The Lighthouse

Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse is a tale of two lighthouse keepers stationed on a mysterious island in the 1890s, who grapple with their minds as well as the gloomy surroundings. Inspired by true events of the kind on an island in Wales, Eggers infused the story with mythical undertones and a sound design that fits the cinematographic structure. Warring with their minds as well as with each other, the two lighthouse keepers maintain an intoxicated existence to keep themselves sane while also managing to keep an interpersonal relationship full of hate as well as camaraderie.

Both the characters: Winslow played by Robert Pattinson and Tom played by Willem Dafoe; are well thought out and well-executed on screen in terms of acting and inter-personal narratives that govern them. Since the two lighthouse keepers are named Thomas, Eggers creates a space for exploration of their identities by intertwining them in a mesh of complex narratives. Their talks/tall tales form a pool from which they extract any story and parade it as their own with unflinching confidence. Winslow’s escape to the rock from his previous life projects a sense of redemptive acceptance of back-breaking work and initial obedience towards Tom. Winslow’s baggage of the past and Tom’s rotten life on the island of previous tragic happenings add to the existing psychological factors that drive these individuals mad. It is impossible to judge who outdoes whom in terms of their madness. The movie also hits some existential notes. Eggers seems to suggest that a community preserves and validates the humanity of individuals. Willful expulsion of two men from a group/community that uphold sociological institutions and values leads to a breakdown of humanity and senses itself. Thrusting the isolation of the lighthouse on the individuals, Eggers portrays the unbearable human condition stripped of any contact with the world.

The maritime speech and the sailor’s yarns do justice to the archetype of a sailor. Tom is a Proteus-like figure whereas Winslow’s fate is that of Prometheus. Tom’s monologues establish his divine image as does Winslow’s hallucination of Tom as a sea god. Winslow’s enchantment with the light culminates in murdering of Tom while having a Promethean-like fall for himself. Their homosocial space is perfected by the remarkable acting done by the actors. The two characters aggravate each other while also finding company in each other. They pick fights with each other, spill their beans to each other as an escapist approach to the droll life on the island.

There is not a lot that one can make sense of in the movie. Bizarre images do fill the screen. The profound complexities prove too much to bring about a single explanation. Eggers achieves his directorial intention of avoiding straightforward meanings, keeping the movie ambiguous in its meaning from start to finish. The literary and mythical influences in the movie are quite impressive be it the siren’s song or the killing of the seagull acting out Coleridge’s The Rime of Ancient Mariner. The black and white template enforces the seriousness and the horror of the morose setting of the movie. The movie doesn’t run in strong contrasts of black and white but that of grey. The claustrophobic living spaces on the island stand in contrast to the vastness of the ocean. The aspect ratio of 1.19:1 further heightens the claustrophobia of the setting making the reader want to stretch the screen wide open. The abrupt shot transitions and the slow camera movements employed achieve horror inducing effects. Before even the title of the movie comes up, we hear sounds that entrap us till the very end. The score and the imagery of the movie stand as the most prominent features of cinematic expertise at work. Brian Tellerico expresses the effect of these features most accurately in the words – “The Lighthouse is a sensory assault”.  The movie stands as a ‘one of a kind’ movie applaudable for its thematic depth and cinematic feat.

  • Anshika Chhillar, B.A. (hons) English 3rd year

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