I saw The Lighthouse at the weekend and thought it was a suitably complex film to start my foray into the world of film reviews. Before I begin, I should point out that I’m typically an action/comedy movie goer, so The Lighthouse is pretty far from my usual movie experience. Nonetheless I tried to go into The Lighthouse with as open a mind as possible, though still somewhat expecting this was not my cup of tea. I’ll try and give a fair review but… well we’ll just have to see where my biases take me. I’ll also try and avoid major spoilers, though due to the nature of the film I’d say spoilers don’t really matter; The Lighthouse feels like it’s intended as an experience rather than a story.
Before I’d even entertained the idea of watching The Lighthouse, I’d been told at least twice that it was going to be worth viewing. Not by reviews but by friends and family, which confused me greatly as the reviews hadn’t even come out yet, so how did they know it was going to be any good? It was probably the excitement around the artistic style and the talent attached to the film – but as anyone who’s ever pre-ordered an EA game will tell you: “don’t believe the hype”.
The most positive thing about the film is that those stipulations were spot on, The Lighthouse is shot in an interesting way making a lot of the scenes very compelling. The entire film is done in a square aspect ratio, in black and white, and the way each scene is framed is very much part of the experience. The square aspect ratio already makes the screen feel cramped and when half that screen is shrouded in darkness it really enhances the feeling of claustrophobia, which I’m told was the intent behind much of those decisions.
Watching The Lighthouse is very enjoyable, the cinematography and how each scene is shot is interesting, the absence of colours focuses you on the depth and textures within the scenes, the small aspect ratio and use of dark spaces lets the film draw your eyes to exactly where it wants them; the visual experience is well thought through and The Lighthouse absolutely shows that.
The sound within the film is used to great effect, often using jarring sounds to make the audience appreciate the discomfort of the characters and serving as perhaps the only tangible link between the audience and characters (at least for anyone who hasn’t been a lighthouse keeper). Sound queues are something you continuously notice throughout the film, and whilst they sometimes remind you that you are in fact just watching a film, they clearly serve a purpose and aid the concepts the film is based around. The sound design is probably the most compelling reason to see The Lighthouse in a cinema rather than at home.
Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are very strong leads for The Lighthouse and both are very believable characters (though I don’t know anything about lighthouse keeping) but I still had a couple of small gripes. Pattinson has a somewhat meandering accent; I had assumed he was British at the start of the film since I hadn’t noticed any particular accent (and since I’m British I assume no accent = British accent) but by the end of the film he had a vague American / Canadian accent (I think Dafoe’s character accuses him of being Canadian), which left me wondering if I just didn’t spot it earlier or if half way through the film there was a decision to give the character an accent. Perhaps this is intentional due to the theme of madness, but if that’s the case this film is far too subtle and clever for me. Dafoe shows a masterclass in character acting, so much so that I couldn’t understand half his lines; again, maybe that’s the intention, and if so, I would accuse the film of being pretentious if I wasn’t so basic in my typical film choices. These are my only significant gripes, overall the acting is well done and varied, maintaining my interest in a film which otherwise gave me most of what I wanted from it within the first 20 minutes.
In contrast to the cinematography, paying attention to the content of the film is rather difficult at times; the plot isn’t particularly difficult to follow (though there are a couple of unspecified time skips) but the premise of the film makes a lot of decisions the characters make almost meaningless. The main themes of the film are isolation, claustrophobia, and associated madness, these are clearly well demonstrated but by choosing to explore the madness route it detracts from a lot of decisions the characters make. The plot is not really the point of the film, but as someone who loves plot the fact a lot of the stakes within the plot ultimately didn’t matter made it difficult for me to focus, particularly on the last third of the film.
The Lighthouse essentially makes most of the significant character decisions irrelevant by questioning whether some, any, or all of those decisions even happened. This really took me out of the film, as whilst I was processing which actions were real and which were fabricated, we’re suddenly presented with the reality of the plot: that, actually, it doesn’t matter if none of this is real. For me this removes any decision making from the characters, unceremoniously obliterates the fourth wall, and leaves me realising this isn’t what I watch films for. The Lighthouse asks some major philosophical questions by throwing the entire plot into question, and as someone who watches films to escape from the world, this simply isn’t for me.
The Lighthouse feels like a piece of art I enjoy looking at and can appreciate the hard work and decision making behind it, but I don’t care about the context of the art or why it was created. I enjoy looking at Van Gogh’s Starry Night but I couldn’t care less which town it depicts. I would recommend this film to someone who wants to give an “artsy” film a try to see if it’s for them, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who (like me) is mostly in it for the plot.
- Cinematography – 9/10
- Plot – 2/10
- Acting – 7/10
- Script – 7/10
- Enjoyment* – 4/10
OVERALL – 5.8/10
*Enjoyment is a personal measure of how much I enjoyed the film, more of a “gut feeling” than the empirical approach I try to take with the other ratings.