Cannes 2019: Robert Eggers' 'The Lighthouse' is a Mad Masterpiece
by Alex Billington
May 19, 2019
Two men on a rock in the ocean slowly go mad. In 2015, Brooklyn-based filmmaker Robert Eggers made quite an impression in the film industry with his vintage indie horror film The Witch. He's back with his second feature film, titled The Lighthouse, and let me be the first to tell you that it's a masterpiece. I have no qualms proclaiming this right away, because the film is absolutely phenomenal. Perfection. Eggers' The Lighthouse premiered in the Directors' Fortnight sidebar at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, and it deserves to breakout and be adored by moviegoers all over the world because it really is an extraordinary work of cinema. Every single shot is masterful. The score is exquisite. There are frames from this that will be studied for decades. It's visceral, intense, hilarious, terrifying, engrossing storytelling about two men and madness.
The Lighthouse is set on a small rocky island somewhere in the Atlantic, and is more of a magically mad tale inspired by mythical fables than a story grounded in reality. Ephraim, played by Robert Pattinson, and Thomas Wake, played by Willem Dafoe, arrive to tend to the lighthouse. Ephraim works as his assistant doing all the labor, and Wake is the keeper, the only one allowed to actually go up into the lighthouse itself. It's not exactly an entirely original concept, watching men stuck on a tiny island spiral into insanity, but it is original in every other possible way. The film is presented in B&W and framed in the classic 1.19 : 1 aspect ratio (almost square), which makes it feel even more immersive and cinematic. Everything goes down the drain when a heavy storm hits, and they both go start to go nuts. There's brilliant bits of perfectly delivered loony humor sprinkled throughout, the timing of responses so spot on it's uncanny and nearly unbelievable.
In opposition to Eggers' The Witch, this film moves at a much faster pace and uses its rough seas setting to constantly keep us on edge. There's moments to take a breath and contemplate, but it moves along without much delay. I'm not the biggest fan of The Witch myself, so it's easy for me to say that The Lighthouse is on a whole other level. It completely and totally blew me away. Not a single wasted frame. Every single element working together in perfect harmony to deliver an intensely entertaining, thought-provoking, and engaging cinematic experience. The expressive, vigorous score from Mark Korven is to die for, and it intertwines perfectly into the footage as the story unfolds. The performances are some of the best you've ever seen from both actors. Honestly, this might be Robert Pattinson's top performance yet. And it features the best B&W cinematography since Cold War, if not even better. There's numerous iconic shots that will be singled out.
This is the first film in a long time that I am completely perplexed and fascinated by how they made it - I couldn't figure it out while watching. I genuinely don't know how they pulled it off. Was the storm real? Was it a big set or a real location? Did the use wind machines? How much was fake, how much was real? How did they get all these shots!? I mean, DAMN this film rocks. And it's one of those rare films where I wouldn't change a single frame of it, it has no room for improvement. It's as good as it gets. Eggers works in intricate and yet totally bonkers references to Greek mythology, epic novels, and tales of mad men on the water. The film touches on masculinity, sanity, and identity in clever, compelling ways. And the two performances are marvelous in every way, plumbing the depths of insanity. What a stunning film, an exhilarating masterpiece.
Alex's Cannes 2019 Rating: 10 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing
how can i not watch this after that write-up? - don't steer me wrong, alex!
dan on May 19, 2019
great review! The exterior location/setting was real (shot on Cape Forchu, Nova Scotia) and most of the storm footage was also real, though according to Eggers they did use some wind and rain machines on set as well
Suziekew on May 19, 2019
It is a good review, but I have a disagreement with the following: 'B&W and framed in the classic 1.19 : 1 aspect ratio (almost square), which makes it feel even more immersive and cinematic.' I've been involved with film for over 45 years and know a lot about film. I have seen all the best from American to Foreign thru-out the last 50 some years, and I just disagree with the almost square ratio of 1.19: 1 is somehow more immersive and cinematic. On the contrary, because I just don't like it and being aware of that ration while watching the film makes it really difficult, if not impossible, for me to suspend disbelief enough to 'immerse' myself in the film. I'm always watching a film shot in an antiquated manner from the past and for what aesthetic reason? What can I say? I just do not like it and am disappointed this particular film is shot and presented that way as it really does, and has for months, sound like an excellent film. I'll give it a go and try to keep an open mind, but I'm not looking forward to it just for that reason. I do hope everyone else likes it presented this way, but it's just a 'gimmick' to me. Feel free to disagree as I very much enjoy discussions of opinions. Just try to be respectful and intelligent if at all possible, eh?
thespiritbo on May 19, 2019
I second that. I don't understand the motive here at all except to say that it seems to be some kind of trend. One I don't like much. Perhaps it's like the reverse of what happened to film in the mid-fifties. Television came along and they had to compete so they made them wider. Now that all TV's are wider, some feel the need to make movies taller? It's exactly as you call it. A gimmick and hopefully one that will run it's course and go away.
Charles Knowlton on May 20, 2019
Well said, Charles. Great reply and thank you. I like the way you put it with the comparison to TV and now going backwards or whatever...lol....Cheers!
thespiritbo on May 20, 2019
I'll be happy if it just matches The Witch in terms of quality, loved that film. Recently saw your review of it on letterboxd, Alex, and I didn't really understand some of your complaints there. Anyways.. This was already one of my most anticipated movies, can't wait to see it.
Efterklang on May 19, 2019
Man, I'm sold. This sounds fantastic!
Charles Knowlton on May 20, 2019
I am psyched for this. What also looks amazing is the costuming. Damn strong as hell looks.
DAVIDPD on May 20, 2019
Wow. That's high praise. But for not being a horror movie fan, the VVitch was refreshingly original. Looks like he's continuing the trend. Is there a trailer out there for this yet?
THE_RAW_ on May 20, 2019
Nah, no trailer yet. It's not really a horror film, much more dramatic. A psychological thriller - if I had to categorize it. You really, really need to see this whenever it hits theaters.
Alex Billington on May 20, 2019
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