SR Film Review:”The Lighthouse” is Probably The Best Movie of The Year
Robert Eggers and co. have brought a real treat with their latest outing— a macabre and seemingly cosmic joke of vastly tragic and horrifying proportions. It’s a vigorously gripping and mesmerizingly hallucinatory tale of intense visceral and cerebral experience—though any would-be viewers should really go in knowing less than more. It can be said, though, that the narrative is based on an old folk tale of lighthouse keepers that couldn’t stand each other and elaborates where that story began in a fashion of truly twisted ambition, seemingly bore straight out of as much Melville and Poe as Ingmar Bergman and Guy Maddin (expect inspired masturbation), tied together quite pointedly by such narrative elements and aesthetic settlements that coalesce in a richly textured ambiguity.
It’s particularly amazing how much the film feels like a ghastly and pristinely photographed Potemkin—how in its texture and atmosphere it really feels like a contemporary Eisenstein or Sjostrom, or at times even like a Bela Tarr film or an early Sokurov fever dream on a Hollywood budget. It’s surely quite remarkable and satisfying in that quality, like for example, in moments of waves thrusting and crashing against the ship that brought the young Ephraim (Pattinson) to the lighthouse, which contains the kind of nostalgic and eerie artifice that Maddin, for example, holds quite dear.
In general constitution, it’s a rough boxed (1.19:1) 35mm blend of silent era phantasmagoria (a hint of orthochrome and all) and decorous contemporary filmmaking and does well by evoking both those, classic filmic and contemporary artistic sensibilities. For example, one sequence where Ephraim tends to the cistern outside the lighthouse; we pace around the beautiful shots of him doing various tasks and eventually get to a dazzling POV shot of crud in the water hole, framed within the square frame by the square frame of the hole itself. Later, a similar shot involving the hole again includes Pattinson’s greasy looking hands resting on the bottom frame of the cistern hole, accordingly on the bottom of the screen. The sequences at once recall the aforementioned silent era, a bit of Sven Nykvist’s photographic form (his framing and use of light in his early work with Bergman), and, surprisingly, contemporary expressionist art, of the type you’d expect to see in a Brooklyn gallery or selling on Etsy. The frames and sequences are at once classic and new, natural and artificial, rivetingly beautiful and horrifyingly ugly. Such seemingly disparate qualities, combined with the literary elements and inspirations mentioned before, do more than well in propelling the aesthetic progress and sustenance of the whole in a way that firmly impresses the film’s peculiar singularity. With that being said, it sometimes finds itself in visual territory that’s more like a themed Gucci ad than a polished Hungarian arthouse movie, but it can’t be said to be so particularly prominent. Regardless of which way it goes, major credit for accomplishment and taste must be given to DP. Jarin Blaschke.
Rather unexpectedly as well, the movie can be pretty funny, and appropriately so, throwing in humor amidst some wonderfully difficult moments in ways that do not dull the atmosphere or the stream of seeming sound and researched perspective, but in fact deepen it, all the while, and at certain times more prominently so, doing the same for the narrative. It’s quite remarkable just how well Eggers’ research informs his content– it really seems to provide a rich platform for substantial sequence. For example, the activities, contexts, minutia, etc. in the characters’ lives and environments not only work on screen as their used, but can be supported by a plethora of timely evidence and are an interesting exhibition of such things. Though the actors slip up with their accents at times (to a negligible extent), it must be mentioned not only how seemingly timely their speech and patterns are, but also just how gruff and overall well realized the characters are in both their physical appearances and their aforementioned mannerisms and habits, particularly Pattinson’s, who totally embodies the general presence of a broken and beaten coal miner, or train robber, or oil worker, or in this case, rookie lighthouse worker circa. 1870’s. Each of the characters radiates body odor, skeletal dysmorphia, and deep neurosis as their environment creaks and smells of unemptied chamber pots and dead fish. Their faces and shoulders rest into a physical form that makes it quite hard to believe that they aren’t the people they present themselves to be, and as they speak their dialogue that fact becomes even more remarkable. It’s a testament not only to their talent and skills, but also to those things, the vision, and the successful labor of everyone involved in the film.
The audio track, by sound designer Damian Volpe, wales with an incessant foghorn and deafening screeches that exist within and between palpable silence, both in literal manifestation and brilliant effect. The visual pace, as was mentioned earlier, manifests and suggests in a filmic presence that is just as much owed to the work of Blaschke as the work of editor Louise Ford. The film, in its languor, sits with the shore and the sea breeze, and in its anxiety, exercises, for example, interjections and interruptions to its own continuity with brilliant rhythmic and tonal contrasts that amount to an ambiguous yet uncanny and clear filmic sense. All in all, the film, and the headspace it lends itself to, has a mighty backbone in its technical parts and their sum within experience. It really is something to be seen, and if you’re anyone like me, to be seen again.