- Starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe
- Polo Park
- 110 minutes
4 stars out of five
Arts & Life
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This article was published 25/10/2019 (339 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If nothing else, The Lighthouse, director Robert Eggers’ followup to his atmospheric horror story The Witch, pioneers new cinematic ground in its use of… flatulence.
The fart in film is pretty much exclusively used as comedy relief. Prior to The Lighthouse, it would be difficult to recall a movie where one man’s gas is employed to ratchet up tension, or augment an atmosphere of escalating masculine intimidation.
But there it is. Eggers goes there, breaking the rules with breaking wind.
The malodorous malefactor here is Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), a crusty old seaman who shows up for lighthouse duty with the younger Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), a "wickie" in training. The outpost in New England is picturesquely desolate. It’s the late 19th century and there’s not a radio, television or Wi-Fi signal in the world to break the monotony of this lonely existence.
The power dynamic is lopsided. The senior Thomas can order Winslow around, and does. He also indiscriminately lets the flatulence fly, to Winslow’s seething chagrin.
Maybe it’s the toxic air. But Winslow comes to believe something is seriously wrong with this place. A malevolent seagull seems to have it in for him. He has dream-like experiences of a drowned woman who may be a mermaid. And through it all, Thomas Wake keeps up the pressure, challenging the former lumberjack Ephraim to a reckoning with his own criminal past.
Ultimately, The Lighthouse registers as a surreal prison movie in which the inmates are oppressed, not by an institution but by their own destructive masculine impulses, all let loose in the most phallic of architecture.
Played straight, that material might be a little too challenging for audiences. So Eggers, who co-scripted with his brother Max, renders it in provocative fashion with a heavily stylized look and sound.
Sound designer Damian Volpe is given licence to drive the audience nearly mad with an incessant blasting of a foghorn that could function as a soundtrack for your nautical nightmares.
The film, mostly black-and-white, is presented in a squarish 1.19:1 aspect ratio that better serves the vertical lighthouse setting shot by cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, who also shot The Witch.
Filmed on location in Nova Scotia, the images are the most gorgeously bleak this side of early Ingmar Bergman. Pattinson, it turns out, was meant to be photographed in diffused black-and-white.
He has an eternal, haunted quality one could never have anticipated coming from the sparkly vampire he played long ago in those Twilight movies.
Dafoe, too, manages to look like a page illustration ripped from pages of a 19th-century sea adventure.
But in his performance, he employs full thespian gale force, and if his style clashes with the more circumspect Pattinson — and it does — it only serves to deepen the rift between the characters to Mariana Trench proportions.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.
4 stars out of five
The Lighthouse may be a little too in love with its own virtuosity, but who can blame it? At a time when American movies are overrun with shopworn visions, its madness is a balm and a beacon.
— Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times
It’s funny, high-spirited and giddily loopy, a descent into madness told with the energy of a sea shanty.
— David Sims, The Atlantic
A black-and-white fever dream of a film that keels between sea shanty and psychodrama, with heavy doses of the absurd.
— Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
At its finest, and creepiest, The Lighthouse courts comparison (at least in ambition) to F.W. Murnau’s fantasies of temptation, desire and striking imagery.
— Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
(Director) Eggers meticulously sets the scene, adds texture and builds tension and mystery from men locked in battle and sometimes in embrace.
— Manohla Dargis, New York Times
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