Two grown men are stranded on a remote island with flatulence abound. This is not going to be a popular mainstream movie.
Add black and white photography, an alien dialect of 1890s New England, and the claustrophobia of a shoddy lighthouse, most Marvel Comic Universe fanatics will tear their hair out.
For me, The Lighthouse is why I watch movies in the first place: It is astounding how a film with only two characters can enthrall and igntite the imagination without the crutch of gratuitous CGI or a big budget. I’d re-watch the five minutes of mystic tension at the dinner table between a stubborn, ragged lighthouse keeper (Willem Dafoe) and his slow-minded but devious pupil (Robert Pattinson) before the twenty-minute battle scenes of any comic book trope movie, any day.
The Lighthouse is peculiar and not meant to be “understood.” If that’s not your cup of tea, I hear Iron Man is serving Kool-Aid at the local theme park. Director Robert Eggers invites us to be challenged by his visions and does to the post-modern horror genre what Spielberg did to thrillers in general: He lets your imagination fill in the blanks.
Are there ghosts on the island? What does the actual light in the lighthouse represent? What is real and what is hallucinated? Why does Willem Dafoe’s character fart so much?
Obviously, the superstition of killing a seagull is a gravely serious one because (not much of a spoiler here, as this occurs early in the movie) after Pattinson’s character loses it on his feathered friend, all chaos ensues on the island, and the “You Got a Friend in Me” vibe takes a nasty turn. In one sense, we sympathize for both men as there’s only so much toil and conversation one can take when there’s only toil and conversation to be had on an island. In another sense, we dread both characters’ impending breach of sanity, and when madness inevitably arises, there are only the black ocean waves to turn to. (Add alcohol and kerosene concoctions, and you’re close to hell.)
Imploding madness is a popular subject in film these days. Regarding the 2010s, I go back to Natalie Portman in Black Swan (2010), Jennifer Lawrence in mother! (2017), and Michael Fassbender in both the Macbeth (2015) remake and Frank (2014). Today, I’d give Joaquin Phoenix credit in Joker, but Travis Bickle came first in Taxi Driver (1976), and Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese deserve the praise.
Both characters of Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson reach madness, and the result is an unearthly challenge for the viewer who wants intelligibility. The most important guideline to follow is to feel. To me, there is no other reason to see a movie than to feel. Facts, answers, and explanations are out. The premise of surviving amidst the existential horrors of the lighthouse, the unpleasantries of a workmate, and the approaching storm are enough to give you the heebie-jeebies. Robert Eggers’ vision and Mark Korven’s torrential film score execute both.
Just take your camera into a room and shoot it at one or two actors or actresses. Let it go places. That’s whatever unpretentious term you could use for this movies is.
The Lighthouse (2019) **** out of *****
Below are my favorite films with two characters or less. What are your favorites? Did you see The Lighthouse? If so, what did you think?
Sleuth (1972), My Dinner with Andre (1981), Gerry (2002), Paranormal Activity (2007), Antichrist (2009), Moon (2009), 127 Hours (2010), Buried (2010), Locke (2013), Gravity (2013), and the recent Styx (2018) https://reelybernie.com/2019/06/24/one-of-the-best-of-2018-no-one-saw/