Review: Pattinson and Dafoe make for a twisted, maddening duo in film ‘The Lighthouse’

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Photo credit: Promotional poster by A24 Films

“The Lighthouse,” released in 2019, starred British actor Robert Pattison and American actor Willem Dafoe as they played two lighthouse keepers attempting to maintain sanity. The film garnered 118 nominations including an Academy Award for cinematography.

By Thea Leimone, Culture Editor

The film ‘The Lighthouse‘, released in May of 2019 and directed by Robert Eggers, follows two lighthouse keepers in the 1890s as they plan to spend four weeks on a small, rock-type island far out at sea to care for a lighthouse. The lighthouse-keeping duo are aging sailor Thomas Wake, played by Willem Dafoe, and quiet, young newbie Ephraim Winslow played by Robert Pattinson. The film follows the two men as they maintain the lighthouse and slowly spiral into hallucinations and psychosis.

Eggers, most widely known for the highly acclaimed horror film ‘The Witch‘, takes on another thrilling, slow burn in ‘The Lighthouse’ but with a far more complex and disjointed plot. The movie is filmed entirely in black and white, emphasizing the time period and the sense of isolation felt by the characters. Furthering this feeling is the lighthouse being the only location in the hour and 50 minute film.

Egger’s creates a remarkable slow burn with old sailor’s tales, hallucinatory images and isolation driven by a constant silence and consumption of alcohol.  Isolation caused by a storm and inexplicable experiences cause the two men to drive one another mad, leading to physical fights and dancing with an overarching theme of homoeroticism.

While the plot is best left mostly unexplained, the praise for the duo created by Dafoe and Pattinson should most definitely be shared.

Award-winning actor Dafoe shape-shifts into a wooden-legged, alcoholic lighthouse keeper with a sea-battered overgrown beard and a constant unhinged, psychotic look in his wide eyes. Dafoe’s character, Wake, has a strange and obsessive attachment to the mysterious light that spins in circles all day and night. He spends his nights manning the light alone and his days sleeping, drinking and harassing young Winslow, Wake’s second.

Winslow is brilliantly played by Pattinson who’s career has typically been linked to his role as Edward Cullen in the poorly rated Twilight Saga. Pattinson breaks his typecast of the teenage love interest to play a gritty, bearded Winslow with a strange past and a guarded, aggressive persona. Winslow questions why Wake refuses to let him man or even see the light up above, and is instead forced to make constant repairs as seagulls swarm his head and endlessly scoop coal to power the foghorn.

The two men create a unique environment of hate and comradeship with a hint of something more, yet typical aggressive masculinity never plays a part in the relationship. Pattinson plays out a brooding demeanor and his strange quietness is only egged on by Dafoe whose loose energy fills the air with stories and tall tales.

Dafoe is able to switch his tone constantly as Wake turns from a talkative drunk in the evenings to a haggard old man hung up on minute details and who obsessively watches his light above. Meanwhile, Pattinson’s constant quietness underscores the feeling of isolation while also articulating a growing sense of confusion and frustration with his environment and Dafoe.

As the two men spiral into a somewhat psychotic state where time no longer has bearing, they drop their previous facades and attempt to understand themselves in the maddening dynamic they have created. Pattinson, big and tall, lets his most vulnerable sides show while Dafoe, short and aged, begins to show strange moments of affection for Pattinson, compensating by gaslighting him which subsequently drives them both insane.

Pattinson and Dafoe, an unusual pairing, successfully play two complex characters with unresolved pasts and strong internal conflicts as they slowly give into the isolation and strange light that circles around and around. With the men being the only characters, the quality of the film is solely reliant on Dafoe and Pattinson’s incredible chemistry and acting talent.

“The Lighthouse” can be watched on the A24 website or Apple TVA.

  • Story
  • Acting
  • Technical Quality
  • Enjoyment
  • Impact
4.5

Summary

Lighthouse keepers Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) are set to spend four weeks taking care of a lighthouse on a rock far out at sea. Filmed in black and white, the film follows the two men as they descend into insanity driven by isolation and a strange light in the lighthouse.