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
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