Robert Eggers’ most recent masterpiece, The Lighthouse, is a black and white depiction of an insular maritime setting where two men share their solitudes. The film narrates the relationship between two lighthouse keepers, who navigate through scenes of peace and conflict.
The narration occurs in New England at the end of the 19th century, yet the name of the specific setting is not mentioned. Thus, the sense of “no man’s land” is emphasised. The insular atmosphere creates a space of incertitudes and distortions. In fact, the two protagonists share their existential fragilities as well as their physical strengths. Their fights develop in crescendo, leading ultimately to death.
The images on the screen, almost like photographs or paintings, are an elixir for the eye of a cinemagoer. I was blown away by the sublime details of the facial expressions: Ephraim Winslow’s frown and Thomas Wake’s creased eyes add depth to the film. Every gesture is crafted to heighten tension. The diner scenes offer close ups, which unveil the emotions of the protagonists, who try to dissimulate their fragilities behind their manhoods.
The Lighthouse has multiple protagonists. One of them is a seagull, which Thomas refers to as “the heart of sailors”. The seagull gets into a fight with Ephraim and is somehow humanised in so doing, since it physically challenges the man who in turn dehumanises himself. The reification of the latter is perceivable at the end, when he kills his boss and enemy out of frustration and despair.
The mermaid motif and Thomas’s book have strong roles to play in furthering the plot. The mermaid stands for femininity. In the midst of his solitude, Ephraim masturbates, whilst the camera focuses upon the little statue of the siren. The latter haunts the mind of this physically strong, yet emotionally vulnerable man. The book lays at the heart of the escalating conflict between Thomas and his seemingly disturbing alter-ego. The book is a space of secrets and revelations, which arrive at the shore gradually.
Vincenzo Cardarelli’s poem Gabbiani – seagulls in Italian – resonated with me after watching this movie; its existential message serves as a point of departure for those who have not yet seen The Lighthouse. The wandering and philosophising in between the waves of this poem resonate with the themes of this movie.
Gabbiani by Vincenzo Cardarelli:
Non so dove i gabbiani abbiano il nido,
ove trovino pace.
Io son come loro,
in perpetuo volo.
La vita la sfioro
com’essi l’acqua ad acciuffare il cibo.
E come forse anch’essi amo la quiete,
la gran quiete marina,
ma il mio destino è vivere
balenando in burrasca.
Seagulls, a translation by Salomé Melchior:
I do not know where the seagulls keep their nest,
where they find peace.
I am like them,
in perpetual flight.
I skim over life,
like they do over the water to pinch food.
Perhaps like them, too,
I love stillness,
the great maritime stillness,
yet my destiny is to live
striking on in the storm.