ST. LOUIS — How long does it take to slowly lose your mind, sanity, and all-purpose being?
For a pair of lighthouse keepers on a remote New England island in the 1890's, four weeks could be the optimal hour for total madness.
In "The Lighthouse," Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe play a pair of polar opposite personalities stuck on a mysterious one-month gig. They are water and oil when it comes to human beings interacting, and even when they find a small space to get along, things become chaotic and hectic very quickly.
They have a seemingly simple job-man the post at the Lighthouse-but it's much complicated, at least it is to Dafoe's Tom. A seasoned veteran of the trade, he gives the much-younger Winslow a very hard time on the job, demanding him to do every tedious task that probably doesn't need to be done. Every night ends with a table of food scraps, a bottle of vodka, and loud shouting.
Robert Eggers' film-which he co-wrote with his brother, Max-takes a deep dive into the maddening rigors that an isolated soul of a human being living on the (literal) fringe of civilization deals with. He is attempting to show you that in this kind of situation, minds aren't parallel and there is no such thing as right and wrong or good and bad. This is a film that takes chances, goes to those dark places, and doesn't hold back. So much so, that some viewers may be forced to look away or just walk out. Eggers doesn't make movies for the lighthearted crowd.
I have always been drawn to films like these: the journeys that don't provide easy answers yet don't scramble your mind in the process. They simply aim to discover the infinite desire and ability of the human mind, and they take a no holds barred look in reaching that destination. It's the classic "drop them in the forest and see who makes it out alive" routine, but with just two people and relentless conditions.
It helps to have two actors working at the top of their game, especially the Batman-to-be of the hour, Pattinson.
In case you haven't noticed, the "Twilight" heartthrob is long gone, and a legit top-flight actor has taken his place. "The Lighthouse" is the second film in 2019 that Pattinson has starred in that deals with the psychological torture that a confined space can bring on. In Claire Denis' whip-smart "High Life," it was outer space. Here, it's dirty island desolation.
Pattinson shows you many speeds as a mild-mannered soul who finds himself twisted by the darkness of his co-worker and the isolation brought on by the job. The actor revels in roles that demand a go-for-broke mentality and all-around buy-in factor. He eats mud, doesn't rely on dialogue, and just sinks into a role. Slowly but surely, Pattinson is becoming the new Christian Bale. He doesn't take a single paycheck role, and in this day and age of cash grab cinema, that deserves to be commended.
Dafoe is an equal marvel, making Tom easily one of the worst bosses in the history of the movies while slowly revealing the fractured psyche of a man apart. Tom has been working this post for far too long, an extended period of time that has made some of his stories inconsistent and far-fetched. It's a performance one has come to expect from one of the most versatile talents in the game. Dafoe doesn't allow you to like his character but makes it hard for you to look away at the same time.
There's a mythical or supernatural element happening on the island with the two gentlemen: A series of events involving exotic mermaids, endless dreams, and creatures. But you don't know if this is reality or a result of the mind being spun around in circles? Eggers doesn't lean on it so much that it distracts from the other battles at play, but it's a tricky plot device that works.
The production design and black and white dreary look of the film suits the script and purpose, locking a viewer into this hallucinatory paradox. Jarin Blaschke's cinematography is simplistic yet effective, and Mark Korven's score is rightfully ominous.
Mostly, it's the Pattinson and Dafoe show. The two actors lock horns for the entirety of the 110-minute running time, trading insults, stories, and second-guessing each other. It's like watching perfectly matched boxers throw haymakers at each other continuously. For Winslow and Tom, it's a matter of who cracks first. One of the best parts of the film is how quickly a seemingly polite conversation can erupt into a disaster fury.
"The Lighthouse" isn't the easiest watch and will make you take about six showers after watching it, but it's a film that's easy to admire and makes you dive into this situation.
You could call the haunted house of psychological thrillers. An original one at that.
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