2019’s late cinematic delicatessen offered a unique spread of savory delights from the lauded offering of class struggle Parasite to the more palatable generational whodunit comedy Knives Out. But amongst that table of winter entertainment, there was one film that stood out amongst the rest in both tone and style. That film, of course, is The Lighthouse, a black and white film shot stubbornly in an 1.19:1 aspect ratio with orthochromatic film. This movie contains multitudes, spinning more of a myth than a true narrative that breaks down into a Promethean mindtrap of cosmic insanity, homoeroticism, abusive parental relationships, abusive gaslighting employer relationships, the spatiality of one’s conscience, cabin-fever, and a mythos of Greek, Pagan, and Christian pastiche mixed with American superstition that swells into a chorus sung of some forgotten yet familiar drunken sea shanty.
But the film now serves as a living piece of empathetic art, as it contains nearly every aspect of quarantined life within its runtime. Take for example…
Time No Longer Makes Sense
In the same way that three months have just passed in the blink of an eye, the grueling nature of experiencing those minutes tick by seems to drag along and occasionally appearing to stop altogether. Microwaving a burrito seems to take an hour and yet binge-watching the entire season of FX’s What We Do In The Shadows feels like it takes five minutes. The only certainty is that it’s later than it was before.
Think now of a particular scene when Old Tom complains of the dwindling rations and how Young Tom’s drunkenness led to the rations rotting. He passes into a doorway and returns, now desperately confused, saying, “How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Five days? Help me to recollect.”
This strikes a chord with those of us who are struggling to keep time without any given schedule. Without, say, my smartphone making note of when I drunkenly text my friends that I miss them, there would be no anchor, even though I could have sworn that yesterday was years ago.
First, props to all out there in recovery who are fighting the urge to relapse into addiction. You’re doing great and I’m in your corner.
For those of us who still indulge a tipple, however, the montage of Old and Young Tom power-housing bottles of whiskey after their rations went to rot became all too familiar during week two when the modest 48 cans of beer had been consumed and all that was left was a handle of Tequila that had an umlaut in the brand name. Suddenly, your aunt is posting #quarantini pics at ten in the morning and your ex is sending “new compositions” of his song for you at five in the morning. A blender full of margarita interrupts your ZOOM meeting.
We don’t judge here, because The Lighthouse has informed us that this is pretty par for the course.
But speaking of booze…
Your New Alchemical Talents
Right before the movie blows out into a full wiggety-whack (that is the scholar’s term for it) freakshow, Robert Pattinson’s Young Tom is seen dipping a pestle of what I assume is honey into a container of kerosene to replace their diminished alcohol. I would remind everyone that as far as I know, liquor stores are still very much open.
Once the hand sanitizer ran out and I, and perhaps yourself, began mixing a pitch of aloe vera into a pot of rubbing alcohol to synthesize a working substitute, I too felt as if I was on the verge of either madness or delirious genius. An old man and I (both masked and standing twelve feet apart) swapped home sanitization tips. He preferred a mixture of iodine and ethanol in use with absorbent gloves.
Whether you are confined in small quarters with your significant other, your roommate, or yourself, I’m sure we can all just take a moment to appreciate Robert Pattinson’s archaic Massachusetts accented delivery of his displeasure towards Old Tom’s gastro-intestinal butt-punches. As much as this movie is dark and weird and scary, it’s also funny as hell. Say it with me: “Your… FAHHHTS!”
The Frustrated Masturbation
Of course this is on the list. It’s like the free BINGO space of quarantine life. Feel no shame.
The first action Young Tom takes after moving into the quarters is to covet and hide a mermaid statuette as a dark pall crosses over his face. He repeatedly imagines making love to it–or depending on your read of the film, finally summons a mermaid to bump uglies with–but ultimately becomes frustrated with the attempt and destroys it with a broken knife.
I’ve witnessed some strange responses to the lack of sexual contact within my own community. Largely, it is a dire desperation for human touch and affection, which is both natural and understandable. Sexuality has been a thing that we’ve been individually hiding from each other, and often from ourselves, that we don’t understand how necessary it is to society until any recourse to intercourse has been removed.
In this way, we are like Young Tom, striking the hammer to the statue. Or like Old Tom, making love to the light itself.
There’s a lot of cum in this movie.
Perhaps it is with some optimism that I think that we have been faring better than Young Tom, as the thirst-trap economy is booming, PornHUB has been offering free premium services, and strippers and sexworkers are taking to paid-cam sites. So while you’re scrambling to “make-ends-meet” while the missus is taking a trip to the supermarket, just remember that you have more than an obtuse carving of a mermaid to get you along.
At the very least, we now have the phrase “Abusing himself in the workshed” to say through the door of your knocking, inquiring roommate.
We’re All Spilling Our Beans
The turning point of the film comes with the ominous phrasing of perhaps the silliest sentence. Yet, it works and it works hilariously. It is at once funny and sinister and it works so good, the phrase is repeated and it’s somehow scarier the second time as if the viewer had forgotten a nightmare only to be reminded of it innocuously during their daily toil:
“Why’d you spill your beans, Tommy? Why’d you spill your beans?”
It’s a reference to Young Tom confessing his sins to Old Tom, the maybe-murder of Ephraim Winslow. When he finally spills those beans, the film takes a Lynchian turn.
But upon our quarantined rock of solitude, the language of honesty is our biggest strength! Like the example above, I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing. People are complex and they need to out their complexities. Largely, you see it in outbursts of social media posts, folks you know showing a different side to them, whether it be arrogant, over-informative, shitty or flirtatious.
But people are sharing more, spilling more beans.
Perhaps it’s a Catholic thing for some people, but I have had a few folk call in to confess the thoughts they had that day. People live and people want to talk about their life. Even in quarantine, when lives are boring, I find that beautiful.
And while The Lighthouse posits many things, philosophically, filmicly, mythically, existentially, and even hyper-realistically, the film also endears us to the eccentric Willem Dafoe and the reserved and rightfully frustrated Robert Pattinson through their mealtime banter.
If nothing else, let’s keep this tradition of honesty and human connection going after this thing blows over.
Pierre Manchot currently writing a gothic horror series, The Dark Castellan, which you can begin reading here.