The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse ★★★★½

A nightmarish, crusty, flatulent, Gothic chamber piece about two lighthouse keepers - one a haunted enigma plagued by disturbing visions, one a salty sea dog seemingly prone to possession by the great god Triton himself, both of them apocalyptically horny and hiding a dark past - and their inevitable descent into madness. Everything else is whatever you personally bring to this glorious Rorschach test of a film.

Robert Eggers returns to the isolation, superstition and sexual repression of his previous film, The Witch, and takes them to the extreme; this time maximising the impact of the setting through an audiovisual landscape reminiscent of the ceaseless industrial churning of Eraserhead and the claustrophobic sea-girt prison of Persona. Eggers conjures up a wholly immersive experience that feels completely original yet shares these films' themes of paranoia, identity and, of course, sex.

I bring up sex again because I think that's at the core of The Lighthouse. None of the joke reviews on this website hesitate to mention the depraved sexual energy that clouds the film like a thick fog, especially in regard to the relationship between Dafoe and Pattinson. But as humourous as it may be to "ship" these two seamen or compare their incendiary squabble about the quality of Dafoe's lobster cooking to the argument scene in Marriage Story, this is no joke. This is a film about men, in all their lust and violence and fear. Men who spill their beans. Men who are slowly hollowed out and forced to gaze upon the void within themselves and fill it however they can, with not a single steak in sight and nothing to fuck but a hole in the mattress, or a wooden doll, or an all-consuming light...

Though sex is played upon the most viscerally (a couple images will forever be burned into my brain), other facets of masculinity (and all its toxicity) are explored in fascinating ways. The allure of capitalism's labour-->reward mentality, the power dynamic between boss and employee, one generation against another, every facet of this film folds together and builds on this study of the male psyche at its most vulnerable and corruptible. It's hardly a stretch to call this a dick-measuring contest between Dafoe and Pattinson as they butt heads in the lighthouse. Just look at the shape of the building they're in.

This isn't just a Freudian exercise though. There are touches of the spiritual and the other-worldly. Body horror and cosmic horror walk hand in hand. The film gets at touches of transcendence through its surreal imagery and, most importantly, its relentless, overwhelming atmosphere.

The Lighthouse is a perverse delight, by turns horrific, histrionic and hilarious; aggressive and overbearing, it shocks you with its frankness and then confounds you with its opacity. It's an absolute riot, albeit a deeply unpleasant and disturbing one.

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