The sum total of what I knew before walking into the theater to see “The Lighthouse” last night: “Two guys in a lighthouse, and things go south.” Wasn’t hard to foresee a taut psychological thriller, full of insight into the difficulty of human relations set amidst the extreme conditions of solitude that residing in a lighthouse would bring. Count me in!
What I wasn’t ready for—and quickly had to steel my defenses against—was an unrelenting 109 minutes (felt like 109 hours…) of human misery, wretchedness, crudity, homoerotic violence, loud clanging noises from the lighthouse, loud farting noises from an ancient mariner’s lower orifice, flashbacks, hallucinations, guilt, desperate masturbation, mermaid sex, hostile seagulls, even more hostile seas, and having to look at Willem Dafoe’s artfully rotted teeth, which showed prominently behind the beard that often seemed to contain outsized shards of previously consumed meals, expectorations, and Lord-only-knows-what-other effluvia cast up from the dark maw of unmitigated human degradation.
No, a good time was not had by all.
To be fair, “The Lighthouse” turned out to be a horror movie rather than psychological thriller, though there was psychology aplenty (that no therapist in his or her right mind would get within an ocean of).
Director and co-screenwriter (with his brother) Robert Eggers apparently scored a hit with his first Sundance-debuted feature in 2015, “The Witch,” which followed the travails of a 17th century Puritan family squaring off against supernatural evil in the dark New England woods.
The grunts and shouts of two humans reduced to their lowest, periodically berserk animal selves is so overwhelming in its claustrophobia and assault on decency that I found a basic human defense kicking in: I laughed.
Eggers moves his protagonists east from those woods into the even more forsaken environs of an Atlantic Ocean outpost off Maine for his followup second feature. One wonders what he did during his directorial hiatus: indulge in the years-long fever dream that would seemingly have been required to conjure some of the shocking imagery bursting forth from this epically loathsome film?
Not that it is utterly devoid of content. “The Lighthouse” takes grimness and grayness—visual, auditory, psychological, ultimately spiritual—to truly impressive depths.
But the haunting black-and-white imagery, the landscape beset by lashing rain and fog and excrement, the relentless grinding of lighthouse metal, the mourn of the foghorn, the shrieks of seagulls, the grunts and shouts of two humans reduced to their lowest, periodically berserk animal selves, is so overwhelming in its claustrophobia and assault on decency that I found a basic human defense kicking in: I laughed.
What else is one to do—expose one’s tender nervous system and psyche to the pummeling of deeply disturbed individuals vomiting up the worst of their malformed humanity? Not an option, that.
Could have walked out, to be sure. But I was part of a small group, so I didn’t want to presume anything or create awkwardness among my fellow film-goers. And besides which, once I laughed, put my hand to my cheek in that kind of curious-wondering gesture, and thus erected my own psychological barriers against the sensory assault, I made a parlor game of the same morbidly fascinating question that millions of Americans are asking of our current resident in the White House: How much lower can he go?
The answer in both cases, after three years of observing the verbal assaults by Mr. Trump and nearly two hours last night confronting Mr. Eggers’s visual, auditory and story-telling assaults: a lot lower than I could possibly have imagined.
Critics have mostly loved the film, though many with grave reservations. My favorite polarized views: “A bold, risk-taking work from a true cinematic visionary,” and ” A turgid, miserable, homoerotic dirge…” Here: have a peek!
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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: email@example.com
Lighthouse photo by Paul Johnston, UK https://www.flickr.com/photos/unkiepaul/