Why The Lighthouse Should Be The New Rocky Horror Picture Show

PHoto: Courtesy of A24 Films.

Warning: This story includes spoilers for The Lighthouse. Haaaaaaark!

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If you’re expecting The Lighthouse to tell you a story, in the traditional beginning-middle-ending sense of the word, let me just warn you: It will not. Robert Eggers’ latest movie is a trippy, nightmarish vibe of a movie. It’s a fever dream, the kind that plagues you after nights spent drinking with your wizened fisherman buddy as wild storms rage outside your clapboard shutters. 

You could call The Lighthouse a horror movie. Robert Pattinson absolutely massacring a seagull by smashing its head against a well multiple times definitely qualifies. Likewise, Eggers’ first feature, The Witch, about a Puritan family dealing with supernatural forces lurking in the woods behind their New England farm, certainly fell into that category. 

But it also seems wrong to place such a creative, outrageous, hilariously batshit film in just one box. The Lighthouse is also a buddy comedy, an aquatic creature sex myth (there is literally a scene in which Pattinson’s character vividly dreams of a mermaid vagina), and a tribute to the power of cable-knit sweaters. It is a cult classic in the making, with the potential to be our generation’s version of the The Rocky Horror Picture Show

In terms of plot, the two movies have absolutely nothing in common with each other. Directed by Jim Sharman, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a 1975 campy musical horror comedy about a couple who seek shelter with a mad scientist with a penchant for leather, his minions, and his muscle-builder monster creation after their car breaks down in a storm. (Much sex and dancing ensues.)

The Lighthouse, on the other hand, centers around two lighthouse keepers — Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) and Thomas Macke (Willem Dafoe) — as they slowly descend into a mad hallucination-filled form of hysteria on a desolate, remote island off the rocky coast of New England. Stuck with no alternative to each other’s company, their time is spent performing various chores, evasively sharing their life stories, arguing about whose lobsters are best, drinking moonshine liquor, and slow-dancing by candle-light. Oh, and there’s a great deal of masturbation, farting, and just about every other excretion you can think of. (Much sex and dancing ensues.)

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Their commonalities lie in the way both films draw in the audience, and the raucous reactions they elicit. Seemingly designed for repeated viewings and inside jokes, they’re meant to be experienced as much as seen, and preferably with a crowd that’s as enthusiastic about the material as you are. The Lighthouse was made to be screamed at and played along with by a large number of drunk people dressed in overalls, turtlenecks and fisherman caps. It even has the perfect catch-phrase; just imagine an entire theater yelling “Why’d you spill yer beans,” in perfect unison. (It's also worth noting that, while Rocky may feel dated and even problematic now, it represents an important milestone in LGBTQ+ cinema. The Lighthouse, meanwhile, certainly hinges on some sexual tension between Pattinson and Dafoe's characters.)

Comparing these films isn't meant to imply that the The Lighthouse is unimportant or frivolous. Pattinson and Dafoe’s performances are phenomenal — they have to be for a movie this wild to be this good. Their crackling chemistry as they vacillate from quiet companionship, to full-on physical confrontation (punctuated by moments of tenderness and genuine friendship) is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced on-screen. 

Don’t let the whole black and white thing, or unusual aspect ratio intimidate you. The movie’s aesthetic, reminiscent of early silent films, is part of what makes it so whimsical. As Pattinson himself told the New York Times in an interview just this week, art house films can and are supposed to be fun. “I thought the script was hilarious when I read it,” he said, adding that he worries that “if people aren’t told that The Lighthouse is a comedy, they might not feel like they’re able to laugh at it."

Consider this your permission slip. Forget “The Time Warp” — 2019 is the year we adopt the “Doodle Let Me Go (Yaller Girls)” sea shanty as our midnight Halloween power dance number. 

“The Lighthouse” opens in theaters on October 18. 

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