Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Lighthouse: A Review


Before I watched The Lighthouse, I was informed there would be a lot of farting. I counted only four audible farts, but it does give new meaning to the phrase "arsty-fartsy". The Lighthouse has some positives but on a personal level it simply did not appeal to me.

On an isolated lighthouse come two keepers. The older man, whom we eventually learn is Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) is a salty sea-dog complete with vaguely pirate-like accent. The younger man, mostly known as Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) does the grunt work around the island, much to his displeasure. He wants to be in the lighthouse, but Thomas is very jealous of his place.

They are to be there four weeks until their relief comes, but perhaps one or both of them are slowly going bonkers. Ephraim, hiding a secret past, sees strange and ominous things: menacing seagulls, mermaids to whom he masturbates loudly to, and perhaps Thomas in an erotic situation with an octopus-like being within the lighthouse itself. Thomas warns Ephraim not to kill any seagull, since they contain the spirits of dead sailors, but Ephraim does.

It's no surprise that a storm breaks out, perhaps preventing the relief to come (it appears unclear if it was the storm itself or perhaps them oversleeping due to drunkenness where they missed the relief's arrival). The strange and spooky continue to go on, until there's a bloody end for all involved.

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To a point I can if not admire at least respect elements to The Lighthouse. Director and cowriter Robert Eggers, writing with his brother Max, do create that dark, despairing atmosphere in the film visually. Jarin Blaschke's Oscar-nominated cinematography was worthy of recognition, and not just for the black-and-white nature of The Lighthouse. Its overall look captures an old-time feel, as if we were looking in on a long-lost world at the dawn of cinema.

I also found Mark Korven's score appropriately menacing and ominous, punctuated by loud foghorns that blow almost on cue.

It's in other aspects that had me slipping into slumber, however, and even at its relatively short running time I found it a hard film to sit through. I would not be amazed if people didn't burst out into howls of laughter when Thomas and Ephraim slow danced, as if Ephraim yelping at the climax of his auto-erotic exercise wasn't funny enough.

To be fair though, the surprisingly graphic killing of the seagull probably would disturb some viewers, or at least raise eyebrows.

Image result for the lighthouse
As this is essentially a two-man show (with Valeria Karaman popping up in brief bits as the alluring mermaid), we have two performances to look at. While I would argue Dafoe played his salty lighthouse keeper well, it does seem closer to parody of that "salty sea-dog", forever snapping at his "wickie". Thomas' irascibility and irrationality seemed to be veering towards farce: he calls out for Neptune's wrath against Ephraim (if that is his real name) because Ephraim drunkenly said he didn't like his cooking.

That seems a bit extreme.

I am constantly pushed to think Robert Pattinson is more than Edward Cullen, and I give him credit for constantly trying new things. However, I simply cannot go along with the notion that others have that he is his generation's Peter O'Toole, some unimpeachable acting giant that towers over a Cary Grant or Claude Rains.

Was it a good performance? It was fine, not exceptional but not horrendous. To my mind, both were ACTING with a Capital A, being so overt in their artistic aspirations as to be almost a spoof. Then again to be fair, you can only do so much when you're asked to keep repeating "What?" to your costar.

The Lighthouse is frankly not a film for me: too self-consciously artistic bordering on pretentious and with a surprisingly unoriginal story (it was obvious that the seagull's death would unleash all hell and that one if not both would grow to total lunacy). I found it torturous but with some good elements that I can appreciate if not actually enjoy.


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