The Lighthouse

Going into this I expected another example of the “is it all a dream?” film, where realistic and fantastic interpretations are equally weighted and you get to pick what you prefer. At its best, like in Pan’s Labyrinth, this is just the opening part of a broader argument about the origins and purpose of myth-making. The Lighthouse doesn’t have such big ambitions. In fact, whether what we’re seeing is real or not doesn’t really matter. It’s like asking whether the action in Waiting For Godot or Blue Velvet is real. The film isn’t about what’s going on in the character’s heads but what's going on in our heads. It presents a metaphor, whereas Pan’s Labyrinth is about the creation of metaphors.

And while the mythological and psychosexual accoutrements provide some interesting visual cues, at its heart the film carries forward The Witch’s exploration of the evils of authoritarian patriarchy. Interestingly, although couched in familial (and psychoanalytical) metaphors, the oppressive relationship here is an economic one, where Daniel Defoe is the worst boss in the world, and where Robert Pattison’s final descent into madness is precipitated by the arbitrary withholding of wages.

One wonders why Eggers is so interested in unearthing these historical examples of religious or workplace tyranny – the echoes of which are slowly fading in the modern world. Perhaps it’s good to be reminded of how truly awful the past was. Eggers’s young heroes endure extreme emotional abuse at the hands of their elders and are driven to strike dark bargains, or just to strike out, in order to escape their hopeless situation.

The contents of the knowledge that Pattison gains at the top of the Lighthouse isn't as important as the fact it was kept from him for no reason. Whether it's fire, or sexual awakening, or knowledge of good and evil, the rebellion of the young against the patriarch does not end the pain of existence. The seabirds, old souls representing the ideological remnants of the old order, remain to peck away at whatever freedom is carved out from overthrowing your masters.