Back in fall 2019, most movie-goers would never have dreamed that their lives could be compared to Robert Eggers’ claustrophobic Lovecraftian horror film The Lighthouse. Yet here we are in Spring 2020 and people are cooped up like the film’s leads, Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. Eggers could never have known when making the film that his modern horror classic would mirror the near future.
Now on Amazon Prime, The Lighthouse follows Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Dafoe), two lighthouse keepers holed up together on an isolated island in New England for a month of work. On their last day together, bad luck causes a terrible storm to hit the isolated island. The sea is far too rough for any boat to come get the men, and Wake informs Winslow that it could be as long as seven months until they are picked up. The men soon start a frightening descent into madness as they’re isolated with each other for an unspecified amount of time.
Right now, no one truly knows how long the pandemic will last. Where leaving home was once expected, now it’s generally frowned upon. In the struggle to adapt to the new normla, many feel isolated in ways they never have before. Part of the struggle is that this happened so suddenly and without any warning, just like Winslow and Wake’s hardships. The two lighthouse keepers were preparing to leave the island the day the catastrophic storm hit, and suddenly were stuck with the other for who knows how long. Winslow initially acts in denial that he may be stuck for a long while with a rude, farting old man. This behavior could be compared to when some people laughed at the news and thought “Oh, this will only last a few months.”
Isolation, for Winslow and Wake and for everyone socially distancing, can cause a sense of disorientation for those involved. In the film, the leads both have a hard time even determining what day it is. Wake asks at one point, “How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Two days? Where are we?” He’s been stranded for so long his perception of time is completely shattered. Lots of people are currently experiencing this same confusion.
Humans were once always on track of time. Now, people barely being able to go anywhere has made many of us just not think of time the way we used to. There is less of a sense of urgency, as lots of people feel as though this is a time to kick back and reflect. But for some, this unnatural change is enough to lose their mind over. Individuals who are used to seeing their friends and coworkers frequently are now forced to spend time alone or with people they usually wouldn’t. In Winslow and Wake’s case, maybe they’d actually be saner alone than with each other.
Winslow faces feelings of hopelessness throughout his habitation with Wake on the island, a feeling many people facing the current pandemic know well. Winslow was ready to be free, do whatever he wanted with the pay his temporary lighthouse keeper gig was going to make him. After being stranded, his future was uncertain. Lots of folks in reality had many plans all mapped out, which now have to be put on hold. Much like Winslow, nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen next.
Rewatching The Lighthouse just half a year later is an entirely different experience. In 2019, the movie felt like an absurd, darkly humorous recreation of a very different time. In 2020, it’s become a jarringly relatable nightmare. For all its sudden relevancy though, watching The Lighthouse is still much less unpleasant than watching the daily news.
This black and white arthouse horror film from the director of The Witch feels closer to home than it did last year.