The Lighthouse revolves around the story of two lighthouse keepers working on a small and secluded New England island in the late 1800’s. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe portray these two men, and both of their performances are equally spectacular. Dafoe takes on the role of the wicky; the lighthouse keeper. His character talks with a deep accent, and Dafoe leans heavily into the seafaring captain caricature, along the lines of Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab (bad leg and all). Pattinson plays the rookie keeper, who is forced to do most of the chores around the island while Dafoe hoards the light of the lighthouse to himself.
The film certainly takes it’s time. We do not even learn the names of the main characters until we’ve spent at least half an hour with them (and they’ve spent two weeks together in the story). Put simply, the story is a slow burn. But as the plot develops and unfolds we see the pair’s descent into madness and lunacy, and Pattinson and Dafoe’s performances are both beautiful and haunting.
In order to fully appreciate The Lighthouse on a first viewing, it may be worth doing some reading ahead of time. The Lighthouse packs in many references to literature that are important to understand in order to be able to interpret it. The Lighthouse obviously borrows from Moby Dick, but it borrows story, tone and themes from other works as well. One should probably familiarize themselves with "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", which the film’s plot references heavily. It is also important to familiarize yourself with the fable of Prometheus from Greek mythology, in order to understand the final shot of the film. The Lighthouse also borrows tonally from works of Gothic horror, from authors like Edgar Allan Poe and Lovecraft. The ending of the film feeling especially Lovecraftian, full of forces beyond human comprehension. Besides these references, be sure to pay attention for themes of sexual control and possession, isolation, and man versus nature.
“The Lighthouse.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 18 Oct. 2019, www.imdb.com/title/tt7984734/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1.