Blog Directory CineVerse: Shiver me timbers

Shiver me timbers

Monday, August 31, 2020

Young director Robert Eggers impressed many with his directorial debut The Witch. But while his penchant for historical accuracy and extreme attention to detail was intact on his follow-up feature, The Lighthouse, the latter film was a different kind of dark cinema than his first foray. Layered with fascinating psychological subtexts and propelled by two powerhouse performances, The Lighthouse is a movie that practically begs for deeper analysis and scrutiny. Our CineVerse group took a stab at it last week and discussed several aspects and interpretations, including the following.

What did you find interesting, unexpected, or memorable about The Lighthouse?

  • It’s a decidedly different modern movie: The canvas is black and white, there are only two actors in the entire film, and the aspect ratio is 1.19:1, called Movietone, which was more prominent in the silent film days and which helps better depict vertical compositions, especially the tall, vertical lighthouse structure and its interiors.
  • The film is sexually candid, depicts various bodily functions, and has homoerotic tones. The characters engage in private or embarrassing acts, including flatulence, masturbation, and potentially homosexual urges; additionally, the lighthouse itself serves as a giant phallic symbol, and we are shown a graphic depiction of intimate relations with a mermaid.
  • Both men are unreliable narrators whom we cannot trust. Both are revealed as liars who distort the truth to suit their needs.

Themes on display in The Lighthouse

  • Greek mythology: Winslow is written as a modern metaphor for Prometheus, who yearned to dwell among the gods and tried to trick them by stealing their fire but was punished cruelly by having an eagle peck at his liver for eternity. Wake is a representation of Proteus, a sea-dwelling God who serves Triton/Poseidon, is personified by tentacles, and is known for his prophecies and curses. And the lighthouse symbolizes Mount Olympus.
  • Moral shades of gray. It’s appropriate that the filmmakers use black and white in this movie, which signifies morally monochrome characters, whose ethics and virtues cannot be trusted.
  • The dangers of toxic masculinity and two men being cut off from civilization and women.
  • Gaslighting, as evidenced by each character playing mind games with and trying to assert dominance over the other, particularly Wake, who forces Winslow to question if he’s experiencing reality or fantasy.
  • Guilt and shame. Winslow experiences extreme feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety over his logging co-worker’s death, which could be impacting his mental health.
    • Consider that we witness Winslow seeing images of a third man – presumably the dead logger. He’s likely suffering a psychological breakdown due to this guilt. Recall, as well, that we observe the seagull he kills has only one eye, similar to the severed head he discovers later; both one-eyed figures remind Winslow of the man he either killed or whose death he didn’t prevent.
  • A descent into madness. The Lighthouse suggests that Winslow, whose point of view we are shown, is quickly devolving and losing his grip on reality – likely due to the extreme circumstances, including captive isolation with a domineering and critical boss, increasing reliance on alcohol, sexual frustration, physical exhaustion, and severe feelings of alienation and isolation.
    • It has been theorized that Winslow is homosexual and possibly had a homosexual relationship with a logger back in Canada who ended up dead. Now that he’s in an isolated environment with Wake, he experiences sexual impulses toward this new man, but instead of thinking about Wake sexually, he envisions having animal-like sex with a mermaid creature, possibly out of shame, guilt, or the inability to accept a homosexual relationship.
    • Another reading of the film is that, as Wake insidiously suggests, Winslow isn’t even on the lighthouse property – instead, he’s imagining this coexistence with Wake while he still back at the logging site in Canada.
    • Even though we see imagery of mermaids, Wake as a Poseidon-like God, and tentacled creatures, these things don’t exist except in Winslow’s mind.

Other movies and works of literature that The Lighthouse makes us think of

  • The writings of Herman Melville, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Night Tide, a 1961 supernatural film noir
  • Pulp Fiction and Kiss Me Deadly, both of which also feature strange objects that are unexplained to the audience
  • The Shining, which also features characters in isolation and threatened by an ax, an alcoholic caretaker, and mysterious or potentially supernatural phenomena.
  • The Fog
  • Black Swan
  • A Field in England 
  • Sleuth, another mystery yarn that features and involves only two characters

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