In the late 19th century two men are left to tend a remote lighthouse off the coast of New England. Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) is old seafaring dog whereas Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) is a drifter in need of a safe harbour. However, as a perilous storm cuts them off, weeks become months as the two men struggle to keep their sanity.
… a polarising drama soaked in brine and bromide.
With its square frame, and grainy black and white aesthetics, director Robert Eggers’s ‘The Lighthouse’ is a polarising drama soaked in brine and bromide. As the foghorn bellows a warning to all who would approach, Robert Pattinson’s Ephraim cannot hear it. Feeding coal into the lighthouse’s hot belly, Ephraim becomes chained to this demanding locomotive whose sole purpose is to stay put. Climbing up towards the light for respite, Willem Dafoe’s Thomas jealously refuses him access to the lamp, lost in a mad, burning obsession that echoes the opening of Danny Boyle’s ‘Sunshine‘.
Caught between grinding monotony and the lashing coastal rain, Ephraim must ride the currents of the older man’s mood if he is to hit dry land with gold in his pocket. However, as the grinding cellos and wheezing brass section of Mark Korven’s leaden score underlines the mood, envy and bitterness are not far behind in a story which knowingly opens the back door to madness.
Hoarily-voiced, Dafoe is a wizened barnacle of a man in a performance where you would expect nothing less. Sheep-dipped in brine and crusted in tobacco, his voice is a sea shanty without accompaniment. Opposite him, Robert Pattinson’s Ephraim is all suppressed rage and guilt. At the mercy of the lighthouse’s unforgiving routine, he narrowly shades Dafoe with a further demonstration of aching mania that bristles with future potential.
As both actors disappear inside their roles, Robert Eggers secures their respective hatches, so that boredom can duly “make men into villains”.
Caught in their combined flame, ‘The Lighthouse’ is a magnificently atmospheric timepiece that unwinds with an obvious sense of alarm. Self-consciously stylised, this a film with clear intent and navigational purpose. Go with it and there is much to enjoy, however, resist and it will peck away at your expectations like a hungry gull.
Ye have been appraised of the situation.