The Lighthouse, madness in black and white

1/1 · Por HBO

HBO Mundi brings us The Lighthouse, a Robert Eggers film filled with drama, horror and much art and independent filmmaking. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson face off with all the power of their talent and deliver chilling performances.

The Lighthouse, a struggle against madness starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson

Willem Dafoe is a great actor. There can be no doubt as to his incredible talent, a career filled with magnificent and challenging characters. Recently, we saw him in At Eternity's Gate (2018). Robert Pattinson is a much younger actor (thirty-four to Dafoe’s sixty-five), and he has been seeking out roles which lend dignity to his career. Those who only think of him as the sensual vampire in the commercial Twilight saga are quite mistaken. We have seen him working with the director of strange and challenging films David Cronenberg in Cosmopolis (2012) and Maps to the Stars (2014), with David Michôd in The Rover (also 2014), with the immortal Werner Herzog in Queen of the Desert (2015), with James Gray (who directed Joaquin Phoenix and Brad Pitt) in The Lost City of Z (2016) and with French director Claire Denis in High Life (2018), among others. We will soon be seeing him as Bruce Wayne/Batman, undoubtedly one of the most coveted roles in recent years, in which actors of the stature of Christian Bale, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and Ben Affleck have appeared over the past three decades or so.


Willem Dafoe y Robert Pattinson en el Faro

Robert Eggers, a director of groundbreaking offerings

These two actors have come together in The Lighthouse under the guidance of a director whose first film left us wanting more. We are talking about Robert Eggers, who in 2015 delivered a film that could already be called a cult hit: The Witch: A New-England Folktale (Labruja), among the offerings that are giving us a new take on horror films, as well as fantasy, art and independent cinema. This first film fell under a category we might call folk horror, a sub-genre of horror whose stories engage with a natural environment where a group of people seem to be keeping some sort of secret. There is sometimes a supernatural element, related to sects, cults or witchcraft. Folk horror can be dated back to the early vampire stories, with Nosferatu by Marnau in 1922 and Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr in 1932 and Day of Wrath in 1943. In the late 1960s and 1970s, we find it gathering strength with a considerable number of films, which include the canonical example of the sub-genre, The Blood on Satan's Claw from 1973, directed by Robin Hardy. In this context, with The Witch, Eggers can be viewed as one of the most representative directors of the revitalization of folk horror. That first feature film opened up many expectations. However, Eggers was in no hurry, and after four years, he finally returned with The Lighthouse. The results were, by all accounts, notable.


WIllem Dafoe y Robert Pattinson

The Lighthouse, a gateway to other dimensions

In The Lighthouse, we also find ourselves in a natural environment. This time it is an inhospitable New England island in the late 19th century. The black and white cinematography helps accentuate the grittiness of the place, which always feels on the verge of a storm. The island seems to have a life of its own, as if it could also summon gateways to death and madness. Thomas Wake, played by Willem Dafoe, arrives on the rock with his young assistant Ephraim Winslow, the role taken on by Robert Pattinson. Wake is already familiar with the place, one might say it is his lighthouse. Winslow, on the other hand, is there for the first time. Both are sullen characters, knocked around by a hard life, as if they had been struck against the waves and reefs over and over again. The veteran lighthouse keeper appears to be concealing a mystery, something up there, in the lighthouse's lantern room, which Winslow is prohibited from entering. Little by little, things get darker and darker, twisted. As if coming from a rupture between the dimensions, some deadly creatures are seemingly already passing through the gateway. So, we have, for example, the one that appears (we don't know if in reality or in delirium) in the form of a desirable and at the same time repulsive mermaid, played by model Valeriia Karaman.

Everything at the lighthouse and on the island is strange, everything has the air of a world before humankind. And both characters find themselves exposed more and more to the pressure of solitude, or isolation. Little by little, the civilizing mask cracks and something deep inside, deeply animal and ancestral, emerges in them, unleashing them, sinking them.


Willem Dafoe

A journey into the mythologies of folk horror

Here Eggers once again explores the universe of myths, of stories whose symbols and meanings are hidden in the depths of time. With The Witch, he explored the ancient pagan rituals of the Middle Ages associated with witchcraft, while on this occasion, the filmmaker draws from ancient Greece. We might therefore say that Eggers again delivers a fairly unusual folk horror film. There we have nature as a dangerous entity, characters burdened with darkness and the delight of myths and fables. In this context, the lighthouse, as a symbol of the flame, leads us to the figure of Prometheus, who stole fire from Mount Olympus and was punished by the gods. Eggers himself has mentioned painter Jean Delville and his painting of Prometheus as a source of inspiration. Also making an appearance is the figure of Proteus, that evasive god with the gift of prophecy who transformed himself into different creatures and things.

Robert Eggers plays with ambiguity, even to the level of allowing a reading in which the lighthouse keeper and his assistant (who says his name is actually Thomas, which is, as mentioned, also his boss’s name) could be a single man battling against himself, with inner demons, with depths of the soul brought out into the world with the worst ritualistic mediation, or perhaps, with none. In any event, there is nothing worse than ritual done poorly, than the madness of chaos without the consciousness of the divine.

This phenomenal film secured Academy Award and BAFTA nominations for best cinematography for Jarin Blaschke (who had already worked with Eggers on The Witch), and it earned the director the FIPRESCI Prize (critics’ award for a young talent making arthouse cinema) at the Cannes Film Festival, along with a good number of awards and nominations from at least twenty festivals around the world.

The Lighthouse, the horror, the beauty, the enigma, only on HBO Mundi and HBO GO.

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