The Lighthouse is a movie we’ve been waiting a month to see. Since its opening weekend my wife and I haven’t had two consecutive hours free during any weekend showtime. Now that we finally managed it, I’ve been left in a reverie. Robert Eggers, whose film The Witch opened to critical acclaim, has repeated the feat with this one. His movies require a lot of historical homework and the end results have a verisimilitude that pays the viewer handsomely. The details of the plot are ambiguous and the influence of King, Kubrick, Melville, Hitchcock, Poe, and Lovecraft are evident as two men in isolation grapple with insanity. Also obvious is Greek mythology, with one reviewer suggesting Tom Wake is Proteus and Ephraim Winslow is Prometheus. The end result is what happens when literate filmmakers take their talents behind a camera.
Naturally, the symbolism adds depth to the story. The eponymous lighthouse is phallic enough, but the light itself—often a central metaphor of religions—is, like God, never explained. Encountering the light changes a person, however, and the results can be dangerous, even as Rudolf Otto knew. This light shines in the darkness so effectively that no ships approach the island. The monkish existence of the keepers requires a certain comfort with the existential challenge of isolation, even if God is constantly watching. The light never goes out, even when a reprieve would be appreciated. Having reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark since the film opened, this makes some sense. Horror movies lead the viewer into such territory when they’re thoughtfully made.
The concept of light is central to at least two similar forms of religion that have moved beyond doctrinal Christianity. Both Quakerism and Unitarian Universalism emphasize the light as central to their outlooks. Whether it be divine or symbolic, light is essential to spiritual growth. In novels like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road the idea of an inner light keeps the father and son going. In The Lighthouse the external light, when taken internally, leads to madness. Since I watch horror with an eye toward religion—I do most things with an eye toward religion—I didn’t leave the theater disappointed. I knew that, like The Witch, I would need to see it again but when it comes down to the price range of one ticket for repeated viewings. Finding the time to get to the theater once was difficult enough, despite the payoff.