“THE LIGHTHOUSE”: Mad, mad, mad, mad world

Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson

Published November 3, 2019 by Robert W. Butler at Butler’s Cinema Scene

My rating: B | 109 minutes | MPAA rating: R

With Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse” we don’t so much watch a couple of men go crazy as experience that craziness with them.

The film has been beautifully photographed, but beware…it is disconcerting, perplexing  and alienating. Eggers, who burst upon the scene a couple of years back with “The Witch,”  is less interested in solving mysteries than in creating visual and aural conundrums. We’re expected to come up with our own answers.

At the turn of the last century two men — the salty old Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and the much younger Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) — take up their duties at a lighthouse on a remote island somewhere off the American coast. They are to be relieved in four weeks.

There’s friction from the start.  The experienced and dictatorial Thomas gives his newcomer partner the lousiest housekeeping jobs: cleaning out the cistern, emptying overflowing chamber pots, whitewashing the lighthouse while dangling in a harness, stoking the furnace that creates the steam to power the deafening foghorn. The old man claims the light itself as his special concern;  Ephraim is steer clear of the tower unless specifically ordered to climb those winding stairs.

This is bad enough. But Thomas is an irritating old coot, a monumental farter and snorer who insists on telling boring tall tales of sea life in a Long John Silver voice.

Ephraim has his own issues. He refuses to drink with Thomas…it seems likely that he is an alcoholic whose misbehavior on the mainland has led to a self-imposed exile.

Weird stuff starts happening almost immediately.  Ephraim catches glimpses of Thomas dancing naked atop the tower, basking in the blinding light.  A one-eyed seagull becomes the younger man’s personal tormentor.

Ephraim finds in his mattress a hand-carved mermaid of wood (or is it ivory?) left by a previous keeper. Before it’s all over, he’ll stumble across a real mermaid (Valerila Karaman) washed ashore in chains of seaweed. Or at least he thinks he does.

A change in weather prevents the relief ship from approaching the island.  Horrendous waves leave the pair’s living quarters knee-deep in brine. They are running out of provisions.

And Ephraim keeps having flashing visions in which he attacks and kills another young man.


“The Lighthouse” will tee off many viewers, especially those who demand explanations.

But Eggers has created a stunningly visual experience, shot in old-fashioned square-format black and white, and drawn intense perfs from his two stars.

This is one of those movies that sets a hook in your psyche and won’t be dislodged.

| Robert W. Butler

Read the original review and more reviews at Butler’s Cinema Scene

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Robert W. Butler for 41 years reviewed films for the Kansas City Star. In May 2011 he was downsized.

He couldn’t take the hint.

OKAY, so here’s the deal. I write mostly about movies. One good thing about no longer writing for the paper is that I’m free to ignore the big dumb Hollywood turkeys that don’t interest me. So don’t expect every blessed release to be written about here. Many films aren’t worth the effort. Besides, at my age it’s not the $8. It’s the two hours.

UPDATE: OCTOBER, 2014: Well, here’s an interesting twist. The Star wants me back as a freelance film reviewer!!! Apparently enough time has passed that they cannot be accused of firing me so that they can rehire me at a fraction of my original pay (I gather the federal government frowns upon that practice.) So from now on I will probably be reviewing a movie a week for the newspaper.