There is a lot of WTF in The Lighthouse. Or should that be WTF’ery? In any case, I left the theatre wondering what exactly I had just seen, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The story, set in the 1890s, begins with a simple premise. Ephraim Wilson (Robert Pattinson) takes a job, on a desolate island, as an assistant to a veteran lighthouse keeper, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). It’s rough work with Wake ordering his employee around, admonishing him for every little thing. At one point, Wilson complains that he feels more like a slave. Plus, he’s bitter that Wake won’t let him up to the light, keeping that level of the house locked up. At night, Wilson sees his boss, stripped naked, basking in the glow, which really makes you wonder what’s up there. After four weeks, the men are supposed to get off the island, but the ferry never comes and the storm picks up. They’re stranded in it. Huge amounts of hard drinking, seagull attacks, hallucinations, possible mermaid interactions, and angry masturbation ensues. It’s a hodgepodge of crazy.
At times I wondered if co-writer/director Robert Eggers was throwing in weird stuff just for the sake of being weird. As if that would add depth to the film. For me, the less insane moments were actually more meaningful. Just seeing Wilson and Wake exist in such close quarters. It’s interesting to see these two characters, trapped together, with no choice but to reveal themselves to one another. Over drunken conversations they begin to peel back the layers, sharing truths. It’s melancholy at times and pretty funny in other instances. Pattinson and Dafoe are evenly matched and share a great cantankerous chemistry. You don’t know what their characters will do to one another, which can be very suspenseful. Dafoe definitely deserves a nomination for his performance.
The film itself is shot beautifully in black & white. It looks like a great old movie you’d see on TCM with its cinematography. Eggers creates an ominous dark mood with his claustrophobic direction, use of light, and sound. You feel like you’re on that island with these men, living in the same harsh conditions.
Getting back to the WTF factor, yes, I could have used less of it and a more straightforward storyline. But at the same time, it did add to the overall experience of the film. And I was typically entertained even if that came with confusion.