A24 is one of the most daring movie studios working today, and they have never been known to shy away from a crazy or ludicrous idea. In fact, they have become known for shedding light on concepts that other studios would skim over and letting these concepts live up to their full potential. However, with Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, A24 seems to have outdone themselves, because it is one of the weirdest and most out-there films one will ever see playing in the cinema. After the unique 2015 film The VVitch, fans were eager to see what Eggers would release next. Needless to say, nobody could have predicted the direction he takes with his sophomore effort: a hallucinatory, acid-trip of a film that confuses a little too much with its Shakespearean dialogue and metaphorical imagery. While no one can deny the incredible talent at work on both sides of the camera, it never quite gets past the scatter-shot manner in which it delivers its symbolism.
From the very first shot of the film, the audience knows they are in for something different, for Eggers shoots it in black and white 35mm film with a nearly square aspect ratio. These techniques of filming have scarcely been used since the early 1900s, and Eggers utilizes them expertly here to set the mood and to immerse the audience in the confinement of the setting. The audience is introduced to Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas (Willem Dafoe), two lighthouse-keepers who are stuck working on a remote island for a full month. They almost immediately start to go mad, and the rest of the movie is a spiral into insanity that drags the audience right down with it. The style of filming adds to the isolation that defines the tone of the film and effectively drives the audience crazy.
Eggers shows insane talent through every shot of the film, and the cinematography is beautiful even when the events shown are heavily disturbing and uncomfortable. Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke has few credits to his name, but I expect to see more great work from him in the future–what he accomplishes in this film is astounding. Eggers, Blaschke, and composer Mark Korven work together to create a fantastic and unsettling atmosphere that serves the message and tone of the story well.
Nothing would work, however, if the actors did not deliver, especially because there are only two (technically three) people in the entire film. And boy is the acting top-notch. Both Dafoe and Pattinson are mind-blowing, and they elevate the confusing story to another level through every aspect of their performances. Dafoe gives monologues that may be hardly coherent, but does so with such vivid passion and expression that he still manages to convince the audience of his character’s motives simply through his body language. Pattinson delivers yet another nuanced performance, and one in which he grows more energetic and wild as his character travels further down the rabbit-hole. Both actors are some of the most underrated in film, and here they come together to prove their value.
What ends up making this film sag for me is the delivery of the heavy symbolism that is essential to the understanding of the film’s message. Eggers clearly has a vision for the meaning of The Lighthouse, but the odd and inaccessible imagery that he uses to deliver this meaning never quite connects because of how obscure everything is. Many of these hallucinatory sequences feel more messy and indulgent than they do meaningful and ominous because of how random the execution ends up feeling. In the end, I walked out of the film appreciating the craft and understanding the general themes, but not understanding the reason why much of the film exists. While I am not asking Eggers to make the film dumb and treat the audience like toddlers, I feel that he should have created a movie that didn’t feel like an inside joke for those that understand Greek mythology.
I am not as large of a fan of The Lighthouse as I wanted to be because of the messy pacing and incoherent events, but I can see myself coming around more in the future. There is definitely a lot to unpack here, and Eggers has crafted a film that will reward viewers during their second or third viewings. Love it or hate it, I have never seen a film with a similar vision to The Lighthouse, and the risk-taking and talent on display here must be commended. While it never impacts as much as it wants to, The Lighthouse still contains some top-notch filmmaking that is not likely to leave the audience’s minds soon after.
I give The Lighthouse a B-.