The Lighthouse

A Film Review by EJ Argenio, No Rest for the Weekend

Aye Sir, through the thick fog and high tides, The Lighthouse shines with darkness as awards season sails in.

Traveling through a heavy storm, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) approach the coast of a lighthouse deep into the ocean as they embark on four weeks of employment maintaining the structure. Wake, a veteran of the sea, is working for the first time with Winslow, who most recently worked chopping timber in the forests near Canada. Winslow is a young man looking for his place in life and became intrigued by this opportunity because of the money he could earn. “The further you are into the ocean, the more money you make,” Winslow tells Wake. However, Winslow quickly realizes he might be in for more than he bargained for with his day to day duties including tasks from shoveling coal to emptying buckets of bodily waste. Wake, constantly barking orders at Winslow, makes his purpose on the remote island very clear. His job is to maintain the light from dark until morning. This is much to the chagrin of Winslow, who makes it known from the film’s start that he is eager to be up atop the lighthouse. It takes time for Winslow to adjust, and as their four weeks of service comes to an end, an ungodly storm barges through preventing their relief of duty. With the weather not calming, the two lighthouse keepers are stranded in solitude with no end in sight.

Willem Dafoe gives a masterful performance as the grizzled seaman who is all too familiar with the uncomfortable conditions surrounding him. The delivery of every word of dialogue hits its mark. Part ship captain, part pirate, there is an authenticity that has you feeling as though this was his real profession. However, it is Robert Pattinson who gives a career-defining performance as his portrayal of Winslow slowly turns from disgruntled employee into madman. Moving forward, Pattinson has made it difficult for audiences to remember him as the pale-skinned vampire Edward in Twilight. Ephraim Winslow is now his most iconic role.

Director Roger Eggers (The Witch) does a remarkable job bringing out the best in both actors in this chilling tale of isolation & madness. He channels the directorial stylings of Hitchcock and DePalma in this black and white story of solitude. The cinematography of Jarin Blaschke compliments Eggers’ direction through his use of light and shade. Through close-ups of Wake and Winslow during peak moments in the film, it’s difficult for audiences not to feel as though they are the ones stranded. One can tell that he fed off the performances of Dafoe and Pattinson and felt a responsibility to visualize the very darkness that grew within each character.

In addition, praise must be given to Max Eggers, who wrote the film with director Roger Eggers.. Despite having only two characters and one primary location, the storyline becomes more intriguing through the hour and forty-nine minute runtime. Never does a dull moment occur. Credit must also be given to their inspiration. The end credits note dialogue was taken from the works of Herman Melville and the journals of former lighthouse keepers. 

The score by Mark Korven perfectly marries music with the natural sounds of wind and sea. With every beat, the tone of the film is further enforced. The score in addition to the powerful acting and directing cements The Lighthouse as an instant classic.

Had you asked me a month ago, I would have assumed that Joker would be the hands down favorite to rack up many of the awards this season. Now, I’m not so sure. It will be interesting to see how Dafoe and Pattinson will be marketed to the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They both give lead performances, but will the producers want them to go head to head? In my opinion, one thing is certain, should they put them in separate categories, whoever is considered the supporting actor, likely wins. Also expect nominations for directing, writing, cinematography, and best picture, which is exactly what this film is right now … as I see it. Other potential nominations include costume design, editing, and sound mixing.

The Lighthouse is a must see film. It is the type of cinema that will be shown in film schools for years to come. As the final scene fades to black, I could not help but say aloud, “wow”. The rest of the theater applauded in admiration recognizing the brilliance that is The Lighthouse.

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