The Lighthouse Madness

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)

13 thoughts on “The Lighthouse Madness

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  1. Guardedly interested in “The Lighthouse.” I’m pleased to see that you included “Locke” in your list, btw, a very underappreciated film (Tom Hardy and the supported voice-actors are tremendous in it).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amen to that! “Locke” was and still is overlooked. I couldn’t believe how much push and pull the narrative suspense could sustain within one car driving down the freeway! The plot and intent behind Hardy’s character kept me guessing the whole way through. So glad you agree!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I saw this movie…I loved it. It was filmed lenses from the silent era and a little later to retrofit into modern cameras with 35mm film. There is a little of The Shinning in it with the madness coming.
    Even some of the acting was an older style…that could be just me feeling like I was watching an old movie… This is great and had quality…no it won’t make a lot of money.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We think alike – I was also reminded of the German expressionist style and The Shining. It was supposed to hit our mainstream theatres, but I now understand why it stayed in the indies. I hope this gem doesn’t get overlooked…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bailey tried to get the poster from a mainstream place that was going to play it…they were going to give it to him but then he called his GM and he said they were going to start showing it in a couple weeks.
        I do hope a miracle happens and it catches on.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Bernie! This sounds intriguing. I will definitely see it since William Defoe is in it. Small cas
    t movies are a cut above, in my opinion. Remember TAPE (2001) with Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman? What a powerful, punch in the gut, film.
    Just two actors and one actress, filmed in one location : a motel room. No million dollar special effects, a low budget (only $ 100,000)…. but wow, great acting and dialogue! It works!
    Based on your recommendation, Bernie, I will check out this film! Thanks! Love you, Man! Y O D

    Liked by 1 person

    1. TAPE (2001)! How could I forget about TAPE! The intensity in that movie makes you dizzy and thumps your heart, and it’s all set in a small motel room! You da man! I’ve got to see that again!


  4. How have I never even heard of this movie? I love William Dafoe! It sounds intriguing. I’m going to have to check this one out, thank you! I am a marvel fan (haha) but I do prefer movies without all the CGI, there’s an art too it, and I definitely think CGI is overdone in today’s world, unfortunately. I miss the days where Yoda was actually “real” and not computer generated.

    Have you ever seen The Sunset Limited? It’s not scary at all, but there’s only two men in the entire movie, and it takes place in a dumpy apartment, and the entire story revolves around dialogue. It sounds boring as hell, but it’s really, really good!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I enjoyed the MCU up to “The Age of Ultron,” and since then, they just feel like the same movie with a different title, soaking up cash and attention spans and drawing so many links between one another that they lose individual substance. Only “Ragnarok” and “Guardians” stand out as unique to me. I guess “Logan” isn’t a part of this “universe,” but that’s another masterpiece to me.

      I haven’t seen The Sunset Limited, and I’m so glad you recommended it! All I know is that it starts Samuel L. Thank you for the rec!

      Best to you as always and thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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