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Movie Review: 'The Lighthouse'

It’s likely you’ll find few movies as simultaneously vulgar and literate as The Lighthouse. Director Robert Eggers’ film is a masterpiece, though one that’s likely to put off a sizable portion of its audience. 

I know of one couple that walked out 10 minutes in, which I regard as terribly foolish, though the rest of the movie would have been unlikely to change their minds.

It’s the story of two men tending a New England lighthouse in the 1800s: Willem Dafoe’s grizzled man of the sea and his underling, Robert Pattinson. You’d be tempted to call it a descent into madness, except we begin in madness and descend into obsession and psychosis. Eggers saturates his film with folklore, mythology, and references to the great writers, even lifting words from Melville and the poet Sarah Orne Jewett to form his dialogue. It’s an approach that could have been gimmicky or heavy-handed, except Eggers commits so fully that it feels entirely earned.

But these are salty men who have nothing to hide but their secrets, and so we’re also inundated with their noxious fumes, bodily secretions and ejections, and desperation, with our only saving grace being that we cannot actually smell and taste what we see on the screen, though at times it feels otherwise.

A movie like this, just two people in such close quarters, could easily have been a stage play, but The Lighthouse is gloriously cinematic, with chiaroscuro that can only come from such rich black-and-white photography, indelible images, and the crushing drone of the foghorn and the dissonant score. Willem Dafoe proves again that he’s one of our true greats, spitting baroque monologues as easily as if he were a hardened seaman, and Pattinson continues his string of delivering high-difficulty performances in his post-Twilight career.

The Lighthouse is a demanding film, and also one of the best movies of the year.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.