Friday, October 16, 2020

Movie Review: The Lighthouse (2019)

The Lighthouse (2019) co-written and directed by Robert Eggers

An old salt of a seaman (Willem Dafoe) and a young wanderer (Robert Pattinson) are left for a month to tend a lighthouse on a remote island. The old salt vacillates between a domineering Ahab and a sympathetic father figure. The young wanderer is a bit frustrated and withdrawn. Both have their secrets and the audience initially sympathizes with the young man, especially when weird things start happening. Seagulls provide the young man with problems; the old salt warns him not to harm a seabird or else disaster may strike. In a moment of anger, the young man kills a gull. A storm blows in just before they are to be picked up and returned to civilization. By this point, the young man's sanity is slipping and he has a hard time telling what's real and what's wrong. He is clearly going mad; it's unclear whether the old salt is also going mad or has been mad the whole time or is something else entirely.

The film is shot in black and white with a 1:1.19 aspect ratio, making the image almost square. The lighting is very evocative, pulling out details in their faces and eyes and making light sources flare eerily. The look is visual impressive and distinct. The score is fairly low-key except for certain moments; other sounds, like an omnipresent fog horn, give the movie a lot of atmosphere. The dialogue is also unique, with language mimicking Herman Melville and other 1800s New England patter. Dafoe is especially good at delivering long speeches in the old language and he looks the part of a salty old seaman.

The descent into madness starts gradually and picks up as the movie progresses. Both characters start losing track of reality, making it difficult (though not always impossible) for viewers to know what is real and what is imagined/dreamed/hallucinated. It's as if the filmmakers want the viewers to share the characters' experience of going mad. For me, it went on too long--I lost my sympathy for both characters and was hoping for the movie to end ten minutes before it did. As a depiction of going mad, it does the job a little too well.

Eggers is the same writer/director of The Witch, which has a similar attention to period detail and dialogue, along with a distinct visual style. In The Lighthouse, everything is turned up to eleven. If you liked The Witch, this is even more so. If you thought The Witch was overdoing it, this is even more overdone.

Not recommended--I did rewatch The Witch once, but I am not going to rewatch this.

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