.19:1 aspect ratio filled with crude humor and blood and…other bodily excrements (this movie is not for the squeamish), but because in a time of such real-world turmoil, it’s refreshing to still see a movie unhindered by context, one that addresses timeless questions about the human condition. This is a movie less concerned with story and more focused on building atmosphere. And once it establishes that atmosphere, with a crushing foghorn and a towering lighthouse, it’s able to focus on it’s main objective, delving into the human mind, and figuring out what drives a man insane. What pushes someone off the deep end? Is it isolation? Alcohol? Nerves? Hate? Nothing is off the table, and no clear answers are given. I’ve never had so much fun trying to figure out what a movie was about then while watching the beautiful, brilliant film, The Lighthouse.