Robert Eggers - The Lighthouse (2019), 9/10

A very commonly misunderstood film, The Lighthouse is a simultaneously masterful recreation of mythology and a pointed but universal socioeconomic commentary. Of course, the film explores several other themes such as suffering, redemption, tyranny, and sexuality, but its primary subjects heighten the film substantially, along with its outstanding presentation. The visual presentation is not only remarkably unique but has intentionality in practically every frame that inspires analysis and provokes thought. What may appear to be a simple or repeated story of man’s descent into madness is in fact a multilayered narrative that is overflowing with superbly dense meaning from all angles. The beauty of such a story lies in its potential for multimodality in interpretation and it excels on all accounts. When complemented by brilliant acting and extraordinary attention to detail in production it assembles as one of the greatest films in recent years. The aesthetic inspiration immediately creates a satisfying sense of immersion that quickly accentuates the intimacy of the visual experience along with the claustrophobic tension felt throughout the film straight through to its tragic conclusion. The historical inspiration for the film, a real event of two wickies named Thomas dying while trapped by a torrential storm, gives certainty to the exploration of the identity of self and introspection. Characters who reflect one another grant opportunity for scenes such as the recreation of Schneider’s Hypnosis or the repeated portraitist presentation of the two men side-by-side. This also supplements an existing trope of circular history as Wake’s former second man suffered a practically identical fate to Winslow/Howard down to the gritty details barring Wake’s death. With all of the filmmaking choices assembled as a final product, it can be easy to dismiss them as given, but the thirties stylized film techniques joined with genuinely startling imagery, all accented with somber impressionistic footage, is truly a joy to watch time and again.

 Considering the film’s importance without explaining its meaning and considering its narrative creativity is a fruitless exercise and it would be remiss not to mention the mythological parallels between the film’s narrative and Proteus and Prometheus, and without this context, the film loses the majority of its meaning, a commonly overlooked aspect of the story that informs many. Wake’s significance as Proteus informs his physical being, particularly the otherwise confusing encounter where Winslow observes slimy tentacles in the lighthouse, along with his character’s inclination for dramatic monologues leaning into mythological damnation. This makes Winslow’s attack on Wake for his Melvillian language and countenance humorous but also valid. As a representation of Prometheus, Winslow’s character appropriately battles with Wake but ultimately fails to save himself by reaching the light, rather securing his final fate. The mythological commonalities are interesting in isolation but bear further meaning when other themes are intertwined by the narrative and viewed through theoretical perspectives such as Marxism and Psychoanalysis. Particularly the socioeconomic significance of the men’s relationship is unmistakable yet reveals nuance with its progression. Wake initially rules Winslow through simple tyrannical power in the form of wages, but when this fails to stifle Winslow, he resorts to withholding knowledge as power. Wake’s constant struggle to keep Winslow hopeless and weak makes their relationship symbolically applicable to any economic or political power struggle you can think of. This, exacerbated by Winslow’s rebelliousness and constant pursuit of truth, makes him a more interesting representation of the working class than a simple rebel or a downtrodden hero. The complete loss of hope is what drives Winslow mad, but also what grants him newfound power over Wake. 

The mermaid trinket Winslow finds in his mattress, of course planted by Wake, serves as the shackles that keep him stupid, weak, and ineffective, not only a symbol of Winslow’s sexual struggle but also the drink that makes him a less formidable opponent to the tyrannical Wake, later along with their literal drinking, whether it be liquor or the dangerous concoction of turpentine and honey. The fragility of Wake’s character only contributes to his symbolic meaning as a tyrant; he is so concerned with his power over Winslow and his need for a forceful armistice that he launches into a sermon in the face of any threat, calling upon supernatural forces to aid his suppression of Winslow. Once Winslow murders a seagull out of primal rage in the face of Wake’s tyranny, the men engage in an endless battle for knowledge, something both men know is the key to Winslow escaping Wake’s clutches. This illustrates the importance of knowledge as a weapon and the constant questioning of authority as the means to escape a meaningless, unenlightened existence. As a physical manifestation of the trinket, sirens capture Winslow’s attention and drive, as he moves toward triumph over Wake he also inches, or rather leaps, toward insanity. Winslow’s rebelliousness and enlightenment also have an inherent danger and his story is not one of glory but of peril. His brutal and suffering death are of course shared with Prometheus but also signify the potential pitfalls of pursuing power, especially over other men. Winslow’s enslavement of Wake, although brief, directly precedes his murder and there are severe consequences for Winslow’s dismissal of humanity, both in the form of his returning guilt over the actual Ephraim Winslow and his death. Finally reaching the light immediately followed by Winslow’s death is no coincidence either. His rapture at finally achieving his aim is wonderfully moving but the beauty of the light lies in its potential for interpretation, within reason, just as with a suggestive poem. All of this depth of meaning tightly bound in such a gratifyingly artful package makes The Lighthouse one of a kind, especially considering its effective use of tension, surrealism, and thrilling storytelling.