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"How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Two days? Where are we? Help me to recollect."

"What's the terrible part of the sailor's life, ask ye, lad? 'Tis when the workin' stops when yer twixt wind and water. Doldrums. Doldrums. Eviler than the Devil. Boredom makes men to villains...and the water goes quick, lad, vanished."
Thomas Wake
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The Lighthouse is a 2019 American Psychological Thriller film (to put it concisely). It is the sophomore effort of Robert Eggers, director of The VVitch, and stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. The film was produced by Regency Enterprises and A24. It debuted at Cannes on May 19, 2019, and received a wide release on October 18, 2019.

In the 1890s, a young drifter named Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) comes to an isolated island off the coast of New England to serve as an assistant to the crusty old lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake (Dafoe). It doesn't take long for Winslow to grow frustrated with Wake's lack of respect for him, and the isolation of the lighthouse only fuels their animosity. Just as the two men begin to grow accustomed to each other, a fierce storm arrives and prevents relief from coming, leaving them stranded together. Soon after, events begin to unfold that may be the result of the men's fraying sanity, or a curse from the sea itself.

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Previews: Trailer 1, Trailer 2.


The Lighthouse contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Wake is a very heavy drinker who insists on having liquor every night. He's taken back when Winslow refuses a drink the first night. This hints that Winslow was one. However, he stumbles from sobriety as the period of constant work and isolation takes its toll on him. When the two run out of rum, Winslow whips up a batch of thieves' oil (turpentine mixed with honey) which him and Wake throughly enjoy.
  • All Just a Dream: Wake suggests this might be the case near the end, when he asks Winslow if he's sure he's actually on the island and not wandering around the Canadian wilderness, delirious from frostbite and talking to himself. Whether he's serious or just trying to gaslight Winslow into standing down is ambiguous.
  • Ambiguously Bi:
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    • Though they both speak of marriage and attraction towards women, Wake and Winslow nearly kiss each other after a night of drunken revelry. Situational Sexuality may be at play.
    • Winslow's hallucinated encounters with the mermaid are intercut with images of Wake and memories of the real Winslow, suggesting that he had repressed sexual attraction towards both of them. It's further implied that Winslow's actions may be driven by his inability to cope with these feelings, plus the added guilt he carries from letting the real Winslow die.
  • And I Must Scream: Winslow's ultimate fate: having his mangled body sprawled over a seashore to be slowly eaten by birds as he's alive and conscious but too weak to do anything. Given the Promethean parallels, it's implied this will continue for eternity.
  • An Axe to Grind: Wake wields an axe throughout the film's climax, using it to destroy the lifeboat Winslow tried to escape on before, eventually, using it to wound Winslow on the shoulder. Winslow uses that same axe to kill Wake for good.
  • Animal Motifs:
    • Seagulls for Winslow. He's constantly being harassed by them throughout the movie, particularly an individual missing an eye. Winslow and Wake briefly act reminiscent to seagulls squaking while repeating "What?" to each other with rising frustration. In the final act, Winslow's knife breaks in the shape of a gull's beak as he unsuccessfully tries to break into the Light. The ending of the film sees him being eaten alive by them, too.
    • Cephalopods for Wake, when Winslow goes to retrieve his tobacco pouch and catches Wake masturbating to the Light, he apparently transforms (offscreen) into a tentacled monster after climaxing. Near the end of the film, Winslow witnesses Wake transform into the real Winslow; then the mermaid; and a Proteus-like version of Wake, adorned with a coral horn, barnacles and slithering tentacles.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: Much like the director's previous film, the characters speak in period-accurate English, with Wake in particular using lots of old-timey sailor slang (such as "wickie", an archaic term for a lighthouse keeper). The writers extensively studied period sources, including writings from a real lighthouse keeper and the works of Herman Melville to get a feel for the dialogue.
  • Armoured Closet Gay: Played with. This is implied to be one of the possible reasons why Thomas Howard let the real Ephraim Winslow die, as he was unable to cope with the sexual attraction he had for the late man.
  • The Atoner: One possible reason for "Winslow" going to work as a lighthouse keeper.
  • Ax-Crazy: Both our protagonists violently lose their minds, but Winslow in particular becomes this by the end of the movie.
  • Bad Boss: Wake has Winslow see to the bulk of the lighthouse's extensive upkeep — which includes shoveling coal, refueling the lantern, scouring the floors and emptying the chamber pots — while he does little more than cook and drink. Even after Winslow becomes a harder worker, Wake writes him up for poor service in his log and recommends that the man not be paid.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Thomas tells Ephraim that killing seagulls is bad luck. As Ephraim's frustrations mount, he kills a half-blind gull in a fit of rage. It's implied that this is what started their bad turn of fortune.
  • Black Comedy: For much of the run time, the movie more closely resembles a darkly comic two-hander about isolation and masculinity than a horror film. Even when the horror comes in, it's balanced with some wicked laughs.
  • Buried Alive: Winslow halfheartedly tries to do this to Wake after dominating him in a fight, but gets distracted after taking the keys to the top of the lighthouse and wanders off.
  • Cabin Fever: Overlapping with Ocean Madness due to the surroundings. The two characters are trapped on a tiny island where they gradually descend into insanity.
  • Chiaroscuro: The film shows some strong contrasts between light and dark, appropriately for the setting.
  • Clifftop Caterwauling: Winslow seems to be a big fan of this (as they are on a seacliff island, after all), such as when his wheelbarrow full of coal tips over or when the wind blows the contents of the chamberpots back into his face. Wake comments on the futility of such a habit.
  • Closed Circle: The lighthouse is isolated and lonesome, even before a storm makes it impossible for any ship to take Wake or Winslow back to civilization.
  • Control Freak: Wake absolutely refuses to tolerate any insubordination or backtalk from Winslow, and won't let him get anywhere near the light.
  • Creator Provincialism: Like The VVitch, this movie takes place in New England, where Robert Eggers grew up.
  • Creator Thumbprint: Just like The VVitch, it's a highly researched period piece with antiquated dialogue, a small cast in an isolated setting, and an emphasis on Nothing Is Scarier.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Wake's cursing speech to Winslow:
    "Bellow, bid our father, the sea king, [...] to smother this young mouth with pungent slime, to choke ye, engorging yer organs till ye turn blue and bloated with bilge and brine and can scream no more."
  • A Date with Rosie Palms:
    • Winslow frequently does this to a figurine of a mermaid throughout the story. Later, he does it while dreaming about having sex with a mermaid he found stranded on land.
    • Winslow catches Wake apparently doing this while minding the light.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Ephraim Winslow is dead to begin with; Thomas Howard let him die and then stole his identity.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The film is in black and white, giving it something of a retraux look.
  • Downer Ending: Winslow kills Wake and dies alone after finally seeing the light and losing what remained of his sanity.
  • Drinking on Duty: Wake drinks straight booze with his dinner, before starting his watch. He acknowledges that this may be against regulations, but doesn't particularly care. After relief doesn't come and both men are stranded on the island, Winslow starts to engage in this as well, despite expressing trepidation at first. This causes Wake to write him up and recommend he not be paid for any of the work he's done, despite Wake spending several nights getting absolutely hammered with Winslow before and during his shift.
  • Drone of Dread: The sound design is based around this. The ever-present wind and waves, as well as creaking wood in the old house and the constant blasts of the foghorn, all create an effectively oppressive soundscape. The score uses quite a bit of this as well.
  • Dying Alone: After killing Wake and looking directly into the light, Winslow falls down the lighthouse steps and breaks his neck. The epilogue shows a possibly metaphorical scene of his naked body lying on the beach, with seagulls feasting on his intestines.
  • Eldritch Location: Possibly the lighthouse itself. When Winslow looks at it, he can only scream.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: After a very rough patch settling into the routine, not helped by Wake's alcoholism and implied decreasing reliability in doing work, by the end of their stay it seems as though Wake and Winslow have found mutual respect, Wake going so far as to tell Winslow he'll make a good "wickie." Then, later, Winslow finds that Wake has been writing damning reports on his competence the whole time, going so far as to recommend severance without pay.
  • Evil Laugh: The mermaid half screams and half laughs at Winslow when he finds her washed up on the beach as if rebuffing his desires.
  • Excrement Statement: In the very last scene, one of the seagulls feasting on Winslow's body takes a shit on him as well.
  • Fade to White: The Staircase Tumble scene at the end fades to white, symbolizing Winslow's passing.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • The mermaid is a beautiful topless woman, but if the sound of her screaming doesn't put you off, there's the close-up of her fins in the vague shape of a human labia, which Winslow has sex with.
    • There's also a lengthy scene of Robert Pattinson having a mental breakdown while furiously masturbating.
    • He also appears naked while being devoured and shat upon by seagulls.
  • Father Neptune: Wake used to be a sailor (according to him, anyway), and he fits this trope perfectly. Winslow even tells him that he "talks like a goddamn parody". Winslow even imagines Wake as Proteus as he beats the crap out of the lighthouse keeper; adorned with barnacles, tentacles, and a coral horn. It's unclear if this is entirely true however - Winslow accuses him of being a complete fraud who was never a sailor, and Wake doesn't confirm or deny his suspicions.
  • Feathered Fiend: A one-eyed gull torments Winslow as he works. Him snapping and killing the bird mid-way also kickstarts the storm that worsens the situation for both him and Wake.
  • Fish People: Wake's description of Neptune has overt elements of one, with "slithering, tentacled tail" and "fell, be-finned arm". He's later perceived (possibly) as such a being himself by Winslow, as he seemingly becomes Proteus during Winslow's No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Ephraim Winslow seems startled to learn that Wake's first name is Thomas. As it happens, it's his first name, too. The man we know as Ephraim Winslow is actually Thomas Howard.
    • After Wake drops Winslow as he's whitewashing the side of the lighthouse, Winslow awakens on the ground weakened, covered in paint, and with a seagull nipping at his clothes. His ultimate fate is a more gruesome version of this image.
    • Winslow's mental state is called into question as early as his first night at the island, where he sees a mermaid after going into the sea water. His memory and time perception are also called into question when the storm is upon them, as Wake tells him that he repeatedly reminded him to ration the food, much to his surprise.
    • When Wake criticizes Winslow's work performance and accuses him of being a "lyin' dawg", the young man is clearly holding back a lot of anger. After the two get find the buried rum rations, the film cuts to Young drunkenly telling Old a story about his unpleasant experience as a logger and how Foreman Winslow was always calling him a "dog" much like how Wake does, which catches the old sailor's attention briefly. After Winslow beats Wake to a bloody pulp in their brief fight, he orders the old man to bark like a dog and proceeds to walk him with a makeshift leash into a shallow grave.
  • Freud Was Right: Eggers has made no bones about how thoroughly he invoked this with the lighthouse, even filming it at select angles to look more..erect. As per his summary of the film, "Nothing good can happen when two men are trapped alone in a giant phallus."
  • Gaslighting: Wake contradicts Winslow's perceptions of previous events several times. Winslow accuses him of doing so to drive him crazy, but it's never revealed whether this is true. Wake tells him in such a matter-of-fact manner that at some point, Winslow just stops trying to argue otherwise.
  • Gasshole: Wake farts frequently, one of several character traits that make him an irritating companion.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: During one of Winslow's hallucinations, Wake suddenly appears nude beside him with bright lights shining out of his eyes.note 
  • Genius Loci: It is possible that Howard and Wake's madness was caused by the lighthouse, the lantern atop it, or the island itself, which is malevolent and exerted an influence on the two men.
  • Genre-Busting: What seems like a strange period psychological horror on the surface turns out to be a cross between a psychological thriller, mystery, and pitch-black comedy, oozing with imagery indebted to surrealist, Lovecraftian, and Freudian origins to boot. Even members of Eggers' own personnel are reluctant to label it as horror:
    Vico Sharabani, VFX supervisor: I don’t consider it as a horror movie, necessarily. When you say 'a horror movie,' it’s like another project we just worked on, Midsommar. Some people categorize it as a horror film, but it’s not. It’s not created as such. I don’t think it’s in the category of horror.
  • Ghost Butler: Inverted. When Winslow climbs to the top of the lighthouse to see what's inside the light, the door to the lens opens without him touching it, almost as if it's actively inviting him to look into the light.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Left alone on a bare, storm-ravaged rock for months with no company but each other, Thomas Wake and Ephraim Winslow gradually begin to go completely insane.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Upon discovering what actually is inside the light, Winslow can only scream.
  • Gory Discretion Shot:
    • Averted with Winslow killing the one-eyed gull. We get to see most every detail of him slamming the bird against the cistern over, and over, and over, and over, to the extent that the brutality grows morbidly amusing, almost as if Winslow's thrashing around a pillow.
    • We don't see Wake getting an axe buried in his head, but we definitely hear it.
  • Hell Is That Noise:
    • The blaring of the lighthouse's own foghorn is an oppressive motif that runs throughout the film's runtime.
    • The mermaid lets out an unnerving, seagull-like scream that deeply disturbs Winslow.
    • When Winslow sees the light at the end of the film, his screams of terror are less screams than loud, hellish bursts of static.
  • Hitler Cam: Wake's "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Winslow is shot this way.
  • Homage: Winslow's brief visions of the real Ephraim Winslow near the end are similar, both in context and composition, to the flashback scene in Hour of the Wolf where Max von Sydow's character drowns a young boy.
  • Hope Spot: The day the pair are supposed to get picked up by the tender, a storm hits and they're unable to be taken back.
  • Hypocrite: Wake argues to dock Winslow's whole pay by remarking on his log every slight and infraction Winslow made for the duration of his stay at the island, including heavily drinking and masturbating on the job... which is all Wake does on his post. Sure, Winslow indeed did those deeds, but he actually worked, unlike Wake.
  • In Vino Veritas: Winslow confesses to his past after getting properly sloshed.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Wake calls Winslow "pretty as a picture" and later comments again on his looks, saying that his "eyes flash like a lady's."
  • Ironic Echo: Winslow repeats the toast Wake insists on giving before every meal after he kills him.
  • It's Personal: Wake does not take kindly that Winslow states that he dislikes his cooking, so much that he curses him up a storm. Winslow just gives up and just obliges the old man.
  • Jump Scare: The seemingly cowed Wake suddenly appearing behind Winslow, brandishing an axe and screaming his head off.
  • Karmic Death: After murdering Wake to gain access to the lens, Winslow stares straight into the light and is mentally destroyed by what he sees, causing him to fall all the way down the stairs to his death.
  • Kill 'Em All: Both characters are dead by the end.
  • Kubrick Stare: Winslow begins developing this at various parts in the film as his overworked and overstressed brain slowly descends into madness.
  • Large Ham: Both actors give it everything they've got, but Willem Dafoe in particular relishes every single line.
  • Light Is Not Good: The light is an object of obsession for both men, with Wake jealously hoarding it and Winslow constantly trying to gain access to it. At the end of the film Winslow finally looks into it, and whatever he sees in there is horrific enough to basically kill him. Judging by the fact that the door to the lens opens by itself, the light itself may be alive and actively driving the men insane.
  • Lighthouse Point: If the movie title hasn't clued you in, the eponymous setting is an isolated lighthouse on a tiny rocky island in the sea, with no other land in sight.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Understandable given the circumstances. Throughout the film, both characters a number of slight variations of their costumes. Wake opts to wear his Lighthouse keeper cap and vest in scenes where he exerts his authority over the junior man to give himself more height. The vest even makes Wake appear as a disembodied head when he curses Winslow to be struck down by Neptune.
  • Lovecraft Country: The lighthouse is some miles off the coast of New England, and the whole movie is steeped in the same kind of oceanic dread that Lovecraft was channeling in stories like The Call of Cthulhu and The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
  • MacGuffin: The lighthouse's light room is the film's object of desire.
  • Madness Mantra:
    • "Why'd you spill your beans?" is repeated ominously by Wake after Winslow/Howard confesses to murdering the original Ephraim Winslow.
    • At one point, Wake and Winslow repeat the word "what?" at each other, increasing in speed and intensity until they're screaming in each other's faces.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Wake buries his axe full-force into Winslow's shoulder after escaping from his shallow grave. Winslow calmly ponders his gushing wound for a few moments before grabbing a turpentine canister and smacking Wake over the head with it.
  • Married to the Job: Wake explains how his past as a sailor led to his solitude.
    Wake: Thirteen Christmases spent at sea. Little ones at home... She never forgave it.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • Exactly what's going on, and how much, if any, of it is supernatural is deliberately vague. The men's misfortunes may be the result of a curse, either invoked by Winslow when he kills the sea bird or placed upon him by Wake... or they could just be marooned because of a random misfortune and losing their minds as a result.
    • In fact, the genius of the film is that the entire premise changes depending on where you stand on the scale. Is the film a realistic Period Piece about two lighthouse keepers who lose their minds from the isolation and suffer hallucinations after being stranded in a freak storm? Or is the film a Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror Story about two lighthouse keepers who are cursed by the sea gods for breaking maritime tradition? What if the lighthouse itself is the one behind their onset madness? Or maybe the film is an allegory for purgatory or it could be the last guilt-induced Dying Dream of Thomas Howard as he succumbs to frostbite in the Canadian wilderness, as Wake suggests near the end.
    • Note that there is at least one strong hint towards something going on that is actually supernatural. When Thomas climbs to the top of the lighthouse, right before he sees whatever the hell it is he sees inside the light, the door to the lens swings open on its own without him touching it.
    • Whatever happened, tainted water supply + liberal alcohol consumption + kerosene with honey + constantly blowing foghorn certainly didn't help.
  • Mermaid Problem: Explicitly, squickily averted. The mermaid has fins in the shape of an enlarged human labia on the fish part of her body, which Winslow makes use of for that purpose.
  • Mind Screw: The entire film is seen through the eyes of two men collapsing into insanity. Several surreal events occur without a reference for time and even their circumstances are questionable. Was it just two men driven mad by their isolation and mistrust of each other? Perhaps the lighthouse is a malevolent Genius Loci that drove the men mad, or maybe a mermaid or sea monster's influence did it to them? Is it even about two men on a lonely island, is the whole story a Dying Dream for Thomas Howard perishing far away?
  • Minimalist Cast: Winslow and Wake are the only characters of any significance in the film. Several more characters appear only briefly and without dialogue.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Winslow is forced to do backbreaking labor with little to no help from Wake, for weeks on end, which he is unhappy with but able to live through. However, being repeatedly called a dog after finding out Wake suggested he not be paid causes him to snap.
  • Mood Whiplash: Since the two men at the center of the movie are so volatile, a given scene can turn from funny to somber to horrifying in moments.
  • The Münchausen: Wake regales Winslow with tall tales from his life as a sailor. However, it's left ambiguous how often Wake's telling the truth, or if he was ever a sailor in the first place. Winslow catches him contradicting himself with two separate stories on how he lost his leg. Given his own altered mental state, it's not known whether Winslow indeed heard Wake correctly.
  • Murder by Inaction: Winslow claims that he let the real Ephraim Winslow die in a logging accident in order to steal his identity, but Wake accuses him of deliberately murdering him.
  • Mysterious Past: Winslow used to be a logger, but inexplicably left that life behind and decided to become a lighthouse keeper. Wake surmises from this that he's running from something in his past.
    Wake: Tell me, what's a timber man want with being a wickie?
    Winslow: Just looking to earn a living, just like any man. Start anew.
    Wake: ...On the run.
    • Wake turns out to be correct: Winslow later reveals that his name is actually Thomas Howard, and he murdered the real Ephraim Winslow and stole his identity.
  • Naked Nutter: Wake is quickly established as being obsessed with the Light to the point of not allowing Winslow anywhere near it; as it later becomes clear, this is becomes he spends several evenings in the lantern room, staring directly into the Light while completely naked and likely masturbating.
  • Nightmare Face:
    • When Wake curses Winslow, his face is in shadow, with candlelight reflecting off his eyes, to ominous effect.
    • And when Winslow finally sees the light, his face is caked in blood, and the lighting makes his features look heavily distorted, to the point where it looks like his eyes aren't there, and his lips resemble teeth. Even his movements are almost puppet-like.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Winslow delivers one to Wake at the end of the film, in response to Wake's "The Reason You Suck" Speech. After this, he forces Wake to crawl around like a dog and attempts to bury him alive.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: For the entire movie, Thomas hoards the light at the top of the lighthouse, never letting Winslow even get close to it. At the end, Winslow opens the lighthouse's lantern and looks in. We never see what's inside, but it does cause him to scream — repeatedly — and fall down the stairs to his doom.
  • Not Quite Dead: Wake, dead or dying when Winslow buries him alive, manages to later surprise Winslow and charge at him with an axe.
  • One Steve Limit: Subverted. We're initially led to believe that the main characters are named Thomas Wake and Ephraim Winslow. However, we later discover that the man we knew as Winslow actually murdered the real Winslow in his time as a logger. His true identity is Thomas Howard.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Pattinson affects a decent 19th-century New England accent that remains consistent except for brief patches during his screaming rants where his native British accent manages to slip in.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Mermaid vagina on full display.
  • Porn Stache: Winslow's mustache, his most distinctive physical characteristic which also serves as a symbol for his vanity. His facial hair also stays the same length for the whole film.
  • The Place: It's called The Lighthouse.
  • Rage Breaking Point:
    • After several days of being harassed by the same seagull, Winslow snaps and violently beats it to death against the cistern. This very likely triggers the curse Wake warned him about.
    • At the climax, Winslow snaps after Wake calls him a dog and gives him a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. After he's subdued Wake, he forces him to crawl around on all fours and bark like a dog, before attempting to bury him alive.
  • Rant-Inducing Slight: Wake curses Winslow to eternal damnation in a lengthy monologue simply for saying his cooking sucks.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: The film follows Winslow's life on the island from a third-party perspective, but cuts between reality and nightmarish delirium so much that it's not quite clear whether events he took part in actually happened, or happened the way he perceived those to happen.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The two leads trade these as their relationship deteriorates. While Wake's are eloquent and damning, Winslow's are full of clumsy rage and Wake snarks that he has a "way with words."
  • Retraux: Besides the black-and-white cinematography, the film is deliberately shot on 35mm film and presented in the intentionally cramped 1.19:1 aspect ratio, as was common for films shot in the 1920s and 30s. To enhance the image and make it resemble early photography, a custom cyan filter emulated the look and feel of orthochromatic film from the late 19th century. Also, the audio is deliberately mixed in mono.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The film offers many. Was there really a mermaid? What happened to Wake's old partner? Did they miss the relief ship, or did it never come to begin with? Was Wake ever really a sailor? And just what did Winslow see in the light?
  • Rule of Symbolism: The siren possibly represents Winslow's coping mechanism against the homosexual desires he harbors towards the late real Winslow and towards Wake. In the absence of a female figure, Winslow concocts a "female", but one that is unreal in the practical sense, as sirens don't exist. As such, during his masturbatory fantasy, images of both the real Winslow and Wake come into his mind in between the sexual throes with the siren, and why he screams painfully when he ejaculates.
  • Sanity Slippage: Both of the film's characters go through this.
    • Winslow suffers a full descent into murderous insanity, but it's left more ambiguous with Wake — it's possible to interpret Wake as being the Only Sane Man watching Winslow gradually lose his mind, but it's also possible that it could just be him gaslighting Winslow.
  • Running Gag: The gratuitous amounts of farts in the film. Dafoe had the farts scripted!
  • Scenery Porn: Bleak as it looks, the film features some absolutely gorgeous shots of the island and the sea.
  • Screaming at Squick: Winslow lets out an absolute howl of disgust when he tries to empty the chamber pots off a cliff and the wind blows human waste back all over him.
  • Sea Dog Beard: Wake has a gnarly one, being the salty old veteran wickie and a claimed old sailor. Winslow sports only a mustache, by contrast, as he is a greenhorn to the sea.
  • Secret Keeper: Wake holds whatever is in the light as his personal little secret, which helps to exacerbate the issues with him and Winslow.
  • Serious Business: Wake takes his cooking very seriously, and after Winslow gives him a drunken "Reason You Suck" Speech, the part that most wounds him is Winslow criticizing his lobster.
    Wake: You're fond of me lobster, say it!
  • Sex Is Violence: In their analysis of the film, Wisecrack points out how the brawls between the two men could almost be mistaken for a couple making love, including the Almost Kiss moment dissolving in a fistfight and Winslow smoking a cigarette after finishing off Wake.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The scene where Winslow tries to dump buckets of feces only for the wind to blow it back in his face is one to The Big Lebowski.
    • The living hell that the island is for Winslow calls to mind several Greek myths about punishment in the Underworld. The "duty" assigned by Wake that Winslow is seen performing the most is carting a wheelbarrow full of coal across the island, similar to Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill making no progress. The seemingly constant tainted water and rotted rations is similar to the myth of Tantalus who was constantly on the brink of starvation and dehydration but sustenance being out of reach. Both of these factors are a large part of Winslow's descent into madness.
    • The dream sequence in which a naked Wake casts a strong light from his eyes and into Winslow's is a reference to Sascha Schneider's 1904 painting Hypnosis.
    • Winslow tells Wake "I'm tired of your damned-fool yarns and your Captain Ahab horseshit".
    • The final shot of seagulls swarming over Winslow's body and pecking at his insides as he lies helpless on the rocks resembles that of the Greek mythological tale of Prometheus: The Greek Gods took away the fire from humans as punishment for disobeying them. Then, the Titan Prometheus stole the fire back to give the valuable gift to mankind. The Gods were outraged by Prometheus' theft of fire, and so they punished Prometheus by chaining him helplessly to a rock, where each day an eagle was sent to eat Prometheus' liver, which would then grow back overnight to be eaten again the next day, forever.
    • The killing of the seabird and the ensuing divine retribution are reminiscent of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, though in Coleridge's poem it's not known what led the Mariner to kill the albatross, and while in the poem the albatross is said to be a bird of good omen, in this film the seagulls are said to carry the souls of dead sailors. In both instances, the killing of a seabird carries bad luck.
  • Situational Sexuality: Due to being trapped in an isolated lighthouse during a storm, both Thomas Wake and Ephraim Winslow almost kiss one night after becoming intoxicated. Although it is heavily implied that Howard harbored secret homosexual feelings toward the real Winslow that he couldn't cope with.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Hinted with Winslow. He let his previous employer die so that he could take his job, is enraged by having to perform menial tasks, becomes furious whenever criticized, hates taking orders and ultimately flies into a murderous rage when Wake calls him "a filthy dog". Lampshaded by Wake who calls him "a painted whore bawling in the footlights over the silver spoon what should have been yours".
  • Smash Cut: The film utilizes them sparingly, but effectively.
    • Winslow's first vision of the screeching mermaid abruptly cuts into him waking up the next morning.
    • When Winslow gets dropped while whitewashing the lighthouse, the film briefly cuts to black upon his impact.
    • When Winslow tries disposing of the feces in the chamber pots by throwing them off a cliff, only for the wind to blow them back in his face, he begins to let out a disgusted scream that's cut off by the next shot.
    • A particularly amusing example; a very sloshed Winslow and Wake boisterously singing and dancing hard cuts into them slow-dancing tenderly as Wake sings.
  • Soul Jar: The reason why it's bad luck to kill a gull, according to Wake: they hold the spirits of dead sailors within them. The half-blinded gull that Ephraim killed is implied to hold the soul of Thomas's former assistant; when Ephraim finds his severed head in the lobster trap, his eye is missing, same as the gull.
  • Staircase Tumble: After being driven mad by the light, Winslow falls down the steps of the lighthouse and breaks a presumable assortment of bones.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: The narrative is told mainly through what Winslow sees and experiences, so when his grip on reality starts to loosen, a lot of questions about what's actually happening and what's a delusion start piling up. Winslow at one point says it's only been a day since they missed the tender, only for Wake to tell him that it's actually been weeks and they have to start rationing food. Later, Wake even asks him if he's even on the island and not back in the Canadian wilderness dying of hypothermia.
  • Talk Like a Pirate: Wake's affect is so old-timey-maritime that Winslow chides him for sounding like a parody. When Wake questions his own existence as a figment of Winslow's imagination, it's not a leap of faith to think that the old man has a point; the old fart's like a living cartoon.
  • Time Dissonance: It's not quite known how much time Winslow and Wake spend in the island, but one thing's certain: they get quite loopy. Winslow is originally slated to be picked up by the tender after four weeks until the storm hit the island. After the pair spend the night getting sloshed, Wake claims that the two of them have been stranded for weeks without Winslow noticing. Wake himself admits that he doesn't know how much time has passed, though it is implied Wake is trying to gaslight Winslow into further insanity. The fact that they wet their whistles so much certainly doesn't help.
  • Trash the Set: Near the end, a huge storm lashes the island and wrecks most of the house, flooding it up to the men's ankles in seawater.
  • The Unreveal: We never find out what's inside the lighthouse's lantern, only that it's enough to drive Winslow completely insane.
  • Toilet Humor: Wake's farting and a scene where Winslow gets the contents of chamber pots blown back into his face are both played for dark humor.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film was inspired by, but not a direct retelling of, the Smalls Lighthouse incident, but only so far as reflecting the madness and horrors of near-isolation experienced by two men, one older and one younger, named Thomas. The incident had a true retelling in 2016's The Lighthouse.
  • Villain Protagonist: Winslow is ultimately revealed to be a murderer (at least by inaction), and kills Wake after losing his mind at the end.
  • Voice of Reason: Played with. Wake is possibly one, as he provides a differing perspective from what Winslow perceives... but it's left ambiguous whether he's truthful or not.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Towards the end of the movie, Winslow vomits; we see it splatter into the water, but the camera angle makes it so we don't see it leave his mouth.
  • Whole Plot Reference: To The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, as the curse is (probably) triggered by Winslow killing a seagull, similar to how the mariner is cursed after shooting an albatross.

 
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Wake curses Winslow

An appropriate response to badmouthing one's cooking.

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