The Ligthouse and overcoming the self
Last week I had the privilege of attending an advanced UK screening of emerging auteur Robert Eggers’ The lighthouse as part of film fours’ fear four recent cinema events at the Hyde Park Picture House. Come the general UK release on January 31st I will be seeing it again, then again. In quintessential arthouse fashion the films’ meaning is one of ambiguity, I will not give explicit details that would spoil the film but will lend my subjective interpretation of the film. If you fear any biasing of your experience, then stop reading now and go in totally blind.
The aesthetics of the film must first be praised. The cinematography made each scene GIF worthy, the detail and deliberation of each shot spoke to the mood and themes of the moment and left me yearning for a rewind switch in my seat. There is presence and substance in every visual choice, from as broad as the ennui conveyed by the black and white palette to as narrow as the brushwork detail in the practical effects and costume. The novel use of angles and natural lowlight gives each scene an intimate vista which vividly illustrates the bleakness and brutality of daily existence as a lighthouse keeper and at times makes the viewer anxiously present in the horrors that unfurl.
Each moment is punctuated and accented perfectly by the constant, irritating sound design. From the objectively displeasing cacophony of sea storms, gulls, sirens and seaman’s cursing, to subtle drops of water and the whirring of the lighthouse’s machinations there is no reprise from the jaw winding soundtrack.
The tale itself is one of literary grandeur, when Max and Robert eggers penned the script Melville, Lovecraft and Nietzsche each had a hand upon the pen, the language is flamboyant and poetic and ultimately tells a psychological allegory. What little facts we are given as certain upon Dafoe and Pattinsons’ arrival on the island are quickly seasoned with doubt, this uncertainty creates the main conflict subject of the film. The characters’ isolation leads to drinking, to confusion, to doubt, amnesia, then madness.
This all stems from Pattinsons’ character, Winslow’s, lying and fleeing from his dark past, his failure to confront and know himself repeatedly creates jeopardy throughout the film. Through the characters mutual gaslighting and queer occurrences on the island the film invites the viewer to choose between interpretations; the characters’ actions have caused a curse to befall them or the events are myth, figments of Winslows’ imagination. There is equal evidence for both options, but the wisdom of the allegory comes from the latter.
Pattinson and Dafoe each play a version of Winslow, the elder and the younger. The elder, Dafoe, is what will become of Winslow if he fails to integrate and solve what he truly is; a snivelling, lying drunk who isolates himself from the world. The elder imparts wisdom, truth as to how the younger can avoid becoming the miserable thing he has, the younger rejects his message at every moment, yet this process of dissent is how the younger and we, ourselves, can outgrow or vices past and present.
What confronts you must be questioned, but not rationalised as false, the younger and the elder often find mutual comfort in their similarity throughout the film, just as we understand why we have made and continue to make mistakes. We can acknowledge our vices easily, accurately being challenged on them and presented with the process by which they are remedied is more difficult because it is difficult. Each of our egos are too fragile to easily assimilate this fact. Sadly, we do not have the luxury of a hairy, flatulent Willam Dafoe as our therapist challenging us and we would likely respond as the younger does to the elder, with anger and violence to preserve the web of deceit that envelopes us. It is no surprise that the impasse between these two halves results in misfortune in the film.
The lighthouse is a cinematic piece more akin to theatrical work that harks back to themes of stoicism and suffrage characteristic of the classics. The viewer is taken on a disturbing odyssey of suspense, worthy of Alfred Hitchcock that cools the soul whilst retaining a literary quality allowing for a multiplicity of interpretations I could happily write on.
I hope it is honoured accordingly and once reading this you are equally as excited to see it for the first time as I am my second, third and fourth.