Never kill a seabird: an inside look at the psychological thriller 'The Lighthouse'

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse, staring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, opened in theatres on Oct. 18.

"The Lighthouse," the second film directed by Robert Eggers, is a dark, psychological thriller that stunned audiences upon its release.

This film, though disturbing and confusing, has stunning cinematography and a chilling underscore.

It focuses on two men, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), temporarily stationed on an island in the cold climate of New England. The two men in the movie violently flip between nemesis and close friends, contingent on the amount of alcohol consumption during the scene. A collection of disturbing events cause his sanity to take a drastic decline.  

Shot entirely in black and white, the film accurately depicts the cold, antique quality that perfectly matches the theme. Contrasts of light and dark emphasize the mood and emotion in the scene. For example, the use of candlelight at their dinners create a haunting ritual of tension between the two men. The ever-present shine of the lantern room casts an ethereal glow on the island, reinforced by the men’s delusion and paranoia.

A long, low horn sporadically calls throughout the movie. This call reflects the haunting monotony of the island rock and chills the setting further. The island is rocky and rugged, covered in brine and blanketed by a foggy haze.

"The Lighthouse" depicts multiple cinematic themes that tie the film together, including the presence of the ornery seagull. This seagull is later discovered to be symbolic of an even darker twist in the story.

Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of the mysterious and gruff Wake deserves the highest praise.

The authenticity of his sailor accent complemented by the colloquialisms of 19th century New England are convincing enough to place the audience right on the rock. Dafoe perfectly embodies the mystery and rough edges of his role. Throughout the film, the men have a similar sense of secrecy and are equally enthralled with the rock. 

The spiraling of the two’s relationship, initiated with the tension and distrust between them, is met with the eerie setting of the rock. Never knowing the time, what the other is really doing or thinking, and the endless paranoid episodes from Winslow breed confusion in the audience. This confusion is perfectly balanced with the mysteriously dark lighting and camera angles throughout the film.

The strong sense of symbolism in the movie is reflected by the gull, the lighthouse, and the two men themselves. The supernatural sexual gratification that each man experiences with their respective counterpart is disturbing in the least, but is a key contributor to their insanity, along with constant confusion and distrust. The themes in this movie are translated throughout. 

There are many reviews on "The Lighthouse" that connect the characters to the stories of Greek mythology, including the comparison of Howard to Prometheus. Wake is thought to be an embodiment of Proteus, Poseidon’s son who was half man, half octopus. This theory is reinforced by his god complex, and other examples that are reflected throughout the course of the film. Without giving too much away, the literary and cinematic parallels are clear. If these connections are true to the composition of the movie, "The Lighthouse" is a strike of cinematic mastery.

The ability to send the audience into a whirlwind of confusion that matches the character’s moods through lighting, cinematography, and thematic qualities is immaculately done. Overall, "The Lighthouse" is a beautifully eerie tale with intricate moving parts, and leaves the audience stunned.