Monday With Mildred: “The Lighthouse”

The Lighthouse movie poster

The Lighthouse

Silhouettes open a very dark movie which befits a story about a lighthouse, a structure that has no purpose until the world goes dark. The film’s black and white monotone befits the drudgery upon drudgery imposed on the younger of the two lighthouse keepers placed on the island at the beginning of the film. His only entertainment is fondling a small, carved mermaid found inside his thin mattress. A dark, black and white two hander set in a stark and dull place? Sounds like loads of fun, you say? One might think this is a very entertaining film but it’s more of a fascinating study on early nineteenth century misery.

I commented aloud to my viewing companion that I found the dark black and white film and stilted language to be pretentious.  She responded by walking out because the story was too grim, and she’s right about that. Like The Shining, there is no confusion about the crazy level of the main characters at the beginning of the film. Willem Dafoe is the older, experienced keeper who spends every waking hour sending out Robert Pattinson to do the backbreaking and disgusting jobs and then berating and cursing him in a constant stream of ancient language invectives when they’re together. They’re both nuts at the beginning, and the film spends a lot of time watching them tumble over the Crazy Cliff, beginning about halfway through their descent.

The younger man holds up under the constant assault until a murder signals a sea change. A murder of crows, that is. The foul weather triggers an even fouler fall into angst, crazy images, bitterness, accusations and sordid confessions. Dafoe has more acting work to do as the elder crazy talker who insists on being the only person to touch the sacred light, leaving the younger man below him in the dark to stew when he’s not carrying backbreaking loads up the steep hill and emptying horrifyingly full chamber pots into the wind. Not downwind. Yuck.  He plays the ultimate gaslighter with aplomb and gusto. Robert Pattinson is dusted with nary a sparkle here, and plays surly with a simmering anger that seems genuine, though you have to wonder how much of Dafoe’s curses he actually understands. I know he lost me a few times.

The setting is stark and dimly lit, making the viewer pay even more attention to the two actors, and making the appearances of oddly placed mythical sea creatures stand out and shock the viewer. Unlike the Godzilla movie a few years ago that was so dark it was unwatchable for minutes at a time, this dark is all lurking shadows and a commentary on the state of the men’s lives. Though I found it all to be very pretentious and auteurish, I will admit that it worked well for how it’s intended. The only music is drunken shouting of sea chanties by the keepers. I was impressed by the foley and sound work, which gives the viewer what seems an accurate recreation of nineteenth century sounds with a background of the constant groans and howls of wind that underscores every moment.

I really wanted to dislike this movie and write a scathing review of its pretentiousness, but as I thought about it I don’t actually hate this film with an over the top promethean ending. Your mileage may definitely vary, and I seriously doubt I’ll ever see it again, but it’s well crafted and finely acted so if that’s what floats your boat, see it. You could also turn it into a drinking game for every time Dafoe shouts ”Ye!” instead of ”You! ”.

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