By Laurie Coker
Art is relative. Who would have thought that art, especially funny art came in black and white celluloid-style in the 21st century? The Lighthouse starring Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson is a surprising mix of masterfully woven madness and manic melancholy. They are souls trapped in a tower of solitude. Director Robert Eggers together with his stars play out a story edging on absurd that smashes dazzlingly like a frigid wave on seaside shores.
Set in a lighthouse perched on a New England shore in the 1890’s The Lighthouse demonstrates the insanity caused by isolation and solitude and the contagion of lunacy. Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) arrives to shadow the residing “wickie” of the house, Thomas Wake (Defoe), a grisly looking man from whom he is meant to learn the trade. Wake makes nothing easy for his young intern, tasking him with the most menial and disgusting jobs – all the while berating him mercilessly. Day in and day out Wake badgers Winslow, waxing at once poetic and at other times bubbling bold pretentiousness about nothing and everything. Poor Ephraim wants only to see the end of training and an escape from the prison of fools. On the eve of his departure, a mammoth storm pounds their island, allowing no boats in or out, and it is then that the infection of irrationality seeps deeply into Ephraim’s mind.
Defoe and Pattinson are made for these roles – an ideal pairing. Literally spitting verbiage in an accent as thick as his beard, Defoe’s performance epitomizes old-school seaman. He snarls and spins the tallest of sea-tales all the while snidely scolding and rebuking the younger man. Winslow sees the events play out but cannot stop the barrage of words chipping at his psyche and Pattinson manages a slow, simmering silent intensity that festers deeply at every word from his co-star’s mouth. It’s marvelous to watch.
Eggers’ who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Max, provides his characters with an atmosphere that pulls the audience into the asylum and into a straight-jacket. The confines of the lighthouse feel claustrophobic and stifling. Eggers’ aspect ratio, lighting, and camera angles are suffocating. The black and white makes even minute details ironically crisp and completely clear. The Lighthouse burns slowly and memorably and it earns an A in the grade book.