6 Reasons The Lighthouse is the Perfect Allegory for our Quarantined Lives

6 Reasons The Lighthouse is the Perfect Allegory for our Quarantined Lives

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

Time

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. 

The Drinking

Drinking

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

Alchemy

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. 

However.

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. 

Anyway. 

The Farts

farts

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

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

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.  

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Castle of Blood [Sample]

Castle of Blood [Sample]

The Dark Castellan series is in full swing. Here are some sample passages from Castle of Blood. If you would like to pre-order the book, please do so here. Enjoy.

 

i

Diary of Henri Le Brun

Paris, France

Entry, March 23rd, 1903

I had been making my usual nightly routine of a brisk promenade through the Parisian streets as usual when I came home to a disquieting dispatch from a former colleague from the Sûreté Nationale. I admit that I was not keen on immediately opening the letter as I had largely left policing matters behind me after I had suffered a series of palpitations that had left me unconscious for several days and required bedrest for many weeks afterwards. The physician that now attends me is adamant that I take course to invite morning and evening air into my lungs and to avoid any strenuous activity as well as any business that might cause my heart undue rigor. The contemptible doctor also tells me to avoid red meats and keep to a diet of fish and dark vegetables and red wine. The man has robbed me of the pleasures of cigars and brandy and has recommended that I switch to cigarettes and should I have want for spirits, to embellish the pour with mineral water.

The letter remained on the chair where I had dropped it until late evening, after I had supped on an unsatisfying meal and after delaying the task for as long as I could, I opened it and read the contents, wishing afterwards that I had left it sealed. The letter was addressed from a magistrate from the Ministry of the Interior and one that I knew quite well and one of the few that I still held any fondness for. That would one François Soulages and if the note had not been written and stamped with official letterhead and seal, I would have been happy to hear from him. I will transcribe the letter here for future referencing.

Monsieur Le Brun,

Hello my friend, it has been too long since we have last spoken. I pray that you have been recovering well although I was saddened to hear that you would not be returning to your duties any time soon. The ministry suffers a lack of personality with you gone and your absence is deeply felt by all who worked with you. I wish that I was writing you to describe personal matters as much has happened in my life and I would be eager to hear the events of yours, however, there is some business I must attend to and it would seem that you might be uniquely capable of solving a particular problem that has been plaguing the ministry. There appears to be a dispute in a rural municipality concerning the slaying of bovine farmstock. Generally, as you know, these matters are resolved to be the mere whims of nature, the culprit revealed to be a hungry wolf or daring badger, but the frequency of requests to send a magistrate to the village is staggering. I’ve wired the nearest municipal director of police but it would appear that lines of jurisdiction would be violated if they were to intercede, making this one of those petty national matters. My offices are currently lacking in manpower, much less an officer that would be able to make a trip so far into the country. I am disinclined to ask anything of you, as your service to this country has long been demonstrated and I know you have suffered for it. But I do not know Henri Le Brun to be a sickly man, but a robust investigator keen for the next challenge. Perhaps the countryside would also do you well. I will not force the issue should you refuse it, but it would mean a great deal to an old friend if you were to travel to Lons-le-Saunier prefecture and meet with the local brigadier of the constabulary to help aid any investigation into the wrongful harming of livestock in the surrounding area. I hope that you will take the opportunity and await your response.    

Mag. Francois Soulages

The insult of the letter was nothing less than an open palmed strike to my face. I dispensed the original copy to shreds and deposited it in the fireplace, alighting it with a match that I then took to a petite cigar. The flame took the page suddenly and after a flash, it cindered in black webs before dying into white ash. I felt as impotent as the fire and having lost my taste for the cigar, snubbed it out. I will read now to take my mind off things, as I feel my heart is agitated.

Later: Novels do me no good, nor does the evening dispatch. I am ruminating ever on the act of pitying kindness from my former friend Soulages. That I have fallen so far as to become a wretched errand boy—no, a judge presiding over barnyard livestock—burns me to little end. I put these words down in the hopes that I might void the matter from my mind. I am ready for sleep and I do not want to dream fitfully, or cling to this resentment.

ii

Entry, March 24th

In the morning I felt very much the fool for having borne any hatred towards Francois. My morning promenade took me through the foggy channels of Paris—I’m afraid our spring has yet to catch up to the calendar— and I returned to my apartment to break fast with a few slices of toasted bread and a smear of camembert with a dollop of currant. I returned to this diary to reread the words and my feelings of disgust were reignited. I nearly thought to tear the pages from the journal and cast them into the fire but that ritual had done so little to quell my fury the night previous that I applied no effort to indulge the impulse. I am due for an appointment with my physician. He will want to know why I am so agitated. I think I will tell him of the troubling letter and leave out the details of the cigar. He will give authority over my refusal to accept the task and vindicate any guilt I might experience for such a blunt response. 

The damn physician is a quack! I’ll write it here the exchange so it will not trouble me later. I came to his offices so that he might examine my physic and when I made mention of the letter that Francois Soulages had sent me, the imposter agreed with the bloody magistrate! He said that in his studies of the mental physic, engaging in tasks with a defined goal would benefit the body as well as the mind. I argued with the man, saying that he had told me to refrain from any strenuous activity. His response, “Getting on a train and examining the remains of a few bovine carcasses does not sound like too much of a strain.” I had hoped that I had an ally within the doctor, but it would seem that I am as lonesome as I ever was in any of my efforts. I must sit down to luncheon and hope that the matter leaves my mind some quiet. 

I cannot focus on my book and I fear that this anxiety has not let the ham sandwich sit well in my stomach. I will take an early stride through town until my nerves and belly cooperate. 

Upon returning from my walk, I found another letter courier-expedited in my mail slot. It was another from François and this time, I ripped it open with haste so that I could sooner hate his pitying words. I read it once and then again more carefully. I set it down on the table and made myself a coffee and returned to it to read a third time. I shall clip the margins of the letterhead and paste it inside this diary. Transcription is too much of an effort for me as of now. 

Letter Insert

In the hand of François Soulages

Sealed with the stamp of the Ministry of the Interior, Paris

Monsieur Le Brun,

 I fear that my last letter may have been too hastily written and I may have incurred some insult upon you. It was not my design to wound the pride of such an esteemed officer of French security such as yourself as I well know the efforts you have plied to ensure the surety of our people. It is regretful that a mind such yours should be put to waste as your cunning has demonstrated time and again to ably penetrate the obfuscation of truth. Mark that it is for no little matter that I wish to employ you. Since I have last written, I have received no less than three more messages of livestock mutilation. As the first were bovine, these new complaints concerned swine. The nature of their mutilation might interest you in that their carcasses were displayed in such a fashion that no animal could have designed. Police in Lons-le-Saunier are still unsure of their legal recourse to intervene and it requires a third party to investigate. They have told me that they would assist you with what they can. I know that you are a man of little spoken affect, and none at all if the thought of response displeases you, but I ask that you reconsider your silence and position of acceptance. I have little agency to dispense any officers into a region so far as there are pressing matters in the north that have unfortunately usurped our resources. It would be no small favor if you inclined to accept. I await your reply eagerly. 

Mag. François Soulages

I have finished my coffee and my third reading of the letter. It strikes me that flattery must be the principal tool of the ministry these days which is a sad state of affairs. Flattery rankles less than passive insult, however, and I was not displeased to read the heaping praise Soulages poured over my abilities as an investigator. My coffee is finished. I shall do some tidying up and return to this journal when I have taken my evening promenade. 

My evening jaunt consisted of passing over a bridge, stopping at a butcher’s and peering through the window, and strolling through a park moistened by the evening fog. I was struck with a fit of rheumatism on my journey home, for it would seem that this air is yet too wet for my lungs. My heart had a flutter and I was made to stop and relax myself. Perhaps the city is not the right place for my recuperation. I admit, before scrawling in these pages, I skimmed the passages previous since my embolism. It would appear that I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner and the only sights I’m willing to see are limited to the butcher’s shop and a petit and often foggy park. I dared not look at the passages previous Celine’s passing. I cannot bear to. I poured myself a brandy and mineral water and stressed François’s issue into my temples. I could not deny that the new information held some new intrigue over me. I must think on this. 

Perhaps it was the brandy but I removed a leaf of paper from a folder and wrote a reply to François. There is no need for transcription but I kept my language cordial and made no indication of my previous mood. I accepted the offer and inquired about particulars concerning travel and dates and persons of whom I would have need of introduction. I sealed the letter in an envelope and brought it to a peddling courier. Walking back upstairs, I regretted it. I prepared a meal of fish and potato and relished no flavor. It is time for bed. God help me, I hope I have not done anything foolish.

If you would like to read more, please pre-order the book for Kindle or buy it in paperback in late February. If you still haven’t read the precursor, Castle of Shadow, please do that now or suffer the ghosts of mirrors for all times. CoB_cover_small