Rated R for everything. This is one of those A24 movies that fits in everything it can under the R-rating banner. The more depraved it can be, the more likely it is to show up in The Lighthouse. Possibly the most disturbing thing about the controversial content in the movie is that it treats a lot of it with a casual nature, despite the brutality of some of these moments. There's self-pleasuring in this movie. Cryptozoological nudity. Not only violence towards birds, but to the point where the bird doesn't look like a bird by the time its done. Murder. (That seems tame in comparison). A lot of alcohol goes in dudes' bellies. Feces that manages to land on Robert Pattinson's face. It's got everything. I know missed a bunch of stuff, because this movie has got it. HARD R.
DIRECTOR: Robert Eggers
I knew nothing about this except that it was A24, in black and white, starred Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, and that my cinema friends really dug it. I adore A24. It's given some validity to the horror genre (which is weird, because I think that the Academy Awards are still really hesitant to give any credence to this corner of the artsy fartsy world). But I'm starting to develop something that I never thought that I would. I'm starting to get A24 fatigue.
Like, Midsommar is on my to-watch list. But it keeps getting shoved back because I don't know if I have the gumption to knock out another A24. A24 has so much going for it. These are visually gorgeous movies that don't treat genre films like second-class cinema. Almost any one of the big movies that A24 has released in the past five years, if not under the A24 banner, would be some of my favorite horror films of the past decade. They show time and passion and that's commendable. But they are also known for being incredibly disturbing. Apparently, when you remove the camp from a horror movie, you also remove a lot of the fun. There are kinda-sorta fun moments in The Lighthouse. I mean, I wasn't burdened by watching it. But there were a lot of disturbing moments where I found myself looking at the clock to see how much time was left in the film. That's a bummer because both Pattinson and Dafoe crush it with the script they have. It's an acting dream / nightmare, but they pull it off in spades.
But this all leaves me at a point where I have to pretend that I'm an English teacher and guess at an interpretation. I refuse to believe that a lot of it is a collection of disturbing images. This movie HAS to be influenced by Bergman. There's just too much in terms of shadows and imagery that allows me to imagine that Eggers doesn't want to be a little Bergman himself with this film. It's intimate and claustrophobic. As much as I love Bergman (and fail to interpret him EVERY TIME), he often uses intense symbolism that often can be read as random. It's probably not. If I had the patience and time to rewatch every film I have seen with commentary, I'm sure that I wouldn't be disappointed with the meaning of the images. But The Lighthouse uses a lot of that apparent random imagery. It's to keep the audience off guard. There's really no way to imagine how the movie is going to end (outside of violently) because Eggers and his team don't really let you get comfortable with formula.
As such, the movie is always asking me to question what is going on. While IMdB lists the characters as "Thomas Howard" and "Thomas Wake", a video I saw on Facebook showed that the script labeled them "Young" and "Old." That's apt. That's probably way more accurate than Howard and Wake. For a chunk of the movie --and I'm not sure I have completely abandoned this theory --I thought that they might have been the same person. There's a line in there that supports that theory, but I know it isn't the center of the film. If they are the same person, I get that more in a symbolic sense than any kind of literal "the guy is hanging out with himself and wants to kill himself" scenario. If they are the same guy, it's just telling the message about how people tend to hate themselves. I've said for years that I would always hate myself nine years in the past. I couldn't hang out with that guy.
Tackling the motif of madness doesn't seem terribly original for an A24 film. Seeing these two guys locked in a room together, from moment one, the story was there. I don't know how much The Lighthouse contributes to the world of mental illness. Rather, Lighthouse gets a little exploitative. It's not about logic, in the least. Rather, the film uses madness as means to talk about hatred and to exploit some truly impressive imagery. I know that the movie gets into some really icky sexual stuff. It's one of those movies that thrives on your discomfort. A grosser Bertolt Brecht, if you will. But that stuff makes the entire film about emotion. I think that Eggers wants you to experience hate. Not hate for the film. I don't get that vibe. But we're so stuck in the world of Ephraim (I'm going to call him that for the rest of this writing because it helps me keep them separated) that we hate Wake throughout the film.
Ephraim is more nuts than Wake. You could probably argue with me about that and win, but I'm standing by it. But despite the fact that Ephraim is the one with all of this secret history, it's Wake who we start criticizing. Because the movie places so much focus on Ephraim's character, we kind of understand his sporadic nature. When he starts losing his mind, it almost makes sense. His labor becomes our labor. His need for a drink becomes our need for a drink. As such, Wake becomes this antagonist that needs to be destroyed very quickly. As odd as Wake is, and he is odd, he's probably closer to a real character than Ephraim is. Ephraim is having hallucinations / real experiences with naked mermaids and Poseidon. Because Ephraim is an unreliable narrator, Wake becomes this very bizarre avatar for reality. Yeah, the man lives in a world of lies, but those lies seem tame compared to the things that Ephraim sees.
And part of that is because we are never really sure what Wake sees. He spouts curses about Poseidon striking Ephraim down, but that often comes across as sailor talk. Wake is just bizarre, from head to foot. His adopted vernacular is meant to distance himself from us, but his mental breakdown seems far more in character than Ephraim. Ephraim is sold to us as the avatar for the viewer. He isn't a wickie. He's there to do four-weeks work and get out of there. But over the course of the film, Ephraim becomes the one who is less reliable. Wake's testimony that time hasn't passed in the way that Ephraim thinks it has makes the audience make a choice. He can believe what Ephraim has shown us, despite the history of his predecessor and the bizarre imagery; or he can choose the dialogue provided by Wake. Wake, as weird as he is, is less prone to claims of odd things. He lives under a really weird sailors code, but it is more consistent than the flexible nature presented by Ephraim.
Yeah, I didn't love the movie. I'm sorry for that. I didn't hate it either. I just want A24 to push itself into the waters (pun intended) of visually compelling while not-being-the-bleakest-thing-it's-made. It's just always so bleak. I need a little bit of happiness from time-to-time, if for no other reason than to balance the misery provided in the film.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.