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The Lighthouse: An Original Mixture Of Pain, Fear And Nightmare

By: Iman Rezaei




The Lighthouse (2019) appears to be an exaggerated attempt when you first see it. It shows you that ‘surges roll’ in its carefully stylized frames, similar to classic films and it pushes the characters around with its quasi-classical approach. This approach (which can be seen throughout the film) is significant which we could say this ‘classicization’ in the visual features of the film is a modern approach itself. Therefore, unlike what is shown in the film, we are not encountering a classic film which simply narrates a story. With the help of Greek myths, the crime fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, sailors’ folklore tales, old black and white negatives, an unusual 4:3 aspect ratio, unsettling expressionist lighting, paranoiac atmosphere of horror films, and eerie sounds and noises, Robert Eggers has created a nightmarish world surrounding the fate of two light keepers (or wickies) in a mysterious deserted island, who seem to be cursed by the sinister nature of the whole place.


The first time we see the presence of the lighthouse, it takes up one third of the frame as it casts its shadow on the men who are like insignificant ants stuck under its spell; we sense that these characters are more like prisoners in this island with its horrifying nightmares and there is no escape. Eggers’ The Lighthouse relies heavily on sounds and noises which complement the eerie atmosphere of the images seen on the screen. The main characters of the film are two lonely men, each with his own complex characterization, and with all the monologues and close ups and auditory flashbacks, these men appears to be desperate and unable to overcome what happens to them.


Usually, the sea tales told by seafarers like sailors, captains, pirates carry on a tradition that is a mixture of dreams and delusions. Dreams which are sometimes sexual, as they fill the sexual/romantic gaps in the hearts of the men at sea and gradually this tradition turns into a psychoanalytical aspect in the mind of the protagonist of the film, and in a fluid narrative, the line between reality and dream is blurred and even erased for him therefore the nightmares arisen out of that curse become one and the same as the reality. Here, the master-disciple relationship between Winslow (Robert Pattison) and Thomas Wake (William Defoe) gradually turns into a close friendship between these imprisoned men, which comes about as a result of consuming alcohol and drowning in their everyday routines. If you look at the characters closely, it seems that Winslow is continuously fighting for his rights in life, like any human being would do, but there is always someone like Thomas Wake, who stands higher, and belittles and exploits him and keeps him as an underdog. Winslow’s attempts to ascend the stairs of the lighthouse and reach its light which are always blocked by the old man, and his passion and his attempts to reach the top of the lighthouse seems to stand for his lifelong passion which he has always been deprived of. But in the heart of this fanatic experience, it is as, if all the nightmares and illusions of Winslow become realized, the monster appears and devours him. It seems that what takes a man down is not the curse of killing a seagull, or the magic spells of a mermaid or the curse of the sea, but it is the banality that has surrounded us, which is the result of a pointless attempt to change our everyday life which has cursed us to stay like this for eternity. The last part of the film involves an excess of ambiguity and desperation in discovering the thin thread of reality, as the film plays games with the audience.


The Lighthouse is not simply a superb horror film with usual conventions, but it is an original mixture of pain, fear and nightmare. This is the second feature film by this talented American filmmaker and it promises a remarkable unique vision in contemporary American cinema which has mostly failed to impress the audience in recent years, and Eggers is that diamond among the coals.


* The Lighthouse is now available on Amazon.

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