Plot: What’s it about?
I firmly believe that Willem Dafoe is one of our greatest living actors. Granted, he might have the classic Hollywood “good looks” but there are a million that do and simply don’t have the talent that he has. And then there’s Robert Pattinson. Yes, his character died in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, he went on to make a name for himself in the Twilight films and has subsequently carved out a nice career as an actor. And then we have Director Robert Eggers whose 2015 film, The Witch, was a bit…out there. So what’s in store for us now? Admittedly I’d not heard a lot about this film prior to my viewing. And, let’s face it, the story of two late 19th century men living in a lighthouse doesn’t exactly get my blood pumping. The less I knew about this film, the better. And that’s why I enjoyed it so much.
Set in the 1890’s, the story revolves around two lighthouse keepers on a New England island. Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) is new to the trade, wanting to earn money for his life. Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) is a veteran of the trade, a “wickie” if you will, and enjoys the drink as well as a strict adherence to the rules. Winslow is forced to do the majority of the grunt work to keep the lighthouse running, he’s pestered by a seagull. Advised by Wake, he’s not to harm it as it’s believed that they contain the souls of deceased sailors. Winslow doesn’t listen and bad things start to happen. We follow the increasing decent into madness as the two main characters continue to berate and battle one another verbally and physically. It’s an odd sight. And there’s a mermaid.
The film’s strength lies in the lead actors, the director and the script. Then again, I suppose all films rely on those three things. But it works here. As I mentioned above, this isn’t the kind of movie that I’d naturally gravitate to, but a few minutes in I found myself not checking the clock. I expected the aspect ratio to fill my screen. I expected…color! But none of that happened. And it was OK. Dafoe and Pattinson looked horrible and with good reason, evidently the 90 day shoot was done in a remote part of Nova Scotia that left the actors tired and worn. Still, this isn’t an easy film to recommend and I can guarantee that there’ll be one member of my staff that will love it. Like the films of David Lowery, Yorgos Lanthimos and even Stanley Kubrick, The Lighthouse is a study in human nature. It’s not for everyone, but if you know your films then you’ll enjoy the hell out of it.
Video: How’s it look?
You know that 84″ Ultra HD 4K TV that’s the crown jewel of your home entertainment system? Yeah, well, throw that out. Ok, maybe don’t throw it out, but I can say that it won’t come in too useful here. Why? Well, The Lighthouse is shown in a pillarboxed 1.19:1 aspect ratio. This is what they used to film movies in…100 years ago. And that’s no typo. There’s a method to this madness, though. According to Director Robert Eggers, it was to promote a sense of claustrophobia. To “draw the viewer in” if you will. It worked. At least with me. Oh, and it’s in black and white. So now we’ve taken more than half of your screen’s real estate and all those millions of colors and have narrowed it down to two (Ok, more than two). All that aside, this looks pretty good. Detail is exceptional, showcasing the grit and grime of the two lead actors. And let’s just say they both need a toothbrush. Beards and mustaches abound as does the grimy interior of the lighthouse. Is it a beautiful movie? No. And yes. When I think of the lifestyle of someone in this profession, I don’t think of rainbows and lush, green meadows. I think of it how appears here. And that was the point. And it worked.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Your output device might not earn its keep here, but I can say that the included DTS HD Master Audio sound mix will. There’s always something going on in this film, be it the crashing waves, the seagulls squawking or a horn billowing. And to say this is a dialogue-driven movie is, perhaps, the understatement of the year. Both Dafoe and Pattinson’s characters bark out their lines with accents I’ve never heard of. The closest antecedent would be the Sea Captain character on The Simpson’s. Aye. There’s a palpable dynamic range here, though. Surrounds are always churning and let me just say (without spoiling) that the ending scene utilizes every one of your speakers and manages to scare the hell out of you, to boot.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Making The Lighthouse – We go behind the scenes with actors Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as well as writer/director Robert Eggers. They regale us of how the film came to be, shooting in “less than ideal” conditions and the overall impact of the film.
- Audio Commentary – Director Robert Eggers is surprisingly descriptive in his vision of the movie and what he wanted to accomplish. He tells of how Willem Dafoe approached him for project as well as the exhausting 90 day shoot. It’s a great track.
- Deleted Scenes – Two total, totaling around three minutes.
- Scene 46: Sweeping the Galley – What d’ya call that?!
- Scene 53: Sweeping the Galley – To my friend Tom, and gettin off this goddamned rock!
The Bottom Line
Movies like this are very polarizing. You either love it or you hate it. There’s very rarely a middle ground. Like so many other movies like it, I found myself thinking about it long after the credits rolled. And by “…other movies like it” there’s really nothing like it, but in that same sort of oddness. Make sense? Fans of Eggers prior film, The Witch, will most likely dig this and other films in (what I would consider) the same vein: A Ghost Story, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Give it a chance.