The Lighthouse (2019)
Directed by Robert Eggers
If you buy “The Lighthouse” as an absurdist comedy, you might get a kick out of it. If you expected and hoped for a more straightforward mystery, you might be disappointed with the lack of resolution and the increasing belligerence of both the characters and the movie as a whole. I fall into the latter category, which is a real bummer.
Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) arrive on a rocky island with just a lighthouse and small ramshackle living quarters. For four weeks, they’ll be charged with keeping the light going and completing the many other chores required of the wickies. Specifically, Thomas will man the light. After a while, Ephraim—who is less experienced, and therefore assigned the more backbreaking work—grows tired of his lot, and wishes to see the light, despite Thomas’s strict demands. As their food rations get low, they resort to drinking more, which causes all of this tension to boil over.
Dafoe gnaws on scenery like its saltwater taffy. I can say, truly, that if it wasn’t for his performance (which competes with the year’s best), I would’ve considered walking out after the first hour. But he’s so perfectly cast—looking like the Gorton’s fisherman (but don’t trust this Gorton’s fisherman!)—I loath to think what “The Lighthouse” would’ve been like with anyone else in the role. Robert Pattinson doesn’t sell it as well as his costar. His Ephraim has a New England accent so tacky, it could sometimes be confused for a disgruntled Mark Wahlberg character.
Sorry, A24, but maybe giving directors this much freedom isn’t always a winning strategy. Yes, most critics have dished out high praise for “The Lighthouse,” but is this movie just for them? Because I can’t picture the audience for this one. “The Lighthouse” reminded me of “Ghost Story,” another movie that critics mostly loved but most people didn’t realize ever released. They both had beautiful cinematography, old-school aspect ratios, and relatively little dialogue. “The Lighthouse” has the added element of being in black and white. But those alone don’t make a movie great, and I disagreed with so many of the choices made by writer-director Robert Eggers (“The Witch”) here that I couldn’t take his movie seriously. And I think what makes me different, I guess, is that I wanted to take it seriously. I didn’t want to be distracted by the childish humor of a wet fart or a bloody seagull carcass. To me, those things lessened the dramatic impact of the movie, which could have risen to great heights had “The Lighthouse” stayed focused on that mission. Instead, it mixed dry, pitch-black humor and dramatic mystery in such a way that I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel. So I just felt like my time had been wasted.