It’s 5am. Because of a further lapse in time keeping – and causing a sleepless 4 hour Megabus journey – I had to leave Cardiff at 1am to see my first screening of London Film Festival, The Lighthouse. But the screening begins at 8:30am and so I roam Leicester Square in the navy, frostbit morning until a coffee shop opens. The queues swell an hour beforehand with eager Londoners and critics alike, awaiting the follow up to Robert Eggers’ Satan-stirred debut, The Witch (they must be the “cult following” that it garnered). At 8am, the doors open, so I down my coffee and find a seat. 8:30 on the dot, the projector stutters to life, and black, choppy waters invade the screen - their break in harsh white contrast to the inky depths that, rocking against the 1.19: 1 frame (almost square), look as if they have been contained in a magnified glass bottle. So, body clock frayed, eyes pinned sorely open with caffeine and on the brink of dreams that I kept at bay, this is what I experienced that morning…
Pure, pure, pure. It seems that Robert Eggers did not direct his sophomore effort but unearthed and forged it from its volcanic origin - post eruption, still rumbling with hellish energy.
1890’s lighthouse keepers Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe haul the two-man (and one mermaid) act on an isolated slither of New England rock, their scratchy knitwear and dungarees no match for the wind and pounding rain. Dafoe disappears into his fisherman’s beard, channelling both Neptune and Birdseye in titanic silliness whilst Pattinson’s slow succumbing to insanity is visible through every furrow and drunken slur. It is a tour-de-force of macho muchness that feels like less of a performance and more like a boxing match to the salty tune of sea-shanty’s. Inspired by Weird Tales of maritime delusion and steeped in the Lovecraftian uncanny, The Lighthouse thrives on the uncertain solipsism of the mind. On this rock out of time, it is your word against your own and it is fuel-fucked on and balls-deep in its own crooked madness that fish-scaled and slapping coils round your damned, gulping gullet.
With 35mm film flickered through 1920-40s equipment, then orthochromatically filtered, the photography pops like the quilled ode of a madman on bone paper. You can keep your soft, pretty greyscale because this is fucking black and fucking white as astral forces, whipping round each other in combative orbit. This is black and white as Dore prophesied: in the day, black is drawn spit and charcoal into Eden light, at night, white is etched from nether.
The Lighthouse is base - forced angry and erect from tar, grit soil and dripping gloppy in strings from pitch clouds that carry perpetual storm on their shoulders. Like The Witch, The Lighthouse is less concerned with contemporary revision and more so with reproducing the consciousness of its own setting. But, unlike the former’s Pagan paranoia, here the lens of machines that still need to be pumped by oil and sweat-slicked, starving arms focuses on the unholiness of the corporeal: fabled demons are purged in the processes of human excretion, secretion, bleeding. The mind therefore is doomed by the body as the toils of labour inform seaborne hallucinations and passions of desire and guttural hatred spur an unstoppable insanity. Inexorably linked, the mind will be dragged from heaven back to its aching, doomed frame in unsanctioned matrimony.
Rhythmically, the editing also reflects this harsh synthesis. Each frame is slammed hot and cast iron in place of the last, forcibly merging the fringes of mind and body, body and machine, machine and belief.
The Lighthouse is resolutely singular in its hypnotic intensity and feels like an impossible aside to our current filmic canon, omnisciently observing the present epoch rather than participating. Because of its unwavering anachronisms and dark psychologies, it already feels like a classic. I was deliriously tired, but in that screening all I could think was that The Lighthouse is it. An all-timer, cinema stripped to skeletal myth and soul-rendered upon granite. But it did not earn its place. Eggers' has cheated, pummelled and muscled his way into the history books.
- Written and Designed by Caleb Carter