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Film / The Lighthouse

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"How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Two days? Help me to recollect."
"What's the terrible part of the sailor's life, ask ye, lad? T'ain't Cap'n, workin' 'em doubletide. Nay, no. '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."
Thomas Wake

The Lighthouse is a 2019 American Psychological Horror film. It is the sophomore effort of Robert Eggers, director of The VVitch, and stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. The film was produced by A24, who also handled distribution in the United States. It debuted at Cannes on May 19, 2019, and received wide release on October 18, 2019.

Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) is a young drifter who comes to an isolated island off the coast of New England to serve as an assistant for 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.


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 over the course of the film. When rations run low, the two resort to drinking honey-sweetened kerosene.
  • 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: Wake and Winslow are both supposedly straight, but they nearly kiss each other after a night of drunken revelry. Situational Sexuality may be at play.
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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Axe-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 the curse.
  • Berserk Button: Wake is rendered nearly speechless when Winslow criticizes his cooking, then launches into a lengthy tirade, cursing Winslow before Neptune until the man finally backs down.
  • 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. Wake then climbs out and tries to attack Winslow with an ax, only to be disarmed and killed.
  • 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.
  • Curbstomp Battle: Winslow easily overpowers the old and drunken Wake in a brawl.
  • 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 killed him 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.
  • 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.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • The mermaid is a beautiful topless woman, but has fins in the vague shape of a human vagina, 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 Neptune as he beats the crap out of the lighthouse keeper. He is fully adorned with barnacles, tentacles, and seashell/coral crown.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: We don't see Wake getting an axe buried in his head, but we definitely hear it.
  • Hell Is That Noise:
    • When Winslow sees the light at the end of the film, his screams of terror are less screams than loud, hellish bursts of static.
    • The mermaid lets out an unnerving, seagull-like laugh that deeply disturbs Winslow.
    • The blaring of the lighthouse's own foghorn is an oppressive motif that runs throughout the film's runtime.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Kubrick Stare:
    • Winslow begins developing this at various parts in the film as his overworked and overstressed brain slowly descends into madness.
    • Wake pulls off an almost reverse Kubrick Stare during his cursing speech to Winslow. Standing ramrod straight, his unblinkingly petrifying glare pierces the soul of the viewer as he gazes down on Winslow, damning him to oblivion and back. All for trash talking Wake’s cooking.
  • 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 name 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.
  • Lovecraft Country: The lighthouse is some miles off the coast of New England.
  • 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 coffee pot 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. Or it could be Thomas Howard's guilt-induced Dying Dream as he succumbs to frostbite in the Canadian wilderness, as Wake suggests near the end. Or Winslow could be in hell.
  • Mermaid Problem: Explicitly, squickily averted. The mermaid has fins in the shape of an enlarged human vagina on the fish part of her body, which Winslow makes use of for that purpose.
  • Minimalist Cast: Winslow and Wake are the only characters of any significance in the film. Several more characters appear only briefly and without dialogue.
  • 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.
    • A drunken night of revelry leads to Wake and Winslow slowly dancing, arms around each other. It's sweet and even a little romantic... until they nearly kiss, and Winslow throws a punch.
    • Winslow's furious "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Wake ends with him lamenting how much Wake farts.
    • At the end of the movie, Winslow is driven mad by what he sees in the light, his face grotesquely twisted, letting out truly horrifying screams... only for him to suddenly fall backwards. The music cuts out, and we watch a long, slapstick-y sequence of Winslow tumbling down the spiral stairs of the lighthouse, thumping and grunting all the while.
  • The Munchausen: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, he gets an even worse one.
  • 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 it is, 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.
  • 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.
  • "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.
  • Riddle for the Ages: 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?
  • 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.
  • 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 "The Reason You Suck" Speech, the part that most wounds him is Winslow criticizing his lobster.
    Wake: You're fond of me lobster, admit it!
  • 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.
  • 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 his neck.
  • 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. At one point, Wake even asks him if he's even on the island and not back in the Canadian wilderness dying of hypothermia.
  • 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 Un-Reveal: We never find out what's inside the lighthouse's lantern, only that it's enough to drive Winslow Laughing Mad.
  • 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, and kills Wake after losing his mind at the end.
  • 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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