Two lighthouse keepers try to maintain their sanity while living on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s. Two lighthouse keepers try to maintain their sanity while living on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.
Two lighthouse keepers try to maintain their sanity while living on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.
The Lighthouse (2019)
There are many jobs in the world, some paying better than others, some requiring more skills, and then there are those that drift into the category of dangerous professions. Anything centred around the ocean would qualify here be it working on an oil rig, fishing out on stormy waters, or manning the beacon to guide stricken vessels safely to shore and away from hazardous coastlines. Lighthouses have been around for centuries with the Pharos of Alexandria, once one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, being built more than 2000 years ago. To work in a lighthouse is to subject oneself to physical and mental demands as well as isolation and monotony. Indeed, it was a lighthouse that Edgar Allan Poe was writing about from May – August 1849 before his death later that year in October. The Light-House would be Poe’s final work though it comprised just three diary entries at the time of his death. Nevertheless, director Robert Eggers and his brother, Max, attempted to adapt Poe’s tale for the big screen and the result was 2019’s The Lighthouse.
The Lighthouse is set in New England in the 1890s and we focus on Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper i.e. “a wickie” on a small and remote island, requiring infrequent visits to restock supplies. Winslow finds himself under the supervision of Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), who is the long-term keeper of the lighthouse and does not suffer slackers gladly. Tasked with some demanding labour, Winslow rolls up his sleeves and gets to work but not all is what it seems at the lighthouse and on the island. As time goes by, Winslow begins to have strange visions and encounters, while the lantern room at the precipice of the lighthouse remains inaccessible to him but not to Wake. What’s the story there? Winslow’s assignment is for one month but his time at the lighthouse becomes unexpectedly extended when vicious storms set in, leaving the two men alone and trapped on the island. What follows is both a physical and mental test for both men while they wait the storm out.
It’s hard to talk in detail about The Lighthouse without giving too much away and that brief summary above does not do justice to the masterpiece we have here. There are so many layers to the story and ample opportunities to discuss and apply a myriad of theories and themes to the overall narrative. Filmed in black and white, the setting is both eerie and disorientating to the point that you start to feel like you are on that island with Winslow and Wake, little food in your belly but plenty of whisky, a sense of foreboding all around and hallucinogenic elements thrown in. The film relies heavily on the two central characters and here it excels. Willem Dafoe is always a safe pair of hands and here he delivers a masterful portrayal as the ageing taskmaster, Wake, both in appearance and accent, he lives the character more than acts it. Robert Pattinson, seemingly tainted forever by the Twilight films, is every bit as good as Dafoe, appearing completely unrecognisable from the days of sparkly vampires and instead given us a young, world weary and troubled character in Winslow; it’s a performance that Pattinson deserves plaudits for and now cast as the latest Batman, it seems the hard work has paid off. As crippling isolation weighs heavy on our characters and the line between reality and illusion becomes ever more blurred, you genuinely find yourself both physically and emotionally exhausted by the journey. I felt like fatigue would overwhelm me, yet I couldn’t stop watching as the final scenes unfolded and in the end I was completely drained. For days afterwards, I was still on that island, stuck in that lighthouse with Winslow and Wake, and my mind was blown away.
Verdict: Outstanding performances, a gripping and atmospheric story, The Lighthouse gets under your skin and drips cold sea water on your bones.