I went to the theaters with a few of my friends the other day to watch some of the weirder films we’d been wanting to see. They were both only being shown at the Regal Downtown West Cinema, a theater devoted to the more obscure and lesser-known films from both independent companies and international ones.
First, we saw “JoJo Rabbit,” an amazing comedy about a Nazi child whose imaginary friend is Hitler. This proves to me that the best way to ruin the legacy of some terrible evil is to turn it into a comedy that doesn’t pull its punches in its portrayal of those people, while also making them an obvious laughingstock. It’s an amazing movie, and I’m glad that it is finally getting a wide release so more people can see it. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that had me laughing even while my eyes were full of tears.
And then we watched “The Lighthouse.”
I don’t really think there is a way to put into words how this movie made me feel. In all honesty, I’m pretty sure that it has created a new emotion within me — One that is a combination of happiness, confusion, anger, confusion and maybe even some sadness. It’s how I always imagined the characters felt within the works of H. P. Lovecraft, some weird anomaly too great to comprehend. At the ending of the film, I discovered that I was laughing unconsciously, the same nervous laugh of relief one has after a life-threatening situation, and I wasn’t alone. Many others in the theater were all having various reactions, from laughs like mine to open mouthed stares to even one person in the back crying into their partner’s arm.
“The Lighthouse” is an emotional experience to say the least.
There are a few things that need to be noted about this film. First is the fact that it was actually shot on really old-fashioned film in an aspect ratio of “1.19:1” in total black and white, while also using some of the oldest camera lenses they could find. They also applied a specially made filter after the fact to emulate the aging of the physical film, leading to an authentic look because it is genuinely authentic.
There are also only three actors in the whole film, though one only shows up for like two minutes total, which means Willem Defoe makes up almost half of this film — a blessing in my book. Not only is he a major part in the film, I feel like this role is the exact role that Defoe was born for: acting like a half-sane, lunatic old man constantly rambling and shouting out of nowhere. He does the role so perfectly that I can’t actually imagine him as anything other than the character from this film.
Despite working with actual film, the sheer beauty of the cinematography still leaves me in shock. Shots are artistically laid out perfectly, and no shot goes to waste in establishing the tone and mood of this film. It’s mundane yet unique, static yet dynamic, open yet claustrophobic; it’s something that every film student studying the art of cinematography needs to watch over and over again just to understand the sheer brilliance at work in hopes of gleaning any insight from it.
This movie is for sure an artsy one, but that’s only because a work of art is the only way I can think to describe this movie. It is so complex in its plot, so thoughtful in every little detail, so absolutely masterful in the work of its crew that calling it anything less than a work of art — a masterpiece even feels like I am doing it a disservice.
But no matter how great it may be, it has its flaws like everything else in the world. For one thing, the accent used by Robert Pattinson feels inconsistent at times. I know it’s based on a very particular area of Maine and that it was something a lot of work was put into, but at times it felt as if it was changing slightly here or there — though thinking about it with the rest of the film, that may have been purposeful.
See, one of the ways this movie makes you so uncomfortable is borrowed from “The Shining,” where certain background details become inconsistent throughout the length of the film. As the tension rises, so too do the changes to the world around our characters. It could be small things like the color of something all the way to the layout of the room changing between shots. This feels consistent with the characters and the actions we see on screen, because throughout the whole film everything about them feels flimsy and ever-changing. It’s like the whole movie is liquid, warping and changing shape very slightly all the time, sometimes becoming so different from itself that it feels like a different entity.
This film is one that you need to see in theaters. This isn’t some “oh it’s so good it’s totally worth the money.” No, this is me telling you that you would be missing out on one of the best works in cinematic history if you didn’t see this in theaters. I spent hours writing this, trying my best to convey the visceral experience that is this film without giving away anything about it that would ruin the experience for you.
I rate movies from -10 to 10, with negatives being so bad its good, but you can throw that negative out the window, because this film is an absolute 10. Go, see it now. Bring your friends. Bring your family (not children though). This is one of the few films that I plan to buy on Blu-ray the instant it hits shelves, only so I can sit through it as many times as I want without breaking the bank.
This week I can shout out nothing else but the pure magic of screen composition, something that felt nearly perfected in this film. By changing subtle things about the camera, set or even the actors, you can communicate things directly to your audience through their unconscious mind.
Need a tense shot between two characters? Frame them in a way that the two of them fill the screen, leaving almost no dead space. Need the audience to understand the character is focused on one thing and one thing only? Adjust the focal length to blur out everything but the object of focus and the character. Need to make the audience feel the stress and fear of the character? Zoom in close and adjust that length so that their face gets distorted. Focal length can cause distortion in feature and distance. A short length makes things feel far away even just a little distance behind the focus, while a longer length makes the whole scene feel very close in to the focus. The emotions felt by the audience can easily be manipulated through clever combinations of focal length, focus, zoom, color, sound and even the layout of the set itself.
This article was originally written for The University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon’s Bad Movie Showcase.
Editing done by Evan Newell