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The Lighthouse (2019), A24's Finest Film.

Updated on August 26, 2020

The Lighthouse (2019) blew past everyone’s radar this year due to more important issues in the Hollywood landscape such as Harvey Weinstein’s conviction. Nevertheless, despite not having an award season this film should have at least made a dent. It is a tremendous piece of artwork that outside of currently being streamed on Amazon Prime appears to not be on any of the other streaming networks. The film depicts a psycho-analysis of not just a period of history but of a group of people that are not really afforded much credit for the difficulty of their job. Furthermore, the film gives two actors a once in a lifetime opportunity to interact and combine their talents in a film. No, this film is not action packed, or a rugged romance, it is a film that deals with loneliness, depression, mystery, phobias, and of course the ocean. Today, we will look provide a deeper look back into the film and what made it more than just a piece of art.

Issues the Viewer May Encounter.

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson.
Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson.

The Lighthouse (2019) is not the film for anyone that dislikes psychoanalysis, oceans, alcoholism, or anything having to do with depression. The film deals with all of these issues in one hour and forty-five minutes providing closure to an issue that many in our current society deem less important. The film features two characters who are entirely contrasts of each other and brings them together only to realize that they appear to be running away from something. In making the film director, producers and co-writer, Robert Eggers along with his brother Max Eggers wanted the film to be an adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe short story that was unfinished. Poe’s story is titled “The Light-House” and like most of his works like him in mystery. The story is unclear as Poe wrote it like a diary entry and had only gotten to page four before refusing to complete it in time prior to his death. However, Robert Eggers suggested that Max’s idea although good was going to need to be spruced up and changed. The final work has no resemblance other than the title to Poe’s work.

For a non-English-major-type the language in the film is quite confusing and requires subtitles which is often a turn-off even in a predominantly English speaking film. Williem Dafoe’s character, Thomas Wake, often speaks in an dialect very similar a Herman Melville (Moby Dick) or Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island). The dialects in these novels are very complex for a modern English speaker but they contain phrases that we use still today but they are not spelled the same or pronounced the same in some cases. The film takes place in the 1890s when this type of dialogue would have happened which gives the film some authenticity to those it is portraying. Again, this can be a turnoff for a non-reading non-English-reading type so be cautious prior to watching the film because loads of what both Dafoe and Robert Pattinson’s character, Ephraim Winslow, say comes from this. With the dialogue it seems that without subtitles you are watching a Shakespearian epic rather than a film.

The film is shot entirely in black and white. This is probably the largest turn-off for a typical movie-watcher, but it does put the story into a perspective. Unlike many modern thrillers the film being shot in black and white provides the landscape with a much more plain feel. It also ads to an already prudent setting. Watching it once brings the audience back to the “Golden Age of Hollywood.” Its black and white color may ad substance for analytical viewers of film. Furthermore, it is not a typical A24 film that is shot with various colors and hues. Another important aspect to notice is that the film is shot on a 35mm which is an excellent style to use. This provides aesthetics for the setting of the film and ads substance by not having the audience rely on colors. A majority of shots are very slow and methodical which makes it a strong thriller. It reminisces like a Hitchcock and ends like a Kubrick. Following the story can be difficult because of the details on-screen but if you pay close attention the film can be really easy to follow.

Strength(s) of the Film

Pattison and Dafoe
Pattison and Dafoe

Although dialogue is a crucial issue within the film it is also a strength that the film ads. Like we mentioned earlier the dialogue gives a historical take and a regional take for the film. Taking place in New England there are also strong accents from both Pattinson and Dafoe. Dafoe being the older of the characters takes the strong immigrant Irish accent, although the film details that he most likely was born in the United States. Pattison’s accent in the film sounds something more a of Northeasterner most likely from Massachusetts. This backs the case of Eggers deciding to write the film using, nouns, adjectives, and verbs that would have been used at the time. The dialogue is a positive force that intensifies the struggle of what occurs. Often Dafoe can be seen cursing and swearing at young Pattinson and with facial expressions we can learn a little about why Dafoe behaves and says what he says.

Themes of the film are another strength that film addresses. Depression and loneliness are two of the important topics that the film addresses. Thomas Wake, a longtime wickie, lighthouse keeper, states that he spent many years at sea and that it is always going to be his love. He even notes that his wife and children’s relationship with him was ruined because he spent so much time with the sea. Wake is lonely as a result of this obscure love of the ocean. Wake’s life is both a blessing and a curse as he struggles with coping being alone. His most common activity to cure himself is alcohol. Wake is a drinker within the first 10 minutes of the film as he and Winslow eat dinner together before he takes the night shift. Ephraim Winslow, the more youthful of the two starts out completely different. Wake has experience and Winslow is the newbie. Wake struggles teaching Winslow the ways of being a wickie. Winslow is obedient and by the book, but to please Wake he needs to work harder than usual. Winslow is also alone and running away. He is referred to by Wake as a “drifter” although he does not consider himself to be one. He claims to have held jobs in all sorts of industries but his last job was in timber. He took the wickie position for the money and to get away but from what is not clear. Winslow does not partake in drinking and mostly keeps to himself. His loneliness is much different than Wake’s who got that way on his own. Winslow is alone because of desperation.

The film does also have a tiny bit of mythology. Included in the story are mermaids and sirens. Winslow has a fascination with one that he finds at the beginning of the film in the form of a wooden doll. His bouts of insanity also include seeing the same mermaid more lifelike and more terrifying. In many novels of the 19th century mermaids where seen as a mystical creature that lived amongst fish. The mermaids have been written about well before this in Greek and Roman mythology. Wake never encounters the mermaid but being an old sailor like he is the mythology and mysticism of the sea ads to his character. With mythology comes some Freudian and Jungian images that include phallic fascination. This plays a huge role in the film which would strikes people as being very weird on the first watch. However, it does play into the sea and all that we know and do not know about it.

Watch it Please

Willem Dafoe
Willem Dafoe

The film does justice to those who enjoy watching a unique film that requires someone to think and inquire. From a psycho-analysis view the film is perfect at looking at mental health and why solitude is a terrible idea. It also deals with the issue of loneliness and depression that suggests that being a wickie can be a difficult job but also a very lonely one. Winslow represents the youthful generation that aspires to go nowhere in their lives and is always on the move. Wake is the father figure that is not at all a reasonable man. The film takes the viewer down a path of slow and sure destruction that ends way opposite of what was originally expected. It is a strong watch for someone that is bored out of their mind and looking for an adventure but also someone that enjoys an artsy escapade.

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