Here’s the deal, folks. I’m sick, like edge of death overreacting flu kind of sick. The perfect way to be right at the start of Oscars week, huh? As a result, I’m afraid my take on The Lighthouse might not be the most nuanced or intricate, but hey, I’m here, so I might as well share some words.
My first words are simply these; I did. not. like it.
The film tells the story of Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), two men who are tasked with looking after a lighthouse on a remote and hostile island off the coast of New England in the 19th century. Setting a foreboding and imposing tone from the very first frames, it becomes very clear that The Lighthouse is going to be a film about the descent into madness. In principle, I don’t mind this theme at all, but something that tends to be true in many cases is that the more filmmakers lean into ‘descent into madness subject matter’, the more pretentious things start to get. In my opinion, that is exactly what happens here.
I’m well aware of the almost universal acclaim that this movie is getting from all corners, but to be completely honest, it felt to me like a try hard, stylistically tiresome affair. From filming in black and white to sap the film of any literal or figurative colour, to the boxy 1.19:1 aspect ratio that enhances a feeling of trapped claustrophobia, to the overbearing, insanity inducing score, The Lighthouse feels like a sort of student film checklist of everything you might want to do to make an effective hipster movie. I can see why all of the choices are made, but the very nature of my being able to pick up on everything in such a cold and critical manner clearly shows that my engagement with the plot was nowhere near where it needed to be.
Ultimately, I think I’m just not particularly interested in watching stories like this, especially when they are presented in such a (to use a good old British erm) wanky way. When in the right mood, I might be able to sit and appreciate more of the craftsmanship of the film, but with both nostrils blocked and tonsils aflame, it certainly wasn’t the kind of medicine that I needed.
The one thing I will say is that Robert Pattinson and Willem Defoe are both at their very best in this. The film provides its actors the space to add a classic two hander to their resumes, and both men take on the challenge with full commitment. Playing a sort of stereotypical hard drinking, story telling seaman with a hint of sinister behind his eyes, Willem Defoe is unnerving and attention stealing. You are simultaneously scared of him and intrigued by him, even if the character does have one too many indulgent monologues for my liking.
As newcomer to the island Ephraim Winslow, Robert Pattinson plays the ‘Jack Torrance’ role, if you like. Relatively fresh faced upon arrival but very quickly consumed by the atmosphere of his new surroundings. You might be one of those people who still see him as the shiny vampire boy in Twilight, but it’s an undisputed fact that Pattinson has carved a strong and eclectic career for himself, picking interesting roles and interesting projects.
As the only two figures in the film (give or take the odd mermaid, no joke) both Defoe and Pattinson do great jobs of making characters that you wouldn’t want to spend any amount of time with in real life, watchable for almost two hours. Given my own personal opinion of the film as a whole, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that in the hands of lesser actors, The Lighthouse could have been a real unbearable mess.
Overall, The Lighthouse is a film that just isn’t my cup of tea. Fans will see depth and metaphor where I saw transparent tropes, and they will revel in the depravity and chaos of it all when all I was really did was keep looking at my watch. Two standout performances from Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson kept me interested enough to finish the thing, but at this particular moment in time I’m far too full of cold to find enjoyment in classic white male rage with a side of fantastical madness. No ma’am.