The 1.19:1 aspect ratio and lack of color immediately draw you into a world like no other. The Old-English dialogue functions to create a barrier with the audience and the characters. It’s a reminder that these men (while wholly possible), are merely deranged characters using language as a lens to view their world as separate from ours. I watched The Lighthouse at a comfy theatre with reclining chairs while speaking slang Hialeah-English and downing spiked Coca Cola. My initial disconnect from the characters vanishes as soon as they start telling stories. My circumstances are nothing like these men, yet they are inevitably relatable.
The acting in this film really stands out. With a realistic tone that slowly evaporates into insanity, the actor’s performance guides them there. If I were to read the script alone, I would know that they are two crazy men in a lighthouse, but their performances tell a much larger story. Exposition isn’t vomited at the viewer, instead all of our knowledge comes naturally. It’s the difference between learning about someone’s desires through interrogation and learning through conversation. The characters develop through their interactions with each other and we learn about them as they do. Every Dafoe monologue is gripping, with moments of comedy that allow the viewer to empathize with him. These men are abundantly human, and at some points I can’t help but pity them.
It’s one thing for the cinematography, lighting, set design, or sound design to give me an out of body experience, but for the acting to do that, it’s just remarkable. I can easily say that Dafoe’s character is by far one of the best characters I’ve ever seen put to film. As much as I see him, I never really know what’s going on in his head. It leaves me wanting more. His voice hauntingly brings me back to this film and completely isolates him from any of his other movies.
If Dafoe is not in The Lighthouse, I don’t think it would be the same. The unbelievably disturbing tone would not translate nearly as well without his voice alongside it. Pattinson did a serviceable job (albeit was probably the most difficult role he’s had), but Dafoe was simply unreal. His voice is THE voice of the film: dirty, menacing, intimidating, dark. While gradually intensifying his posture, eyes, and movements, he kills every line of dialogue. It is one of the most captivating performances ever put to film.
They balanced the unfathomable and made it completely plausible. The montages of them fighting then dancing, hugging then singing, and cleaning then eating, allow the momentum of the film to steadily increase. The descent into darkness (despite being in a lighthouse), is so unbelievably real that it makes me question all of my decisions. I left the theatre speechless. It was a transcendental movie-going experience that has me still thinking about it. The acting, the writing, and the cinematography all served to make a truly one-of-a-kind film