The stars shine bright in The Lighthouse (2019) despite the dark content

Sometimes, I write these reviews with the idea that I will recommend a film that I enjoyed, and at other times I’ll write them to suggest you skip it if I didn’t like the movie much. Every once in a while, there is a movie that I enjoy, but find difficult to recommend to a larger audience. The Lighthouse (2019) falls squarely in the latter, as I found it enjoyable in its weirdness, which was compounded by some terrific performances. 

Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) are dropped off at the lighthouse for their month of service. This is the first time Ephraim will be doing this job, and the two barely know each other – which makes for a tense living arrangement. Over the month, the isolation and the weather begin to wear on them, and insanity ensues. 

I’m not sure if Dafoe has played a pirate or sailor-type figure before this movie, but I feel it is the role he was born to play. There is something about the gruffness he often brings to a role, and that manic look he can get in his eyes clicks so perfectly in this film. There is a moment late in the film where he gets to monologue, and it was absolutely one of my favorite crazy speeches in cinema history. He crushes the delivery – and if you aren’t creeped out by the end, you are a braver person than I. 

That’s not to say Pattinson isn’t equally as terrific. Ephraim goes through the most struggle, as this is his first time trapped on the island. The job isn’t what he thought he was signing up for, and his roommate keeps farting…yeah, you read that right. There are tons of reasons for him to hate his job, and very few to make him want to endure one more day. His biggest rival is a one-eyed (I’m pretty sure it only had one eye) seagull that appears to taunt him at every step. An ominous warning from Thomas about the bird only foreshadows that this film will go to dark places. 

Speaking of dark places, Robert Eggers choice to make this film black and white really add to the mysterious nature of the island. I loved the look of the film, and the stark contrast in each shot adds to the visual intrigue. I’m not sure I understood the choice to go with the Academy ratio, but I also don’t dislike it, as more and more films have opted to use the more square look in recent years. Still – some movies make more sense with that choice than others. 

The Lighthouse goes to some crazy places and isn’t a film that will sit well with all audiences. For me, I found the weirdness to be positive which only added to my experience with the film. The Lighthouse earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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