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The Lighthouse (2019)

Thomas Howard (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Defoe) are lighthouse keepers in 1890’s New England. The two find their current station, The Lighthouse on a remote island in the New England region of the United States, to be full of mystery and darkness. They struggle to get along and they struggle to survive as the time slowly passes them by. They will fight to keep their sanity and their lives as they are forced to question what is real and what is simply a figment of their imagination. 


As the film takes place in the 1890’s, director Robert Eggers chose to help bring this to life by making the film entirely in black and white. The black and white gives the film a look of antiquity while also providing the audience with a sense of darkness and ambiguity. The Lighthouse centers on two men who must try to keep their sanity while essentially stranded for four weeks. The viewer can only empathize with the character’s misfortune if their acting is adequate and if the writer(s) and director(s) can create a tone similar to the feelings of these characters. Robert Eggers, with the help of his co-writer (and brother) Max Eggers, created an unmistakably dark ambiance that transcended the entire film and made audiences uncomfortable from the first blow of the foghorn. The foghorn played a tremendously large role in setting the tone of the film. Like Wake and Howard, who were regularly subjected to the horrifically loud blow of that horn, audiences had to face its wrath and deal with the seemingly endless stream of torture as it radiated through the air. 


The Eggers did their job in setting up a beautifully daunting tale of (in)sanity. Pattinson and Defoe were terrifyingly dark, and they accurately portrayed the increasingly insane characters stuck in the lighthouse. Defoe is known to be a talented actor who has taken part in films that span all genres, and he has found success in playing often twisted antagonistic characters in those films. His performance lived up to expectations, and he found ways to manipulate his voice (and his face) to help depict a struggling lighthouse keeper (and sailor) on the brink of emotional exhaustion. As The Lighthouse progressed, Thomas Wake found himself in increasingly difficult situations, and Defoe made sure that the audience bought each and every horrifically cynical scenario. Pattinson is often remembered for his time playing Edward Cullen in The Twilight Saga. His portrayal of the blood-sucking vampire nearly cost him his career; alternately, this film may just have saved it. As Thomas Howard becomes more and more hysterical as time passes, Pattison hones his skills and delivers a performance for the ages. His performance was cohesively fractured and full of life. As the story progressed and Howard became weaker, his performance only grew stronger. He nailed every aspect of his performance and helped to develop a never-ending tale of emotional torture. 


The Lighthouse develops slowly as the Eggers attempt to cover every facet of the two Thomases’ emotional space. As the film took time to develop, audiences' own psyches were tested with the characters. Their resolve was tested, and they were able to better appreciate the increasingly horrific visuals presented by the Eggers, the actors, director of photography Jarin Blaschke and the rest of the crew so deftly created. The slow pacing of the story was important and necessary, and it was done with great precision. 


With all of the positives, came one negative that caused audiences to struggle with the film. Wake and Howard’s psyches were tested, and as their story grew more twisted, audiences were forced to create expectations of a reveal at the end. Most stories (written, visual or otherwise) climax at some point; they reach a point where readers, viewers, etc. understand that things will begin to come to a close. This film lacked that and was all too linear. The characters grew and the story progressed, however, it seemed that the story came to an end so abruptly and that everything in the film was too straight forward. Emotional stories warrant some mystery, and, yet, the Eggers left nothing to the imagination. They revealed everything about the characters and about their journey (other than how long they actually remained on the island). That abrupt end to The Lighthouse created a sense of emptiness and displeasure that created a disturbance in the audiences' appreciation of what had taken place over nearly two hours. The film was beautifully twisted and depicted the human psyche in ways that I had not seen before. The Eggers dove into the unknown and developed a story of great pain and suffering. It was difficult, however, to cope with their lackluster ending, and the film suffered because of it. 



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