The Lighthouse – Commenting On

From acclaimed director of 2015’s, ‘The VVitch,’ Robert Eggers once again delivers a true haunting piece of art with his 2019 release, ‘The Lighthouse’. Shrouded in mysticism, the film recognises elements of traditional mythology, as well as forging a path ahead into a new interpretation of morality and connection. On an unknown island in an unspecified time period, two lighthouse keepers (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) must maintain their place of inhabitance and ensure that the light keeps burning. Whilst Dafoe’s character resides on the island permanently, Pattinson has been employed for a four week period, but events quickly spiral out of control which may prevent him from leaving so easily.

From early in the narrative, Dafoe warns Pattinson of the danger that comes from harming a sea-bird, warning that “they hide the souls of lost sailors.” No matter what comes to fruition from such a warning, it seems clear that the writers – Eggers brothers Robert and Max – are making reference to the ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,’ a 19th century poem by acclaimed Romantic Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The stanzas warn of a sea captain who kills an albatross after it helps himself and his crew find safe passage away from an ice jam, resulting in an encounter with a personified idea of Death, which ultimately leads the loss of the entire crew – save for the captain. When first killed, the poet describes how it “’Twas right, said they, such birds to slay, That bring the fog and mist,” Within ‘The Lighthouse,’ the keepers also experience a change of wind after similar events, with Dafoe’s character exclaiming, “It’s the calm before the storm, Winslow. She were a gentle westerly wind you’re cursing.” The parallels between both narratives show signs of clear influence, but the Eggers brothers take on their own interpretation of how such events may play out when developing the narrative of ‘The Lighthouse.’

For stealing fire from the gods and providing it as a gift to humanity in Greek Mythology, Prometheus was sentenced to an eternity bound to a rock, as an eagle –the emblem of Zeus – plucked at his liver. Once again, the narrative of the ‘The Lighthouse,’ returns to ideas of traditional mythology and draws clear cinematic influence from such an idea of punishment, which are in some cases replicated by a shot-for-shot retelling of the myth. When usually incorporated into literary texts, such as Shelley’s “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus,” this Greek myth is closely associated with the idea of the hubris, where an individual works at a level which should only be achieved by the Gods. In Shelley’s novel, Dr Frankenstein never reaps the rewards of his hubristic achievements – and much the same could be said for the lighthouse keepers in Eggers film. As the fantastical blurs into the factual, and the intensity of the film begins to ramp up, the blocking, cinematography and lighting all begin to drift towards the insane, whilst the narrative remains contrastingly grounded in reality. Even in appearance, Dafoe can be seen as a reanimation of Zeus, whilst the younger and leaner Pattinson takes up the role of Prometheus. However, the story is not as clear-cut as that of the traditional myth, with the morality and intentions of the keepers corrupted by the drinking habits, relentless work and uncertainty on the length of time in which they have been on the island. As Dafoe sadistically mutters, “Help me to recollect.”

Once again considering the influence that Greek mythology has on Robert Egger’s directing and writing, we must concern ourselves with the ideas presented in Sisyphus’ story. A cruel Greek king, Sisyphus was damned to eternity pushing a boulder up a hill, only for it to fall back down whenever he neared the top. Throughout ‘The Lighthouse,’ there are very clear reflections on such an idea found within the cinematography and performance of the film, as the actions and moral choices of certain characters result in a punishment which reflects what the Greek king endured as a result of his punishment. Perhaps there is no simpler adaptation of this story than the light which transfixes Pattinsons character, which appears to be unreachable, as a result of either his own physical limitations, the presence of Dafoe and his locks and keys, or a mental barrier which once again strays into the territory of the mythical.

Though such analysis of film can at first appear as unnecessary or clutching at straws, I do believe that the way in which different pieces of media can influence one another is important to consider, especially when the original texts cross centuries and borders to become a part of something new. ‘The Lighthouse’ is a testament to the power of writers who appreciate what has come before, and seek to create something original.

Misbehaviour – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, Rhys Ifans and Greg Kinnear.
Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe
Written by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe
Length: 106mins

Philippa Lowthorpe’s ‘Misbehaviour’ documents the chaotic events surrounding the 1970 Miss Universe competition held in London. A fiercely important story for the Women’s Liberation Movement paralleled with a fight for racial equality. The audience follow two activists, Sally Alexander (Knightley) and Jo Robinson (Buckley) as they put their own differences aside to fight for the change they want to see; but we are also given insight to the the view of the competitors. Screenwriters Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe present a variety of “feminist” positions without confidently stating their own and though some have criticised this, I think that the film encourages it’s viewers to go on a journey with all of the characters and develop their own standpoint.

As is true with many films based on real events, it’s difficult to judge how much should have been included. To take on two (arguably three) main storylines does present challenges and I think it’s particularly difficult in this situation. There’s some brilliantly important moments in this story that highlight massive issues surrounding racism in 1970, not just in England but globally, and this movie draws some attention to this but due to the compact nature of focal events of the film, it feels like it gets sidelined. While the main narrative of the story focuses on the movements of Ms Alexander and Ms Robinson, we get that small glimpse inside the competition. To see the shift of allowing the first black South African contestant and, significantly, where 1970 also saw saw Grenada’s Jennifer Hosten (the formidable Gugu Mbatha-Raw) become the first black Miss World.

Generally I think this is an easy watch. It’s entertaining, it keeps moving and it highlights several important issues. The performances of Keira Knightley and Jessie Buckley were great; although portraying very different people, they come across with a united strength which fits the narrative and I imagine the real life people behind their characters. Gugu Mbatha-Raw delivers a really strong performance, the quiet strength of her character, draped in the grace and elegance of a beauty queen is an enticing combination that really captures the audiences heart. She’s interesting to watch, the humanity of her situation, steely determination and utter desire to win this competition which was so important, not only to her but to a generation of young black girls, really stole the show for me.

Perhaps if it was a work of fiction some might find it a little dull, but in my opinion the truth behind the story keeps it interesting, particularly with the ending. It’s not a big blockbuster but an entertaining film with important truths behind the story.

Children of Men – Review

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Rating: 15
Cast: Clive Owen, Claire Hope-Ashitey, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Charlie Hunnam
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Written by Alfonso Cuaron, David Arata, Timothy J. Sexton, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby and P.D. James
Length: 109mins

For many of us, in time such as these when the future looks uncertain, films fulfil their role in our lives as escapism – a distraction from the unparalleled situation that we now find ourselves in. For others, times like these require an indulgence into the more post-apocalyptic world of cinema. If that’s the case for you, there may be no better film than Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 masterpiece, ‘Children of Men.’

We lay our scene in 2027 Britain, a decaying society that has found its downfall in humanity’s seeming inability to reproduce. The youngest person on the planet is eighteen, and for everyone else the future looks uncertain. Our anchor to this world rests upon the shoulders of political bureaucrat Theo Faron (Clive Owen), whose past surrounds itself more with the chaotic world of protests and riots. When he finds himself reunited with an old flame, the future of humanity is thrust upon him in the form of a pregnant young woman, and it becomes Theo’s sole purpose to ensure the woman and her child safely reach the enigmatic utopia of The Human Project.

For Cuaron, the narrative presented within his work never seems to be told directly from any exposition or dialogue, but rather the world of his films. It’s the cinematography and set design in ‘Children of Men’ that truly demonstrate the world in a more successful way than any dialogue ever could. A theme throughout most of his work, the way that his camera seems to get lost within the worlds of ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ or ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ provides a subjectivity to his work that allows for an insight into how the world plays out, even when no recognisable characters are present.

It’s undeniable that the apocalyptic state of the world within this film is messy. The background of every shot is cluttered, and the score appears to be derived almost entirely from songs that the characters play themselves, as well as the chaotic noise of their surroundings. Furthermore, the film doesn’t fall into the convention of maintaining one group of people who stay together to protect the precious cargo for the entire journey. People die, people can’t be trusted and people get lost in the mess of a world falling apart.

It’s very clear that every moment of ‘Children of Men’ has been particularly designed to convey some greater message that cannot always be articulated through language. In the music of Radiohead’s ‘Life in a Glasshouse’ and King Crimson’s ‘Court of the Crimson King’ we find reference to two periods of music that focus on an explicit message. The former provides an insight into the world’s more contemporary political climate, and the latter an examination of the tyranny that King Crimson were so infatuated with during the creation of their progressive sound in the 1960’s. Furthermore, the presence of an inflatable floating pig in one particularly scene, where a power station lies in the background, harks back to Pink Floyd’s 1977 album ‘Animals.’ Itself a take on George Orwell’s earlier novel ‘Animal Farm,’ this allows for reference to Stalin’s soviet reign over Russia from the 20’s to the 50’s – itself an examination of tyranny – and mirrors the role that the government have played within the world of ‘Children of Men.’

To conclude, though ‘Children of Men’ may not be the most uplifting film to watch during our current situation, I do believe it to be an important watch, demonstrating how in times of need, we must be there for one another. More than just an exploration into a fantasy world, the film serves to inform the viewer on how we are shaped by what it is we do for others – a true demonstration of just how powerful this medium can be.

Military Wives – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Sharon Horgan, Jason Flemyng, Emma Lowndes and Gaby French.
Directed by Peter Cattaneo
Written by Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard
Length: 112mins

Military Wives is a delightfully British, ‘inspired by real events’, heart warmer that tells the story of a group of wives left trying to keep their minds off their partners recent deployment. As our group of brilliantly normal women pull together to create a choir we experience a glimpse into the lives of military families as well the two choir leaders who regularly lock horns – the laid back Lisa (Horgan) and the highly strung Kate (Thomas), who are dealing with their own personal challenges at the same time as trying to keep spirits high and create something to be proud of.

Without a complex plot this movies asks you to look more at the individual characters, it’s scattered with easy laughs and a few moments that make it’s audience reach for the tissues. But at it’s core it reminds us that each family has it’s own ‘stuff’ and that despite our issues we can pull together, have fun and support one another. It’s a fairly unique setting as almost all of the action is on a military base, but that doesn’t alienate it’s audience. They delve into the complexities of the lifestyle that may differ to our own, just giving us subtle reminders (mostly through the role of Frankie) that living on a base is quite different to the day to day lives of those who don’t.

Majority of films that involve the military these days hold a clear stance on the politics surrounding the war that is a part of the story. One thing this film does very well is manage to avoid discussing politics. It somehow manages to maintain quite a neutral stance on the ‘bigger picture’, allowing the audience to empathise and connect with characters with whom the war is very much a part of their lives. I suppose the key here is that it isn’t a war film, that the focus isn’t on combat or politics. It’s presenting the lives of people left at home, while loved ones are doing their jobs on deployment, and finding a joy that can help themselves, each other and with the chance of bringing hope to others around them.

I have heard some remarks of disappointment that it isn’t an exact retelling of the true events. For those who aren’t aware, BBC 2 produced a programme called ‘The Choir: Military Wives’ which climaxed with a performance of the Festival of Remembrance. Our film mirrors the reality to some degree, but only really with the fact it’s about a Military Wives choir who are working towards a performance at the Festival of Remembrance. Brilliantly written by Rachel Tunnard and Rosanne Flynn, it allows us to empathise with a group of characters who represent many peoples reality.

This is another movie that isn’t going to have you on the edge of your seat, you can see where it’s going and typically how it’s going to get there. I urge you not to let this put you off; Military Wives is an easy but emotional watch that reminds you of a reality that might worry some, but encourages hope and is a wonderfully uplifting piece.

The Lighthouse – Review

Rated: 15
Cast: Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe
Directed by Robert Eggers
Written by Robert and Max Eggers
Length: 110mins

Enchanting, mystical and truly enthralling; director Robert Egger’s invites the audience into a surreal environment with his latest effort, ‘The Lighthouse.’ Born out of extensive research into the lives led by lighthouse keepers throughout the late 18th, early 19th century, this narrative follows two lighthouse workers as they maintain the island that they inhabit. The elder keeper, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), has inhabited the island for an unspecified, but lengthy period, but the younger of the two, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), is set to only keep the light for a few weeks before moving on. Needless to say, not everything runs its necessary course, and the events that transpire are deliriously thrilling.

From the very first moment that Pattinson and Dafoe stand side by side on screen, glaring at the audience as if judging them for their voyeuristic interest, you can tell that this film is something special. The duo’s performances are undeniably one of the greatest elements of this masterpiece. Pattinson’s descent into madness is only bested by the mystical articulation that Dafoe applies to his own character, and altogether, whether it be the dialect, physical performance or general atmosphere, these two actors provide two of the greatest performances of the year.

‘The Lighthouse’ is a brilliant example of creating an overall atmosphere that is maintained throughout an entire narrative. Robert Egger’s choice to present the story in black and white, as well as the nearly square 1. 19:1 aspect ratio truly envelops the audience in the idea that what we are witnessing is the tale of two rough lightkeepers off the ragged shores of some unknown area of the Americas. Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke worked closely with the director to achieve this aesthetic, employing the use of 35mm film and vintage camera lenses from the 1930’s that reminisce on the classic horrors of ‘Nosferatu’ and ‘Dr Caligari.’ Through such an unorthodox style, everything within the world becomes a part of the overall intoxicating atmosphere of this fantasy.

Despite the cinematography and performances being so good, Mark Korven’s score still rivals them for the greatest element of this film. Incorporating the body-shaking blasts of a foghorn into his composition, the score reiterates the dangers that lie in wait. Any moment in which you feel settled into the narrative, the disturbing noise sounds once again, and once again the audience is plunged into the wracking tension that forms so much of ‘The Lighthouse’s’ twisted tale.

Not only did Robert Eggers excellently direct this film, but he also co-wrote the screenplay with his brother, Max Eggers. Known for their thorough research into any topic that they wish to adapt for the screen, the mythical elements of the story and the incredible scenes of dialogue reflect such a care and consideration for authenticity. The film was inspired by an Edgar Allen Poe story, ‘The Light-House,’ which presents the diary of a lighthouse keeper, but was unfinished due to Poe’s death, and concludes with the line, “The basis on which the structure rests seems to be chalk.” Just as this keeper fears for the structure of his inhabitance, the audience fears for the downfall of the relationship between Pattinson and Dafoe’s characters, which is made further complex by the dialect with which both characters speak. Poetic monologues inhabit some of the film’s greatest moments, reflecting director Egger’s emphatic appreciation for the works of filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman and writers such as Edgar Allen Poe.

There is a true mysticism to what has been created by the Egger’s brothers, and the articulation of these ideas has been told with exact precision in all elements of the films production, resulting in one of the greatest films of the year, and the one of the greatest tales for a long time.