Caught a screening of The Lighthouse at Angelika Film Center. Director Robert Eggers’ previous project, The Witch, was elegant in its simplicity, but his latest effort strips narrative minimalism down to the point of near abstraction: this movie is borderline indescribable, defying precise genre classification. Structurally, it borrows elements from black comedy and existential horror, but it lacks anything resembling a conventional plot; the “story” exists solely to justify laying out a buffet of scenery for Willem Dafoe (as a crusty old sea dog) and Robert Pattinson (as the severely put-upon greenhorn) to devour. Over the course of about two hours, we watch these characters’ tortured, twisted psyches gradually deteriorate as they spend several weeks tending the eponymous structure on a remote, fog-enshrouded island, trapped like prisoners in their cramped living quarters (made even more claustrophobic by the 1.19:1 aspect ratio); as time drags on and their relief crew fails to arrive on schedule, they fall into a self-destructive cycle of bickering, brawling, getting drunk, reconciling, singing chanteys, dancing jigs, vomiting, passing out, rinsing, and repeating. The sheer chemistry between the performers keeps the conflict afloat, going a long way towards compensating for the fact that all of the haunting, surreal imagery surrounding them doesn’t really hold any deeper significance.
Of course, The Lighthouse isn’t necessarily obliged to “mean” anything concrete. At the end of the day, it just… is. And while that probably won’t appeal to every viewer’s tastes, as far as I’m concerned, it’s enough.