The Most Bizarre Film of 2019

Review of Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse”

The sun sets over the ocean, bathing it in ominous darkness. Given its imposing size and mysterious nature, it’s no wonder why so much superstition sprang up around the sea. 

David McGowan

The sun sets over the ocean, bathing it in ominous darkness. Given its imposing size and mysterious nature, it’s no wonder why so much superstition sprang up around the sea. 

Ben Haring, Staff Writer

Known previously for his period piece slash horror film “The Witch,” director Robert Eggers’ sophomore film “The Lighthouse” shocked moviegoers with its abstract storytelling, and dazzled film buffs with its unconventional cinematography techniques. It even appeased the ever-critical history buffs with its firm adherence to historical accuracy. Whether you are a casual watcher or a film junkie, this flick is sure to captivate you.

The first thing moviegoers noticed about “The Lighthouse” was its abnormal aspect ratio and its lack of color. Film nerds may recognize that this wasn’t achieved through shooting with a standard camera and changing the footage to grayscale in post production. Rather, The Lighthouse was filmed through a Baltar lens from the 1930s. Unlike black and white filters on digital cameras today, the antique lens allowed for a range of values that has yet to be matched by many modern cameras. With shadows being more prominent thanks to the black and white color scheme, textures become enhanced. As a result, everything in the film appears covered in a layer of grime, vastly contributing to the film’s unsettling cinematography. Also essential to the film’s atmosphere is the aspect ratio, which creates a feeling of claustrophobic dread in the viewer. Great care was obviously taken in every aspect of the film’s cinematography. The phrase “every frame, a painting” certainly applies in this case.

Then, there’s the steadfast devotion to historical accuracy. The costumes and architecture of the lighthouse were meticulously compared to their historical counterparts for maximum immersion. Shockingly, even the dialogue was carefully constructed with the dialect of the time period. Before writing the script, Eggers combed through countless primary sources. Sailors journals, letters, memoirs, anything that applied to the film’s 1800s nautical setting. It was through these sources as well that much of the maritime folklore and superstition seen throughout the film was gathered. Even if you don’t know much about 1800s seafaring culture, these details make the film seem all the more real.

Finally, a review of “The Lighthouse” would be incomplete without addressing the bizarre, sometimes seemingly incoherent storytelling. The film starts off relatively tame with our two protagonists arriving on a remote island for a one-month shift of tending to the titular lighthouse. But as the two spiral further into isolation and paranoia, the line between nightmare and reality blurs and eventually fades away completely. The film seems to mean whatever any given audience member believes it does. There have been analyses linking it to theology, mythology, power dynamics, and even sociology. Since its release, the film has been subjected to thousands of interpretations, with each viewer pulling their own unique meaning from it. As such, I will not be spoiling the film here. I highly encourage anyone interested in this movie to give it a try and form their own opinions on it. Fair warning, while it may not be correct to call “The Lighthouse” an outright horror film, it does contain numerous unsettling or downright disturbing sequences. But if you can brave it, “The Lighthouse” is a must see for anyone who enjoys quality, alternative cinema.