“The Lighthouse” (2019)

I’d intended to piggyback my last essay with reasons why American democracy is on the skids. But after Joe Biden’s narrow victory, I feel we’ve nudged just a bit closer to sanity, despite the yawning political, cultural, and racial divide that will continue to exist. We’ll see more attempts to subvert the democratic process while King of the Birthers, as everyone anticipated, gathers his Morlocks together to contest the results of perhaps the cleanest election in history. But to say anything more, right now, would be bad form.  

Instead, I’ll review a movie I recently watched. Movies can offer great escapism during these surreal times. They’re almost as effective as getting drunk, and there’s no hangover.

Those who know me know I prefer older things: older movies, music, novels, gas pump kiosks, et cetera. So it’s unusual for me to watch a recent film, like, one made in the last thirty years. The dear departed Sean Connery summed it up: those making Hollywood movies today are, quite frankly, “idiots.”

But while scrolling through Roku or one of those other bullshit TV toys, I saw the title, promo pic, and sea imagery for The Lighthouse and said “Cor blimey, greenpete, live dangerously!” I also admire Willem Dafoe’s acting. I saw him in Mississippi Burning, Platoon, and Born on the Fourth of July and, although these flicks have some flaws, I consider Dafoe a highlight. He’s a little weird, like Christopher Walken with human blood, so he’s always fun to watch.

With The Lighthouse, I looked forward to getting mentally entangled in a complex psychological drama. I didn’t expect to get stuck in simplistic psychological horror.

Here’s the “story”: two New Englanders from the 19th century (I think) convene at an island lighthouse for a four-week shift duty. Dafoe plays a crusty, veteran sea salt. Robert Pattinson is a younger, green-around-the-gills landlubber. Despite some minor cultural squabbles at the start, they seem to be handling the eerie isolation and crappy weather. Then, Salty Dog’s behavior takes on a sadistic turn, and Greenhorn begins hallucinating.

You may be thinking The Shining transferred to the seacoast. I thought so, too. But The Shining benefited from the cinematic genius of Stanley Kubrick. This film is actually closer in spirit to the one-note Shutter Island, but without a gimmick ending. While the B&W cinematography deserved its Oscar nomination, that’s the only good thing here, other than Dafoe’s entertaining Ahab shtick. There’s no backstory…or story proper. The whole film is a celebration of depravity. Here are some lowlights:

  • Greenhorn fucks a mermaid. (Or is he hallucinating?) And this is a 21st-century-styled mermaid, so she’s actually just a topless, thick-lipped runway model with a tailfin costume
  • Greenhorn violently masturbates to a toy figurine of his favorite mermaid
  • Greenhorn angrily flails a seagull against a wall for five minutes until the bird looks like a bloody rag. (Seriously, someone needs to contact PETA.)
  • Salty Dog farts loudly
  • While drunk, Salty Dog and Greenhorn dance cheek-to-cheek and nearly have homosexual sex. This scene is almost as nauseating as the seagull scene
  • Greenhorn makes Salty Dog bark and crawl on all fours with a rope leash around his neck
  • Greenhorn splits Salty Dog’s head in two with an axe. SPOILER ALERT (oops, sorry, too late).

I’m beyond my self-imposed space limit, so I’ll close. If you want to see how a skilled filmmaker handles gradual descents into madness, watch Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965). Don’t bother with this bilge water, which is, like our Demagogue-in-Chief, truly repulsive. Sean Connery was right.

Well, I’m headed back to TCM. And to watch our petulant child-president do what he does so well.

11 thoughts on ““The Lighthouse” (2019)

  1. Peter, I am actually surprised that you hung in there until the end. Anticipating your description I too thought of the Shining and of Repulsion. What you deliver sounds more like x-rank cinematic garbage. Why would anyone bother? Beyond a few porn shops in LA, who would produce this? And why would Willem stoop so low? Broke? Crazy? Bad agent? And weren’t you afraid your wife would pop in to see what you were watching? Or….no! Anyway thanks for the heads up. I am watching Bonanza.

    • Ha! Thanks for the comment, Hoss. Actually, my wife was sitting there and got glimpses, but had her earbuds on, watching something on her laptop, so didn’t get the full effect. I’ve been out of touch from recent Hollywood, so I don’t think I’m as numb to this trash as most folks. But it was pretty appalling. I’m actually OK with 70s-era porn, because you know exactly what you’re getting. But this shit comes disguised in all the wrappings of a big-budget serio-drama. How much lower will we sink? Oh well. She may be old-fashioned, but I’ll take Doris Day any day over this slop.

  2. Have you seen “Autofocus” with Willem Defoe and Greg Kinnear? The Bob Crane story. Another tale of descent into depravity. One of my favorites. Excellent 60s vintage goodness.

  3. Thanks for the head’s up. I will definitely be avoiding that one. However, I watched Thursday’s Jeopardy (I wanted to watch one in honor of Alex Trebek’s passing, so sad), and this movie was the answer to one of the questions. Good thing I waited till Sunday to watch it.

    • Hi WL. I’m surprised this flick infiltrated “Jeopardy.” Not sure how it fared at the box office, but knowing how tastes have changed (sunk), it probably did well. Yeah, we were saddened to hear about Trebek’s passing, too. He was a class act.

  4. My husband Tom turned it off after about 20-30 minutes. I too (like my cousin Lynn) was busy on my laptop with headphones. 😁 I looked up at the TV and said, “What happened to your movie?” Tom’s comments were similar to yours, Pete.

    • Hi Jennie…great to hear from you. Tom and I sound alike. Not sure why I sat through the whole thing…maybe I was expecting something redemptive to happen? Anyway, it didn’t happen, and the movie left me feeling depressed and dirty. Tom made the right choice!

  5. ‘Two piss tanks with real bad chemistry get stuck on an isolated piece of rock and go crazy”. How’s that for a bi-line .I think I liked it more than you did.
    Pete just dont be messing with seabirds, it’s bad luck.

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