The Lighthouse is the second feature film by Robert Eggers, who also wrote the script. The film, characterized by the presence of only two protagonists, William Dafoe e Robert Pattinson, was presented at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019. The film, unfortunately, has never been released in our country due to the global pandemic, while it has been made available in streaming since May last year. However, until today, I hadn't felt like reviewing it pending its release in large distribution.
In recent times I happened to think about this film and the hold on the collective imagination of the Myths of Cthulhu which, in one way or another, manage to peep out in this work.
But can I really be sure that Lovecraft's work has anything to do with this film? By informing me online, I learned that this project was born from an idea of the director's brother who tried, without much success, to bring back on film one of Edgar Allan Poe's stories, precisely the Faro (1849), which remained unfinished due to his untimely death.
Speaking of EA Poe, did you know that yesterday was his birthday (January 19, 1809)?
But let's briefly analyze the work.
Synopsis of The Lighthouse
In the synopsis there are some spoilers about the work. If you don't want to ruin the experience of watching the film, we recommend that you skip over the synopsis or even stop reading
The film The Lighthouse is a gothic story, set in the second half of the 1800s. Two men, a young wanderer looking for his way in the world and an old gruff and angry ex-sailor, are selected as guardians of a lighthouse for the duration of a month.
During the stay of the two protagonists on the island, we observe a projection of their inner demons in dreams and their attitudes. The two guardians alternate moments of anger with moments of calm where they open up to each other by telling about their past, their aspirations and their hopes.
The descent into madness, linked to the impossibility of contact with the rest of the world and the unnerving waiting, is marked by lonely days made of hard work, privations and a routine marked by sad meals, long silences and chats between the two. Over the weeks the clash between the characters takes on ever stronger tones. But it is not so much a generational clash, even if it could be perceived, as the inability of two people to communicate their feelings, fears and any other feeling in general.
The epilogue is what we can expect. The tragedy eventually reaches its climax with the end of a storm that raged until the last clash between the two protagonists.
Director's ideas and stylistic choices
After you got to see The Lighthouse I decided to look at his first work too. I must say that I found myself in front of a great maturation behind the camera. I am definitely not saying that the previous film did not live up to expectations, but that, like the first work, The Lighthouse there are some shortcomings that will surely be corrected during the director's career.
There are many particular choices that have been used to shoot the film starting with the use of a 35mm film and black and white.
Yes, the director was brave enough to shoot everything in 1.19: 1 format and in black and white to recover a now lost taste of the cinema of terror in vogue in the 30s. In fact, while watching the film, the shots of the film came back to my memory more than once Vampyr (1932) by Carl Theodor Dreyer or the works of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. Over all Nosferatu the vampire (1922) and Faust (1926).
A courageous choice which, however, personally, cannot be enough.
The forces of nature in the film
In Robert Eggers' film, the sea and the power of Nature are the masters. But what is fear of the powers of nature actually if not a kind of concrete transposition ofhorror vacui? When we are confronted with something we cannot understand we are instinctively afraid of it. And nature, and its forces, are one of these atavistic terrors.
This is the effect that nature has on man. The concept of fear of something unknown, such as a storm. But this storm present in the film, as well as the stormy sea, are something actual and real or just part of the construction of the direction that thus shows the mood of the characters through the natural elements?
Obviously, in all films with a strong psychological weight, everyone sees something of their own. However, it is remarkable how, in the final moments of the film, the natural storm calms down to make room for the characters' final emotional storm.
Quotes from other works in The Lighthouse
From The Sea Monster (1498-1500) by Durer a Hypnosis (1904) by Sascha Schneider, in this feature film there are many quotes from works of the past that the director wanted to pay homage.
Already during the trailer of the film we can immediately find a reference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his The Rime of the Old Sailor (1798). As the sailor, taken by a paroxysmal impulse, kills the albatross, the link between man and Nature, so the character of Pattinson, yielding to anger, performs a similar gesture.
Precisely because of this gesture, as in the previously mentioned ballad, Nature lashes out against man. If thanks to the albatross, in Coleridge's text, the sailors had managed to find a bit of a breeze after the calm, here the killing of a seagull leads to the unleashing of a storm.
The figure of Dafoe, on the other hand, seems to have come out entirely from a book by Herman Melville. The character lived a life at sea. He left a family behind to be able to stay on the waves and, now that his physical condition no longer allows him to sail the oceans, he falls back on working in a lighthouse.
In some respects, as George Bernard Shaw said:
I can't think of any other man-made building that is as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve.
Perhaps Dafoe in this film tries to be the light for the young man who works with him, but either for his brusque ways or for his dark sides, he will not be able to illuminate him completely and he too ends up being one of the two shadows that only a light source can project.
In the current period we are experiencing, it is no longer the dark that scares us, but the light. Whether it's that of the Sun or an artificial one like that of a lighthouse.
I don't want to force a parallel with Ari Aster's work Midsummer (2019), which among other things has the A24, the same as The Witch e The Lighthouse. It is interesting to note, however, how, in this last period, terror and fear are in close contact with light. Everything is illuminated in the present world. Or rather, everything is actually covered with a veil. Only later, when the light begins to show reality, we humans begin to be afraid.
The light of the lighthouse, in Eggers' work, is used to lay bare, or at least awaken the conscience of the characters. The light frightens those in the shadows and the younger protagonist, with his load of guilt and manias, feels attracted and at the same time afraid of the bright light of the lighthouse.
To be a lighthouse, you need to be strong enough to withstand all forms of storms, all kinds of loneliness, and you need to have a powerful light within you!Mehmet Murat İldan, Turkish writer and playwright.
We can certainly say that both characters are not suited to be a beacon.
As for the lighthouse, the director, not finding a suitable one, had it built at Cape Forchu in Nova Scotia (Canada); the structure is complete in all its parts and its Fresnel lens is able to reflect light up to 25 km!
Personal conclusions on The Lightouse
I approached the film with a curiosity that I didn't think possible. Mesmerized by the trailer, I waited and started hearing voices from people who had already seen it. Some praised him, others despised him.
There were those who expected sea monsters born from Lovecraft's mind. Others were hoping for a psychological horror. Some more, some less everyone had their own opinion.
I find myself saying that the work done by the director is remarkable, but I have the impression that it is not enough. It almost seems that history has been sacrificed to favor the atmosphere.
I didn't mind the movie. I found the interpretation of Dafoe and Pattinson up to expectations, indeed I could almost say a consecration for the younger actor.
There is so much positive in this film. Some dialogues are clearly inspired by Melville's work nicely rendered especially by Dafoe. The granguignolesco crescendo of the violence of the scenes from about half of the film to its end. But I think something is missing.
I am confident for the director's next film on which I have now placed my hopes. We hope to be able to see a good film of terror like the works released in the same decade (the 20s) of the last century.
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