Tag Archives: Robert Pattinson

‘Drowning in Spilled Beans: The Method Behind the Madness in The Lighthouse’ — A Video Essay by Joel Hatton

 

 

Drowning in Spilled Beans: The Method Behind the Madness in The Lighthouse

 

Immediately after my initial viewing of The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, 2019), I was certain it was going to enter the catalogue of my personal favourite films. However, while some of the merits of the film are immediately obvious, specifically the sensational performances and stunning cinematography, it was a decidedly difficult task to discern how the film was able to instil such a deep feeling of fear and dread. The narrative follows a character going mad, but the mere depiction of insanity is not altogether unusual. There is a multitude of films that deal with the topic of madness, but few of them can replicate the creeping unease Eggers creates in the world of The Lighthouse. Upon delving through the footage, it quickly becomes apparent that the film’s strength as a psychological character study lies not just in what it shows, but rather how it shows it.

A film that quickly became a key point for comparison was The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980). The similarities between the two films are numerous and well documented – from thematic narrative links (such as the common idea of madness emanating from isolation) to visual links (such as the image of someone running away from an axe wielding maniac). However, a link less touched upon is the unusual use of form to convey madness. The Shining provides one of the most famous examples of the 180-degree rule being broken, during the interaction between the protagonist and a spectral waiter. The invisible plane in a scene that the camera never crosses is a rule adhered to by the overwhelming majority of modern films, and thus the breaking of it has to be considered both intentional and significant. In this scene it serves the function of disorienting the audience, the unusual and unexpected angle clearly conveying to the audience that something is amiss. Even if an audience member is not consciously aware of the rule, the idea is so deeply ingrained in standard editing and cinematography that the breaking of it will have a subconscious effect. While this idea is not directly replicated in The Lighthouse, there are multiple occasions where Eggers seems to toy with our assumptions regarding film editing and structure to create a similar effect.

The essay divides its points into two main categories; those related to the overall visual style of the film and those that are related to the use of perspective, both visually and narratively, with both sections touching upon the idea of subverting traditional cinematic conventions (based on a mixture of personal observations and the idea of continuity editing outlined by David Bordwell) in order to make the audience feel disconcerted. The first section was a critical inclusion simply because the visual style of The Lighthouse is so remarkably striking. The bold choice to shoot in monochrome as well as a seldom used 1.19:1 aspect ratio dominates the aesthetic experience of the film.

Bait (Mark Jenkin, 2019) became a key point for comparison in this regard due to being another recent film that is shot in black and white while utilising an unconventional aspect ratio (4:3). In Bait, it seems clear that this was to cement the idea of time in the film’s presentation since the narrative heavily focuses on the conflict between modernity and tradition. It would be easy to come to a similar conclusion for The Lighthouse, since implementing unusual techniques in order to establish a historical setting is clearly something Eggers is not opposed to, based on his use of accurate historical dialogue in both of his feature films. He frequently uses primary historical sources in order to craft authentic dialogue, such as the diary of Cotton Mather (a key figure in the Salem witch trials) for The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015) and old nautical dictionaries for The Lighthouse.

Despite these compelling reasons for labelling the incorporation of these choices as an effort to accentuate the setting, there is reason to believe they serve another purpose by revealing details on Winslow’s feelings and state of mind. Firstly, there is the ambiguity brought on by the lack of colour and the claustrophobia aroused by the narrow frame, both of which serve as visual manifestations of Winslow’s mental struggle. Secondly, the fact the frame differs from the norm means it works to play with our assumptions, since we are used to having a much wider field of view. In The Lighthouse, this area of the frame is still vital in communicating meaning, precisely because we are accustomed to it being utilised. It is not empty space, but rather hidden space, an area that we would usually expect to be visible completely concealed by impenetrable black walls.

The second section focuses on perspective, namely how we are set up in alignment with Winslow and how the events that unfold are rendered much more affecting because of this alignment. The fact we follow him almost exclusively, combined with the cinematography used, results in a certain level of trust and sympathy from us as viewers. This works to create a great sense of unease when this character betrays this trust by acting in a deranged manner or making a surprising confession about his shady past (made all the worse by the fact images shown to us in his sexual fantasies appear to contradict his claim of innocence). Moreover, as the film progresses there a several instances where Winslow’s perception regarding the passage of time is brought into question. After previously setting us up in a position where we experience time as he does (cutting to black when he is rendered unconscious etc.) this revelation that large chunks of time may be missing from the narrative is highly distressing. Overall, this results in putting the audience in the uncomfortable position of being closely tethered to a man whose background, motives and state of mind have all been exposed as highly questionable.

In conclusion, this essay aims to shed some light on some overlooked elements of The Lighthouse and establish why those aspects work to make the film an effective psychological horror.

 

Bibliography

Bordwell, D. (2002). Intensified continuity visual style in contemporary American film. Film Quarterly, 55(3), 16-28.

Bordwell, D., Thompson, K., & Smith, J. (1993). Film art: An introduction (Vol. 7). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Haughton A. The Historical Accuracies of The Witch Part 3 (Dialogue) (2017) https://www.viddy-well.com/articles/the-historical-accuracies-of-the-witch-part3

Fleming, M. Z., Piedmont, R. L., & Hiam, C. M. (1990). Images of madness: Feature films in teaching psychology. Teaching of psychology, 17(3)

Magliano, J. P., Miller, J., & Zwaan, R. A. (2001). Indexing space and time in film understanding. Applied Cognitive Psychology: The Official Journal of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 15(5), 533-545.

Magliano, J. P., & Zacks, J. M. (2011). The impact of continuity editing in narrative film on event segmentation. Cognitive science, 35(8), 1489-1517.

Robinson T. ‘It was a learning curve for everyone’: Robert Eggers on The Lighthouse’s tech experiments (2019) https://www.theverge.com/2019/10/18/20921056/the-lighthouse-robert-eggers-director-interview-behind-the-scenes-robert-pattinson-willem-dafoe

Filmography

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

Community S2E20 (Tristram Shapeero, 2011)

American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)

The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, 2019)

Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)

Midsommar (Ari Aster, 2019)

Bait (Mark Jenkin, 2019)

The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015)

One Week (Buster Keaton & Edward F. Cline, 1920)

Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)

Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018)

Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 252 – Tenet – Second Screening

 

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

Birmingham’s full-size IMAX cinema closed in 2011, having proved unprofitable (the independent venue it became, the Giant Screen, closed four years later for the same reason), so it’s off to the Manchester Printworks, home of the second-largest screen in the UK, for our second viewing of Tenet. We ask whether the full IMAX experience is worth it, Mike comparing the feeling of the images offered to those he saw in Dunkirk and The Dark Knight; José argues that it’s detrimental to the film to be exhibited in different cinema formats, as shooting in IMAX’s 1.43:1 aspect ratio, where the film is supposedly best seen, with the knowledge that it’ll be cropped for conventional cinema screens for its wide release and home media, means that artistic, interesting composition is impossible – you can’t compose well for two frames at once.

Mike suggests that an easily overlooked pleasure of Christopher Nolan’s cinema is turning his films over in your own head, playing with the logic, asking questions of it and trying to unlock the puzzle box – something he’s been doing since his first screening, and which we both spend some time on after this one. Laying out the timeline, speculating on what might happen that we’re not shown – this isn’t the first of Nolan’s films to invite that type of reflection. And Mike describes the pleasure of understanding things that aren’t hidden but simply too many to grasp all at once the first time – now that he broadly knows the film, things that left him confused at first now smoothly fall into place.

We reflect again on the film’s score, performances, and action scenes, finding that rather than changing our initial impressions, this second viewing helps us to perceive and explain better what made us feel the way we did at first. We find more to discuss – the use of Elizabeth Debicki’s height, the cost of Nolan’s adherence to achieving visual effects without the use of CGI, the pleasure of the way in which Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character interacts with the heroes, whether Mike is just shit at watching spy movies – but our overall experience hasn’t changed. What we liked, we still like; what we didn’t, we still don’t.

(Mike’s short film, which he claims was harder to make than Tenet, can be seen below. It’s probably worth mentioning that if you still don’t know what Tenet is about, watching this could constitute a spoiler of sorts – after all, Mike brought it up because of its vague similarities.)

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 251 – Tenet

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

After a long wait and three delays, Christopher Nolan’s latest high-concept blockbuster, Tenet, has finally arrived in British cinemas. This description is a spoiler-free zone, but the podcast is decidedly not, so tread carefully before you listen: We spill every secret the film has to hold. The ones we could figure out, anyway.

Following our revisitation of five of Nolan’s massive flicks – the DarkKnight trilogyInterstellar, and Inception – we’re keen to see how Tenet fits amongst its brethren. We consider, as we have done repeatedly, Nolan’s action direction, the aesthetic design, the tone, the concept that drives everything, how it’s explained, what we love, what let us down, and, well… to detail anything further would be indecent.

Mike is gobsmacked by it, finding brilliance in some of the film’s execution, though is keen to make more than a few criticisms. José is much colder towards it, dismissing it as no more interesting than comic books for children – can Mike’s enthusiasm rub off on him? Tenet has its flaws, but it’s ambitious, intriguing, large-scale, wonderfully cast and acted – it’s worth your time.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

A Brief Note on High Life (Claire Denis, 2018)

high life 2

A film I´ve only seen once and yet to fully figure out.  But I am already entranced by it and convinced of its greatness. It´s not ‘entertaining’ in a traditional sense. It´s dour, and harsh, sexy and tender, with moments of harrowing violence and many instances of sexual violation, some by women towards men. It´s a complex movie. And beautiful: amber lights reflected on space-ship helmets designed to show as much of Robert Pattinson´s face as possible, the luminous greens of a garden inside a spaceship that seems an Eden, keeps everyone alive but hides dead bodies.

Denis makes a space movie like no other I´ve seen. The spaceship here is not a phallic cock triumphantly piercing through the atmosphere and into space but a box, rusty, like a jail, which is kind of what it is. The ship houses convicts who were given the choice of life sentence on earth or a mission into space, one which would take several generations to succeed, so reproduction is necessary. The spaceship has a fuck box were inmates go to relief their sexual frustrations but which also gathers sperm that women are then forcibly inseminated with.

 

Monte (Robert Pattinson) is the only one who chooses to remain celibate but Dibs, the doctor played by Juliette Binoche, has sex with him whilst he´s sleeping and forcibly implants the sperm he´s left in her on a younger woman. Finally, after many failed attempts, a baby is born in the ship, and Dibs tells Monte it´s his.

Conceptually the film is fascinating. The ship is a jail. News from earth keeps arriving in soundbites, faded images of Native Americans dying in early Westerns, news that is no longer relevant. Life on board is always on  24 hour notice. If the daily log isn´t filed nightly, the ship shuts down and with it the food and energy necessary for survival. Moreover, the ship is heading towards a black hole and previous attempts to change direction have failed. Will Monte and his daughter succeed when they try again at the end? We don´t know.

It´s a film to think about a whole lot more but what remains vivid at present is Pattinson´s performance, so reticent, recessive even, but conveying a hurt, a shying away from society, yet power too — he´s muscly and built– and capable of great tenderness with the child. He reminded me of that famous ´L’enfant’ poster but one imbued with a more complex character and motivation, less syrupy.  The look of the film is astonishing also, with haunting poetic imagery, imaginatively composed, and expressively coloured. It´s not an easy watch. But it´s a great film, mysterious and complex, one to see again and think about some more.

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 213 – The Lighthouse

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, a tale of two lighthouse keepers stranded during a storm, is a visual treat in black and white that stuns and engrosses us. A two-hander between Willem Dafoe’s irascible boss and Robert Pattinson’s secretive youngster, it invokes myth, gods, folk tales, the clash of male egos, compulsive psychosexuality, if not much, much more besides.

If its plot is simple, its story is complex, and we think our way through its characters’ personalities, wants, needs, and psychologies. José asks if the film is gothic, and we discuss the boss’s treatment of his assistant: is it just controlling, or abusive? Extraordinary imagery of mermaids, monsters, and gods suffuses the film with inescapable surreality and the turbulent minds of men overburdened with ego and sexual need. Eggers has an assured, confident sense of tone, layering the film with mood and atmosphere, making its remote island a pressure cooker.

The Lighthouse is a spectacular film, an audiovisual treat that you should not miss at the cinema. Its imagery is poetic, its characters complex – in its entirety, it is confusing but approachable, symbolic but not coded, allowing room for interpretation and emotional response. It’s brilliant.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.