It is hard to imagine that a black-and-white movie about two guys who slowly descend into insanity on an isolated island in the 19th century can be watchable. But The Lighthouse, the latest film by up-and-coming director Robert Eggers, is strangely relatable. The film is a symbol of the collective claustrophobia and dread we have come to collectively feel about what is in store for us all.

Like the protagonists of the movie, we know early on that the combination of unmet desires, intoxicating substances and the excruciating loss of hope and optimism are going to lead to disaster. We just do not know exactly when or how this is going to happen.

The film stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two lighthouse keepers assigned to a stormy island. They will have to spend a month together with nothing much except booze to keep them company.

For Winslow (Pattinson), this is a new gig while Wake (Dafoe), who has seniority, has had experience working at the lighthouse. It does not take long for the two men to begin suspecting each other and for Winslow to notice that some things are not what they seem to be.

He witnesses that Wake likes to get naked in the lighthouse. But this is the least bizarre of his experiences. He also finds a gorgeous unconscious mermaid that seems to have washed up off shore, the corpse of a man and a one-eyed gull, all of which take ominousness to a whole new level.

There is not an adjective that describes this movie better than creepy. From the film’s setting to its cinematography, it is clear that this is no Christmas movie. There is going to be death, and it is going to be as meaningless as it will be excruciating.

For Pattinson, this is not the kind of movie anyone expected him to star in considering his teenage heartthrob beginnings. He has found himself in a number of independent, under the radar, flicks ever since he hanged up his vampire fangs to play three-dimensional characters. This journey might have come back full circle with Pattinson being slated to play Batman in a 2021 remake. But while his indie journey lasted, it has established him as a respectable enough actor.

His performance here is bold and unapologetic. In playing a character that is as perpetually conflicted as he is raving mad, Pattinson infuses his performance with unreserved aggression. He carries out every task, including self-gratification, with such violence that it is very easy to see that there is a destructiveness just waiting to explode.

However, Pattinson’s performance is not as astonishing as critical consensus has made it out to be. None of the comparisons to Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood are justified in any meaningful way.

Pattison’s was a part that should have probably gone to a young Brad Pitt. We unfortunately do not currently have an actor that is handsome and rough in the popular conception of the 19th century while at the same time being able to accurately channel a self-destructive bent. In every practical sense, what we have on our hands with Pattinson is not the second coming of Day Lewis or Robert De Niro but the poor man’s Pitt.

Dafoe though was fantastic. In a strange way, while Wake is loud and imagined as a cartoon version of a seaman, Dafoe manages to find subtle touches that manage to make his character mysterious. This was exactly what is missing from Pattinson, who preferred to wear the emotions of the character on his sleeves the whole time.

The scene where Wake is buried alive while monologuing is perhaps Dafoe’s best work yet. Painful to watch, the scene serves as a microcosm to the experience of having to sit through The Lighthouse.

The movie - which would have belonged on Ingmar Bergman’s filmography if the Swedish maestro was not so obsessed with why God is silent - is only the second directorial effort by Robert Eggers. His first movie was one of the breakout films of 2015, The Witch. The film is one of the reasons why the horror genre has earned back the sophistication it had lost in the 90s.

Eggers, like Ari Aster and Yorgos Lanthimos, is a filmmaker banking on the current mainstream appetite for dark humour, nihilism and absurdism.

As in The Witch, The Lighthouse does not give all the answers by the end and leaves an infuriating amount of plot details to the imagination. Even more like The Witch, there is not that much of a lesson here. Just the cold, depressing revelation that we might as well join evil, because we very well cannot beat it.

PUBLISHED ON Nov 16,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1020]

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