A movie poster can tell a person a lot of things. It can let someone know what type of film they are about to see, prepare a person for laughs or scares, and can even give an idea of a plot. Many times, a good poster will even help a person decide whether to buy a ticket or not. Then there are the ones that just leave people intrigued. (They Look Like People is a great example of this.)
The poster for A24’s The Lighthouse immediately captures the eye. A simple black and white photo of two men front of a lighthouse, it is impossible to tell at first glance what the movie is about. Watching it will clear some things up but will also open the door for more questions. One thing is for certain, strong performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson make this one of the best pictures of the year.
The story follows two men tasked to take care of the titular building for four weeks. Dafoe plays the Captain who will be actually manning the light while Pattinson is there to help him out. It is a simple arrangement between two men who do not know each other. As the month passes, the two seem to become more familiar with each other. But is that a good thing?
Since Dafoe and Pattinson are alone on the island they are naturally required to carry the movie. This is a two man show and if either falters, the whole thing falls apart. The pair are two of the best actors in Hollywood, but it is still a lot to ask. Thankfully, both of them do magnificent jobs. The Lighthouse tells great story, but it is the two leads that bring it to life.
Pattinson starts off as an almost strong and silent type of character. When he does speak, it is mainly to remind Dafoe of company rules. Early in The Lighthouse his acting mainly consists of expressions and mannerisms. Even though he does not divulge much information about his past, the audience know what kind of person Pattinson’s character is.
Dafoe easily keeps up with his costar. Using a stereotypical sea captain’s accent should be comical, but never is. It is simply the way the character should sound. It never comes off as performance adding a natural feel to the film. Defore’s character has much more to say than Pattinson and the audience will hang on every barely understandable word.
The characters really shine when they are playing off each other. There is a noticeable tension between the two almost immediately. As they spend more time together, the subtle jabs become more overt. These lead to some of the most powerful moments of the film. The Lighthouse is a quiet movie. But when it does open up, the monologues are straight out of a highlight reel. It is an impressive game of one upmanship without either actor taking away from his partner’s performance.
The Witch showed the potential Robert Eggers had as a director. The Lighthouse validates his talent. The film takes place in the 1800s. Eggers does a good job of making it look like his film is found footage from then. Being shot in black and white is only partially the reason. Many shots also have a box like quality to them. It is as if the audience is looking at a painting or old photo. The movie’s look has an authentic look that is not often attributed to films. This not two actors in a movie. This is a photo of two seamen from a different era.
The great direction also ties into the story. This is a tale of two men living on a small island and Eggers makes his movie look appropriately claustrophobic. Along with the film ratio, there are angles that give The Lighthouse an almost voyeuristic quality. Sometimes, the movie looks as if it is being viewed on a Viewmaster. The men seem to constantly be in cramped quarters.
The lighting also adds to the tension and paranoia of the script. There never seem to be enough light. Even when The Lighthouse moves outdoors, there is an overcast look. This is not a movie interested in selling hope.
The characters may be salt of the earth type of people, but the writing takes on deep themes. These lead to some of the most mind bending moments of the year. The Lighthouse is not an easy film to describe. Yes, it is about two men who are starting to tire of each other’s company. There are also the expected themes of truth, lies and identity. As one digs deeper into the film, there are also themes of masculinity, trust, and friendship. This is a movie that lends itself to multiple viewings.
The Lighthouse will be one of the most polarizing movies of the year. Some will be turned away by its story which is never straightforward and demands arguably more attention than any movie deserves. Others will enjoy the opportunity to debate over the meaning. One thing everyone will agree on is Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson turn in two of the best performances of the year. It is not for everyone, but The Lighthouse deserves to be in the talks for best movie of the year.