Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse just might be the most unique movie of the year. Shot in black and white with a square aspect ratio, it also features two world class actors going completely off the walls. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson star as Thomas Wake and Ephraim Winslow, respectively, two men starting a four week stint keeping watch over a lighthouse on a remote island. As the isolation starts to mess with their minds, they begin to question what’s real and what’s only inside their heads.
If that sounds odd on its own, that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of The Lighthouse. Whatever you go in expecting it to be, it’s going to be something different. Would you expect there to be two farts – played for laughs – before one single word is spoken? If you said yes, you’re a liar. But that’s the kind of movie we’re dealing with here.
Dafoe’s Wake is a seasoned lighthouse keeper, while Pattinson’s Winslow is a journeyman of sorts, going from one job to the next, whatever pays. Wake is set firmly in his ways, most particularly in his rule that he be the only one to tend to the light itself. That leaves all the dirty grunt work to Winslow, which wears on his psyche almost immediately.
Winslow’s frustration, the extreme isolation, and Wake’s irascible personality make the already difficult job that much harder. He begins to see things that may or may not be there. He struggles to keep track of time. Winslow, along with the audience, questions his own reality.
I like to avoid using the phrase “it’s not for everybody” whenever possible. Like all pieces of art, movies are subjective. So by definition, every movie ever is not going to be for everybody. That being said, I’m going to make an exception here, and say that The Lighthouse really won’t be for everybody.
The black and white and square ratio might throw you off at first, but you get used to it pretty quickly. It’s the actual movie itself that is going to be divisive. It’s dark and twisted, with even some comedic parts mixed in for good measure. Some parts are gruesome, made even more so with the close-up camera shots that define most of the movie.
But if you can move past that or, better yet, simply sit back and allow the experience to wash over you, you’re in for a treat watching Dafoe and Pattinson both deliver all-time performances. They are pitch-perfect for the roles here. They imbue their characters with the intensity, uncertainty, and insanity necessary to make this work. With a few brief exceptions, they are the only two characters. They both need to bring it, and they do just that and then some.
Similar to Parasite, you’re best served going into The Lighthouse knowing as little as possible about it. Buy your ticket, go in with an open mind, and let the experience that is The Lighthouse wash over you. Because it is more than a movie; it truly is an experience. And one more than worth having.